Goodbye seemed to be the hardest word Friday night, as more than 13,000 Elton John fans flooded Bell MTS Place to witness the first of two shows at the venue, the final two concerts the icon will ever perform in Winnipeg.
CONCERT REVIEWClick to Expand
● Oct. 4 Bell MTS Place
● Attendance: 13,130
★★★★★ out of five
John — who is on his more than two-year-long, last-ever tour, titled Farewell Yellow Brick Road — is the kind of artist who has maintained a certain level of multi-generational appeal; kids held the hands of both parents and grandparents as they manoeuvred through the masses while teens and 20-somethings shelled out for $55 T-shirts and $130 hoodies as a memento of the last (and likely the first) time they will see John in concert.
John, 72, has always been popular, of course, but it didn’t hurt to have the biopic Rocketman head to theatres earlier this year, acting as a recent reminder of all that John has gone through and the relevance his music still has. What Bohemian Rhapsody did for Queen, Rocketman did for Sir Elton.
Winnipeg has waited eight years to see John again — he had only been through town twice prior to 2011, in 1999 and 2008 — and at 8 o’clock on the dot, John glided onto the stage in complete darkness, the glint of his bejewelled suit jacket giving him away as he took his place at the grand piano. After an entrance song worthy of a king, the sharp opening chords of Bennie and the Jets brought the entire arena to their feet.
He blasted through All the Girls Love Alice and I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues before addressing the crowd, thanking everyone for coming, as earnestly as Elton John can. And then he dropped the Tiny Dancer bomb, which pried the last few butts out of their chairs for a massive sing-along.
A few songs in, John took a break to stroll about the stage waving to fans and absorbing their unending applause; similar pause-and-absorb moments happened a few times throughout the night, the affection fuelling him through his more than 165-minute set. When he took his seat again, John spent a minute or two explaining his songwriting process with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin before performing the seven-minute epic Indian Sunset.
His phenomenal voice is not a surprise, but in the early, nearly a capella moments of Indian Sunset, and again during emotional ballad Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word and, later, on the jazzy/bluesy Burn Down the Mission, his vocals simply soared. It’s no easy feat for any performer to roll through a nearly three-hour show, let alone a 72-year-old, and he seemed to do it with ease and grace, not a stray note or botched belt. Just rich, dense and powerful all the way through.
Unsurprisingly, John has surrounded himself with a crew of amazing musicians, whose collection of gear filled two full tiers on stage. The six-man band supported perfectly, offering skilled solos when needed, but never overpowering John on the piano. A twinkling piano and acoustic-guitar ending to Rocket Man was a particularly sweet moment.
The video elements supplementing many of the tracks were a bit confusing and perhaps not as effective as they could have been; they were often presented as literal music videos with actors, dancers and plots and, most times, were more a distraction than the companion pieces they were intended to be. The stage set up and video screens themselves, however, were quite impressive, angled in a way that made moving images look more three-dimensional.
Energy remained high mid-set with a fiery rendition of Levon. Much of the set was able to find solid a balance of slow-jams and theatrical moments, making sure there wasn’t much chance for the momentum to lag. The unbearably sad Candle in the Wind was followed with the dramatic Funeral for a Friend, which started with ear-bursting audio of a thunderstorm as fog (a lot of fog) rolled onto the stage; the sunny-sounding Daniel preceded the politically charged Believe.
As his main set was drawing to a close, John took a moment to explain why this will be his final tour — "I never would have said this 10 years ago, but 10 years ago I didn’t have a family" — and once again thanked his fans for their support during his 50-year career.
"From this Englishman to you Canadians, thank you," he said.
John wrapped things up with a triple-header of high-energy hits: I’m Still Standing, Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, during which the crowd on the floor was blanketed with gold confetti. He swiftly returned to the stage — now wearing a blue floral coat and his famous heart-shaped glasses — for a two-song encore of Your Song and the tour’s title track, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
John plays Bell MTS Place again tonight; tickets are still available at Ticketmaster.
John is an icon and he could continue to tour if he wanted to. But there’s something very self-aware about ending things while you can still put on that show and sing those notes and give people their money’s worth.
If you’re going to go out, why not go out with a bang? If anyone’s an example of that, it’s Sir Elton.