PHILADELPHIA (AP) — I think it’s going to be a very long time until we see another songwriter and performer like Elton John.
Concluding a career spanning more than 50 years with a farewell tour, the British pianist and singer created some of the most memorable and enduring music in pop-rock history, songs etched in the collective DNA of humanity.
They can be quite simple, like the basic four-chord glory of “Crocodile Rock,” or dazzlingly complex like the 11-minute magnum opus “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”
But now that it’s almost over, I hope you don’t mind me putting into words how wonderful it has been to have Elton John on our radios and in our ears since the late 1960s .
The 75-year-old entertainer, born as Reginald Kenneth Dwight, kicked off the final leg of his North American farewell tour on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. And yes, he felt love that night.
“America made me famous and I can’t thank this country enough,” he told the audience. “Thank you for the loyalty, the love, the kindness you have shown me.”
He has sold over 300 million records worldwide, played over 4,000 shows in 80 countries and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all time, his 1997 reworking of “Candle In The Wind”. to praise Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.
Sir Elton (he was knighted in 1998) scored over 70 top 40 hits, including nine No. 1s, and released seven No. 1 albums in the 3½ year period from 1972 to 1975 , a rhythm right after that one. of the Beatles.
He has five Grammy Awards, as well as a Tony Award for “Aida”. Her rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” in the movie “The Lion King” has serenaded millions of children and will entertain future generations of little ones.
Gone are the outrageous suits and oversized glasses he was known for in the early 70s (he dressed as Donald Duck, Pac-Man, the Statue of Liberty, Minnie Mouse and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player , among others). And while the man hasn’t come across a sequin or feather he doesn’t adore, his wardrobe is (by Elton’s standards) a little tamer these days.
He took the stage in a white tuxedo with black lapels and glittering purple glasses, walking somewhat shyly towards his shiny black piano to hammer out the instantly recognizable opening chord of “Bennie And The Jets.”
Then there was “Philadelphia Freedom”, which he dedicated to his hometown crowd as “one of the greatest cities I’ve ever played in”. It was his 52nd concert in the City of Brotherly Love.
Throughout the night John released a dazzling array of hits spanning all musical styles and genres. The gospel phrasings and cadences that so influenced his early work were evident on “Border Song” and “Take Me To The Pilot,” and even the single radio staple “Levon” had a sped-up ending.
It showed the prototypical power ballad, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, with its close cousin “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”.
And when longtime guitar sidekick Davey Johnstone donned an inverted Flying-V guitar, it was time for the rockers of the power chord arena, including Elton’s rockiest song of all. time, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and the brash, boastful, Elton-to-the-bone anthem “The Bitch Is Back.”
Elton largely avoided his famous falsetto; he still has 100 shows to go for next year’s farewell world tour, and he’s learned over the years how to retain his voice without sacrificing style and authenticity.
Regardless: The crowd happily provided him with the falsetto parts, including a mass chorus of the “la-la-la” chorus on “Crocodile Rock.”
He returned to one deep single, “Have Mercy On The Criminal,” featuring Johnstone’s bluesy guitar riffs, putting him amidst dozens of smash hits.
And he avoided tears like “Sorry Sems To Be The Hardest Word” and the heartbreaking “The Last Song” about a farewell between a father and his son who is dying of AIDS, in favor of an upbeat vibe and festive.
“All The Girls Love Alice,” one of the first mainstream rock songs to focus on lesbian relationships in the early ’70s, is a concert staple, as is “Your Song.”
Before the closing number, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, Elton looked towards the finish line of his last tour.
“I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of my life with my kids and my husband,” he said. “Be kind to yourself. To love each other.”
An accomplished showman to the very end, Elton finished the song and was lifted into the sky on a hydraulic lift as a hole opened in a brick wall at the top of the stage, engulfing him and closing .
So while Elton John will soon be gone from the stage, thank goodness his music is still alive.
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC