Fans wearing sparkly knock-off versions of Elton John’s distinctively square rhinestone-covered sunglasses filled the Times Union Center on Friday night as John – a fashion icon and one of music’s most enduring stars for five decades – brought his epic Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour to Albany.
Audience members, who managed to snag some highly coveted and expensive seats, got their money’s worth over two hours and 45 minutes of classic music and bombastic stage effects.
From the psychedelic shooting stars that filled the massive onstage video screen during “Rocket Man” to the deluge of confetti that rained down on the crowd after “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” the evening could be summed up with a word: magic.
There was a heavy poignancy to the show. Although John is on a worldwide tour that continues until 2021, it’s supposedly his last, as the 71-year-old is retiring to spend more time with his children and husband David Furnish.
Fans were treated to a revue of some of John’s greatest hits (“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Daniel,” “Sad Songs Say So Much”) as well as deep-cuts and obscurities (“All the Girls Love Alice,” “Indian Sunset”) that seemed more like John’s personal favorites than anything fans were really clamoring to hear.
“It was very difficult to put the setlist together,” he said onstage. “There were so many songs I’d like to play, but we’d be here for a very, very, very long time.”
John started the show wearing a black glittery tailcoat and seated at his Black Yamaha piano for a raucous kickoff of “Bennie and the Jets.” His band of seasoned veterans – including his indispensable music director and guitarist Davey Johnstone, longtime drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionist Ray Cooper – looked more like G-men, dressed in natty black suits, crisp white shirts and dark sunglasses.
Songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “Border Song” (dedicated to singer Aretha Franklin, who once covered it, bringing attention to a then-unknown John and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin), were accompanied by flashy new videos by high profile artists like photographer David LaChapelle and animator Alan Aldridge.
The videos attempted to tell new stories related to the songs, but mostly they were just distracting, when no superfluous entertainment was needed on a night that was all about Elton. The videos were best later in the night when they focused on archival footage of a younger John flashing his prodigious talent on stage and television.
John’s piano traveled across the stage during an emotional “Candle in the Wind.” Then, with the stage shrouded in blue fog, his band played the dramatic introduction to “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” giving John time to remerge in a new get-up: pink tuxedo pants and a black and pink floral jacket.
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John was at times exultant: standing up from the piano and pointing triumphantly at the crowd. Other times he spoke in heartfelt terms about his need to seek help for addiction in the 1990s, and about his work to address the AIDS crisis through his foundation.
From a rock standpoint, the highlight of the night came during a trifecta of hard rock attitudinal hits: “The Bitch Is Back,” “I’m Still Standing” and the glorious “Crocodile Rock,” which got the whole crowd singing and dancing along.
The night, sadly, had to end. A concert-goer next to me sobbed as John stripped down to a tracksuit, waved goodbye to the Albany crowd and vanished into the video wall after closing the encore with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”