The yellow brick road that Elton John has followed for decades passed through Kansas City Wednesday night.
With the Sprint Center serving as the glimmering Emerald City, the star entertained a compact township of about 17,000 ecstatic inhabitants during a stupendous concert on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.
Titled for his 1973 song cycle “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” John’s meandering final tour consists of more than 300 shows. Even so, John’s two-hour-and-40-minute performance hardly seemed perfunctory.
At 71, he remains an enthusiastic showman and generous bandleader. The career survey included two dozen songs released from 1970 to 1995, an era in which John reshaped the look, sound and significance of popular music.
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“I have been writing with my lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for more than 50 years,” John said.
While all but two of his collaborations with Taupin on Wednesday’s set list were significant hits, John and his six-piece band dared to take liberties with the original arrangements of many of the familiar songs.
Dated production elements were removed and plenty of room was made for John’s thrilling piano work. He added spicy jazz accents to some songs and rollicking New Orleans funk to others. The bold approach backfired twice.
During “Crocodile Rock,” the band momentarily lost its way and the audience repeatedly missed its cues to sing along. Despite featuring three drummers, an extended jam during “Levon” was plodding.
Otherwise, the show was almost perfect.
John sings in a lower register than he did during his commercial peak, but his voice now possesses even more conviction. A moment of reckoning he candidly described likely played a role in his expanded emotional range.
He admitted that in 1990 “I was ashamed of who I’d become … I was a ripe old mess … I got sober and I got clean, and boy, I needed it.”
Dwarfed by the towering set, John occasionally resembled a cross between Glinda the Good Witch and a bedazzled munchkin. The monumental production was befitting of the “solid walls of sound” touted in the opening number “Bennie and the Jets.”
Sharp live footage and intriguing images accompanied most selections. While consistently compelling, the visuals were often as inscrutable as Taupin’s notoriously ambiguous lyrics.
John’s performance was an unforgettable display of an audacious talent recounting a lifetime of enduring music.
Set list: Bennie and the Jets; All the Girls Love Alice; I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues; Border Song; Tiny Dancer; Philadelphia Freedom; Indian Sunset; Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time); Take Me to the Pilot; Someone Saved My Life Tonight; Levon; Candle in the Wind; Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding; Burn Down the Mission; Daniel; Believe; Sad Songs (Say So Much); Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me; The Bitch Is Back; I’m Still Standing; Crocodile Rock; Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting; Your Song; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road