Elton John, the prolific piano player, singer, activist and performer brought his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour to the Smoothie King Center last night. For most of those in attendance, it was one last chance to see him live as he crosses the world on a 300-city tour that will end sometime in late 2020. It was also a last opportunity to see a dying breed of piano legends that ruled the airwaves in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, from Fats Domino and Little Richard to Dr. John and Billy Joel.
The greatest hits show was very similar to the show at the Smoothie King Center back in 2014, with the addition of a ginormous video screen and on-again-off-again percussionist Ray Cooper who was one of three musicians on the stage that has played with John since the early 70s. Together they glided through two hours and forty minutes of pop hits starting with “Bennie and the Jets” and ending with an encore of “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
In between, Elton John brought the energy of a twenty year-old to the stage for songs like “Rocket Man” and “Levon,” which included pounding out a boogie woogie jam on his Yamaha piano like he grew up playing in bars on Bourbon Street. His stage presence gleamed brightest when it was just John and his piano playing solo to a standing-room-only crowd of smiling onlookers. In between songs, he often stood and bowed to the audience then segued into a short story about the origins of the songs or his passing years of struggles and success. From shout-outs to Aretha Franklin for covering “Border Song” in the early days and to the recently deceased Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks to his lamentation of his struggles with drugs and alcohol in the 80s only to find himself redeemed by getting sober and starting the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $400,000,000 for the deadly disease.
Throughout the set-list, the video screen soared above the stage showing flashbacks of John’s career and gritty street scenes from London of the 70s, Los Angeles of the 80s and random costumed dancers for other eras that often times distracted from the music on the stage. The cynic in me would say that was done to distract us from John’s inability to reach the high notes on songs like “Sad Songs” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.”
But why quibble about the show when the audience was so thoroughly entertained and an artist who has been entertaining us for nearly 50 years still gives everything he’s got to every stop he makes on the tour. He’s clearly enjoying himself up there and the crowd is right there with him every step of the way, singing, dancing, laughing and crying at the thought of one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation calls this his last hurrah.
If this truly is the last time we’ll get to see Sir Elton John perform in New Orleans, it was one that we will truly remember. The soaring piano solos, the masterful drums, the lyrical genius of Bernie Taupin, and the gap-toothed smile of the legendary artist, will stay with us through the rest of our lifetimes. And if he changes his mind and plays one last reunion tour, most of us will be back to say farewell once again because we may never get to see another piano legend quite like him.