About midway during his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour stop on Friday at San Francisco’s Chase Center, Sir Elton John played “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” a song he called his most personal, from the 1975 album he and lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote about their early days as struggling songwriters, “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.”
And in the course of the two-hour, 45-minute, hit (and more) filled concert, the 72-year-old English rock icon proceeded to prove that he indeed is Captain Fantastic.
Backed by his excellent longtime band — guitarist Davey Johnstone, percussionists Ray Cooper and John Mahon, drummer Nigel Olsson, keyboardist Kim Bullard and bassist Matt Bissonette — the pianist-composer put on an epic, soulful show covering his five-decade career from seemingly every angle, from ballads to barn burners.
He followed “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” with a crazy, roof-raising rendition of “Levon” (blazing guitar and piano solos just about stopped the show), then slowed things down with “Candle in the Wind,” his ode to Marilyn Monroe; it was particularly touching and chilling, complemented by rare film footage of the late actress looking more vulnerable than glamorous.
John’s creative team has used technology to ultimate effect in the show with the utmost in production values; video backdrops not only accompanied the music perfectly, but were works of art in and of themselves.
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” had eye-catching images of everyday folks hanging out at the beach; “Tiny Dancer” had a mesmerizing narrative about Los Angeles denizens, driving and more; “Philadelphia Freedom” had colorfully-garbed dancers moving on geometric set pieces; “The Bitch Is Back” had drag queens in a catfight in what looked like a Beverly Hills pool; “Burn Down the Mission” had Elton’s piano on fire; “Crocodile Rock” had Elton John fans of all ages and colors dressed up like Elton John; and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” had famous fight scenes from movies.
An especially rousing rendition of “Rocket Man” (perhaps thanks to this year’s biopic of the same name) was accompanied by images of the planet Earth and fireworks; and vintage photos and clips of the rocker himself in all manner of outrageous outfits, hats and shoes, were paired with “I’m Still Standing” and “Your Song.”
“Believe,” a “song about love and compassion” John said he wrote after he got well after living a life out of balance, was sung to photos showing his efforts to help people with AIDS and stop the disease; and “Funeral for a Friend” was performed as John, after a short departure for a costume change (one of three sparkly selections) re-entered the stage amid thunder effects, smoke and candles.
Among the evening’s lesser-known tunes were the soulful “Border Song,” which John said brought a young songwriting team into the limelight when Aretha Franklin recorded it; and “Indian Sunset,” Taupin’s dramatic American Indian saga.
In a classy move, John dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to Eddie Money, a fellow musician (he didn’t know) who died on Friday.
As the show started with “Bennie and the Jets” – that unmistakable piano chord – it ended with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” after John thanked his fans for their years of loyalty and sincerely explained that he’s quitting touring to spend time with his family.
It couldn’t have been a more fitting, or satisfying, farewell.