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REVIEW: Captain Fantastic’s Last Trip – Elton John (Target Center)

Elton John performing at Target Center on Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Elton John.

Elton John is saying good-bye to concerts, but not before he has one last, multiple-year, trans-world “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour. Last night the tour stopped in the Target Center, and he will be there for one more show tonight.

Elton turns 72 years old next month, but you would hardly know it from the nearly three hour show of non-stop music he offered his fans. From a combination of age and the throat surgery he required in 1987, Elton’s voice is not where it was in his early hits. But he has adapted his songs to a lower register, and there is still surprising power and deep emotion in Elton’s singing.

Elton John was well-supported by his band on Thursday night, a group with three percussionists, guitar, bass and keyboard – and including near-mythical figures like drummer Ray Cooper and guitarist Davey Johnstone, who have been with the EJ almost since the beginning. The band were placed on different levels on a large stage, with Elton in front, playing piano placed on a platform that moved about. Fans got what they expected: their hero appearing in three different campy outfits with signature sparkly glasses. (His outfits were moderate by the standards Elton set in his early days – as with his 1975 sparkly LA Dodgers outfit or the Donald Duck outfit from his 1980 Central Park concert). At the back of the stage was an IMAX-sized screen, which played images and video videos that were alternatively nostalgic (images from Elton’s life and career), moving (images from George Barris’s “Final Shoot” of Marilyn Monroe, to accompany “Candle in the Wind”), and playful (“Captain Fantastic” in an animated short accompanying “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”).

As Elton warned the crowd early in the concert, it would have been impossible for the setlist to have included all of his hits or every individual’s favorite song. In the end, we were offered a predictable mix: many of the early big hits (e.g., “Tiny Dancer”, “Philadelphia Freedom”, “Rocket Man”, “Levon”, “Crocodile Rock”, “I’m Still Standing”, Daniel”, “Benny and the Jets”, “Don’t Let Sun Go Down on Me”, and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”), a number of smaller hits known to Elton John fans (“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” and “All the Girls Love Alice”), and one deep cut that even most of the devoted fans of decades did not recognize (“Indian Sunset”). The encore songs were the obvious ones, “Your Song” and “Goodbye to Yellow Brick Road”.

Elton John performing in 2008. Photo by Richard Mushet.

Elton spent a lot of time discussing his charitable work, and asking the crowd to support the work of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and other local important programs he named. He described how his projects arose out of a deep crisis in his life, back in 1990, when he recognized that his life was out of control, and finally gained the courage to utter the three words, “I need help”. As he tells it, the help he received motivated him to work harder for compassionate care for the vulnerable.

Elton does seem to be everywhere these days. Over the holidays, there was a wonderful, emotional advertisement for John Lewis:

The advertisement is based on Elton’s career, and tries to persuade parents that if they give their young children just the right toy, they might grow up to be an international superstar. And in three months, a biopic of the singer, Rocketman, will be in movie theatres:

In the meantime, however, there is still this last tour. Elton told the audience that as much as he liked making music, what he really loved was playing his music to other people, which is why touring has always been precious to him. His joy in playing his music was, indeed, obvious: he both thanked the audience repeatedly, and begged for more applause shamelessly. The packed house at the Target Center obliged him. Most of them seemed to have been standing and applauding from the first note of the concert to its end, singing along to every favorite of their youth.

Tonight will likely be the last chance to see Elton John in concert in Minnesota. If you are a fan and can finagle a ticket, you should go.

Brian Bix