This week we are saying farewell to a friend.
It's not unreasonable to call Elton John, who brought his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour to Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday, a friend even though we don't know him personally. Or do we?
Before Al Gore invented the internet and a shameless lawyer created TMZ, there were magazines like People to feed our curiosity about celebrities. In 1976, we learned in Rolling Stone that Elton was bisexual. In short, Elton was open, something that was rare for a rock star in an era when mystery and mystique mattered. And, in 2019, he opened up like an erupting volcano in his chatty, 350-page autobiography "Me" and the revelatory biopic "Rocketman," for which he was executive producer.
Throughout the years, the singing piano player, with lyricist Bernie Taupin, gave us a soundtrack for all occasions, including weddings ("Your Song," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"), funerals ("Candle in the Wind," "Circle of Life") and parties ("Crocodile Rock," "The Bitch Is Back," "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)," et al). He's given us tunes to deal with sadness ("Sad Songs," "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"), liberation ("Philadelphia Freedom"), forgiveness ("Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word"), hope ("Someone Saved My Life Tonight"), determination ("I'm Still Standing") and friendship ("That's What Friends Are For").
In the music business, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer set new standards for piano playing as well as outrage, excess and craziness. In the 1970s, he was rock's ultimate showman, though he eventually mellowed into middle-aged, middle-of-the-road mediocrity. He has been remarkably chameleonic, playing anything from baroque and ballads to blues and reggae. He even expanded to the movies and Broadway musicals.
Just by the way he lived, Elton has given us lessons about tolerance, sobriety, depression, determination, forgiveness, compassion, charity, scholarships and medical research, not to mention eyeglasses, hair replacement and shopping.
Those are the things I thought of Tuesday while experiencing Sir Elton one last time. I flashed back to skipping him at the Guthrie Theater in 1970 so I could watch a Vikings game instead; those magnificently over-the-top performances in St. Paul; a backstage chat after his wonderful solo show at Northrop; sitting behind Sammy Hagar on night 2 of Elton's first Las Vegas residency; seeing the gay icon build a bridge with allegedly homophobic rapper Eminem by duetting on the Grammys; experiencing his intimate, heartfelt performances at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala in St. Paul, and witnessing the Rocket Man sit in with Prince in Vegas for "The Long and Winding Road."
It has been a long and winding yellow brick road for Sir Elton Hercules John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight 75 years ago this week in London.
When you get together with old friends, you spend a lot of time revisiting the past, as Elton did Tuesday at the X (he returns Wednesday). He said he'd never forget playing the Guthrie on Nov. 29, 1970, and he dedicated "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" to Starkey founder Bill Austin.
In 140 minutes, the piano man delivered 19 tunes from the 1970s, easily his most spectacular decade, and two selections from the mid-'80s. Surprisingly, just like he did in 2019 at Target Center, he eschewed his Disney hits including "Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King" that introduced him to new generations of fans.
Wearing a sequined jacket with tails, a ruffled shirt (no tie!) and, of course, rose-colored glasses with rhinestones, Elton seemed refreshed, more exuberant and in better voice and spirits than in 2019. To be sure, he routinely mugged after songs because that's his low-energy approach to showmanship .
Backed by a top-notch band of six bespectacled musicians, Elton didn't phone it in, as has been the case in later years, especially on his joint tours with Billy Joel. He didn't get particularly adventuresome on the piano, though he treated 15,000 fans to jazzy passages on the opening "Bennie and the Jets" and furious barrelhouse excursions at the end of "Levon" and "Take Me to the Pilot."
He did offer one new number, last year's clubby "Cold Heart" duet with British pop siren Dua Lipa, who appeared via video (just as he did at her Minneapolis concert earlier this month). It's reassuring to know that as Sir Elton says farewell to the road in 2023 after 300-plus pandemic-interrupted shows on this final trek, that he still is making music, memories and new friends.