After touring the world extensively since the early 1970s, Sir Elton John is hanging up his piano keys. Well… sort of. He’s actually embarking on a long, 3-year, world tour before officially retiring from the traveling stage for good. (He’s actually said he’s retiring before, but this time it seems like it’s “for real.”) A 3-year tour that traverses the world is in fact “ample warning” that if you’ve never before seen his live show, this is your last chance.
Elton’s career has been long and varied, with more than its fair share of ups and downs. He began his performance career by leading a trio which never recorded in the studio. The one live recording they did, from a NYC radio station, reveals the huge amount of energy that Elton was pounding into the piano at that time. So much energy, it turns out, that he privately vented to his friends that he didn’t know how he could keep up the pace without exhausting himself. When someone suggested that he add guitar player, Elton expanded the group so it didn’t all rest on his shoulders, musically. What the piano world lost, the pop world gained.
Elton’s early songs reveal an introspection that’s astonishing. He set Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to music in a melodic way that let the stories unfold naturally. His earliest recordings are beautiful, but didn‘t instantly translate to the pop charts. That came a little later, as he began working catchy “hooks” into his songs, as illustrated by Your Song, Daniel, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Interestingly, Elton has gone back to his earlier non-commercial style of songwriting during the past decade, as his hit-making potential has diminished with the loss of record company support and changing public tastes (he’s spoken about this in interviews).
I’m intrigued by how Elton has managed to keep a balance between his pop-star persona and the “pure musician within.” He’ll insert extended piano improvisations into a novelty song like Bennie And The Jets. He’ll follow a #1 hit with his progressive rock instrumental Funeral For A Friend. He’ll tour with a glitzy road stage production and do a solo piano tour the next year. And he’s just as eager to perform an obscure “album track” as an audience singalong.
Elton’s life and career has survived superstardom, drug addiction, personal relationship upheavals, and much more. Many teens and younger kids don’t know his name or early hits like Your Song, but they’ve memorized the words to Can You Feel The Love Tonight from Broadway’s The Lion King. He’s performed everywhere from Las Vegas to Fairbanks, Alaska (I have friends up there who went to the concert!). He’s winding down his long touring career to spend more time with his family, and I wish him the very best in this new phase of his life.
In the meantime, let’s take this one last opportunity to see and hear him in concert. An era in music is coming to a close.