"You've had your tickets for 747 days. I can't thank you enough for coming tonight and hanging on to those tickets. This is so nice to be back playing to people after 22 months," said Elton John Friday night, following a goosebump-inducing show opener that the audience had so patiently waited to see ("Bennie And The Jets").
His Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour last hit Houston in 2018. Thanks to pandemic-related delays, last night marked the tour's first return engagement to Space City. In November, it will complete orbit one
When John announced the tour's original run of dates, the three-year, 300-show outing was a key component, alongside an autobiography and a biopic, in further cementing his legacy in the uppermost echelons of music. That itinerary seemed indestructible, but COVID forced the extensive tour into an extended intermission that ended just earlier this week when the tour re-opened in New Orleans.
Houston, the tour's second stop, found the singer and his band in fine form, as if they hadn't just come off a nearly two-year break from performing. Despite being down a member due to COVID, the band played with a precise power that embodies the magnitude of drama, joy, and spark embedded in John's catalog. Longtime Elton guitarist Davey Johnstone delivered memorable solos, rich in their own melodicism ("Have Mercy on the Criminal"); drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionists Ray Cooper and John Mahon hit the center of every beat; bassist Matt Bissonette, in the best way possible, played some truly disrespectful bass lines ("Take Me to the Pilot").
Near the end of his lightning bolt set, Elton dug deep in his pockets for a bit of Houston history.
"I've been coming to Houston a long, long time. I first played here at the Hofheinz Pavilion and I loved that. And I've played here many, many times and it's always been a pleasure to come and play for you guys. Good old Texas...Thank you for everything," he said last night, bidding Houston and the Yellow Brick Road 'Farewell' for now.
Over the previous two hours, John and his band had given the audience a career spanning, 22 song setlist of perhaps one of the most storied chapters the Rock & Roll songbook has to offer, accompanied by larger than life cinematic visuals, and framed by a massive stage lined in yellow brick.
Elton's hands had summoned spirit and fire in extended jams ("Burn Down the Mission"), rumbled from oceanic depths ("Someone Saved My Life Tonight"), painted lush, orchestral textures in masterful balladry ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"), and decorated the keys with soulful ornaments so synonymous with John's style, they might be a genre unto themselves ("Levon").
John's distinguished voice had soared into its upper stratospheres, always finding new turns to take and phrasings to shape to keep a classic song fresh ("Tiny Dancer"). His piano had glided across the stage, backdropped by a short film of Marilyn Monroe ("Candle in the Wind"), and then back again, floating through fog ("Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding").
In the show's final stretch, John had set ablaze the set's victory lap with a high octane run that just made you feel happy to be alive ("Bitch Is Back," "I'm Still Standing," "Crocodile Rock," "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"), before spiritually guiding the encore through his first hit, perhaps a perfect song ("Your Song").
By the time he was name dropping Hofheinz Pavilion and thanking Houston for everything, the only thing left for John to do was closeout with "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and exit the stage in spectacular fashion: disappearing into the stars and waving a mammoth goodbye to his fans, just in case it's gonna be another long, long time.
Random Notebook Dump: Does it thunder outside when he slams the piano lid like that?