I had the chance to see Elton John once before. That was a little over 10 years ago, when the Canadian stops on that particular world tour were in Regina and Kelowna. Odd picks, and a far cry from the usual Toronto and Vancouver and maybe Montréal, but he felt like playing places he’d never been to before. Probably not the weirdest thing he’s ever done. I would have liked to go, but at the time, I was still making semi-responsible decisions with my money. Those days are long gone.
Now Elton’s on a 300-show world tour, said to be his last. Take that with a grain of salt, always; I think Cher has played three farewell shows in Saskatoon alone. But what he said seemed really reasonable – one-off shows are possible, or a residency or something – just no big long tours. We’ll see if it sticks.
Mika and I got these tickets a year ago. We’d planned to go to the show with my stepmom, as Elton is her favourite musician ever, but the week before the show, she backed out, for reasons I hope were worth it. Her departure freed up a ticket, and luckily, Deserée didn’t have plans.
We left Regina early in the afternoon for an uneventful drive, picking Dez up at work a little after 4:00 so we could eat dinner early like old people. We went to the Canadian Brewhouse and each ordered some variation of chicken, making this an official concert, something I didn’t even think of, but luckily, Dez was on the ball. We ate and chatted until it was time to head to SaskPlace. (I’m sticking with the original name; no free advertising for my employer while I’m on strike.)
It had been so long that I’d forgotten where our seats actually were, and I was delighted that they were good. Nice work, me. Lots of folks came down where we were to take pictures of the big screen showing Elton walking away down the yellow brick road, so Dez and I did so too. I also tried and failed to mess up one of her pictures and she did the same to me. But I did manage to get a picture of her making a supremely goofy face, something I will forever treasure.
It really was too bad my stepmom skipped out. Shortly before the show started, I heard someone holler “James!” and wouldn’t you know, it was my dad’s second wife and her daughter. They were only one row behind us and about 10 seats down. Oh, the conversations we all could have had. I mean, we still had a nice time getting caught up, but there was some serious missed potential there.
There was also some good people watching, waiting for the show to start. I had not expected this level of cosplay – or, indeed, any – but there were boas and sunglasses (so many sunglasses) and some full outfits. One kid in an all-white suit, white shoes, white glasses, and white angel wings was particularly noticeable. We later saw him taking his seat – front row, centre.
Elton started right on time, opening with Benny and the Jets. Now, I’m not a hardcore fan. I know the hits, which is fine, because he has a million of them, and he played most of them. Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer, Philadelphia Freedom, I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues, Daniel, Crocodile Rock, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, I’m Still Standing, The Bitch is Back, Sad Songs (Say So Much), Candle in the Wind. (I offered Dez $20 to scream “GET TO THE PRINCESS DIANA PART” but she declined.) Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting was particularly well-received, and on a Tuesday, no less.
The show was really good – nearly three hours. A great band, and Elton is still a fantastic pianist. His voice isn’t quite what it once was – they have other people there to hit the high notes for him. And as great as an entertainer as he is, when he actually gets up and walks around… yeah, that dude has seen better days.
One downside was the volume. As Dez put it, “I didn’t think Elton John was the show where I’d lose my hearing, but here we are.” After Mika and I had left town, we stopped in Davidson (because neither of the 24-hour gas stations in Grasswoods are) and ran into some other concert-goers, whose first question was “wasn’t it loud?” Maybe I’m old, but they could have dialed it back a bit. The volume muddied the vocals, so when he played songs I was less familiar with, I couldn’t make anything out. One of my new Davidson friends had also seen Elton in Edmonton and said it hadn’t been the case there, so let’s blame the venue.
Behind the band, a giant screen showed different videos for each song. Some were cute, others funny, or melancholy, one was self-serving (I’m glad you raised so much money for HIV/AIDS research, but it came across as overly self-congratulatory), and some were… well, I’d love to have a sit-down with Elton John and get him to explain what they were about. Always interesting, at any rate.
One of the night’s highlights wasn’t a song. Most of the crowd interaction was just Elton John slamming his hands down on the piano after a song and then pointing at the crowd, always to a great response. That seems like a good career goal – succeed to where you just have to point at people to make them happy. But when Elton came out for the encore, he walked along the stage, reached down, shook the hand of the kid in the all-white suit, and then took his own glasses off and handed them over. The place went nuts. Such a cool moment.
As this was the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Elton ended the encore with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and really I don’t know that changing the one word for the tour name was really necessary? I mean, I get it, but they’re basically the same word. But whatever. It was the song he obviously had to end on, and when it was done, he rode up a platform and disappeared into the set behind him. Quite dramatic. Then we all left by slowly slogging up arena stairs while the sound system played one of the few Elton John hits that we didn’t get to hear live, Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart. Less dramatic, but I suppose it was cheaper than bringing Kiki Dee on tour.
I’m not really sure why I bought this disc at work , except probably it was cheap and it was still in the shrink wrap with the HMV $10.00 price sticker on it (I paid $1.50). One wonders why something like this would even turn up donated to a thrift store. Did someone shoplift it and have a pang of conscience? It can’t have been a gift to someone – usually people remove price stickers before giving gifts… Maybe someone bought it and, before even tearing off the shrinkwrap, decided they didn’t want it, or discovered they already had it (and in that case, why not return it?), or… I just don’t know. But it happens often enough that one wonders.
The internet tells me that this set was released to celebrate Elton’s 60th birthday (in 2007), the first-ever compilation to cover the first 35 years of his career. There was also a limited edition version that had a DVD with some live performances and videos on it. I got just the CD version. A quick look at Wikipedia shows 17 different versions of the set released worldwide.
Anyway, I didn’t really need this disc. I already own all three of Elton’s Greatest Hits sets, and while there are a couple of newer songs here, most is stuff already on those other three sets. Still, there’s a part of me that snaps up anything Elton John that I don’t already have (like I did with this set). It’s interesting to see what was chosen and, let’s be honest, there’s really no way to write about Elton John’s hits without just being amazed at what he and Bernie Taupin have accomplished. It’s otherworldly. The sense of melody and the strong songwriting, even whether you like all the songs or not, are all arguably part of our fabric and culture. Surely, not everything they have done has been a hit, but when you get some of the big guns collected together like this, all you can do is marvel.
And this one, well, it was a pleasure to listen to. As always.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Bennie & The Jets
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (w. Kiki Dee)
Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me (w. George Michael)
Can You Feel The Love Tonight
AND OTHER FAVOURITES
Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)
Candle In The Wind
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)