Elton John's Long-Ass Tour
It’s a pretty ballsy move for a 70-year-old to announce a three-year tour. Will Elton John hang in there long enough to reach the finish line of his farewell tour in 2021? And for a guy who’s calling it a day because he needs “to dedicate more time to raising” his children, isn’t he sort of blowing off the next three years in that department? I’ll refrain from judging further and bank on him to at least make it to 2019, as I laid down significant cash to see him next February, by far the biggest lead-time I've ever allowed for a concert. I haven’t really been a fan of his music since the mid-80s, and I’m attending the concert mostly because Elton John was an essential component to my musical upbringing, by far the most influential artist in my formative years. (Also, he’s performing twenty minutes from my house.) The soundtrack of my youth includes much of his early output, and I fondly recall purchasing his first greatest hits collection at the local K-Mart during a snowstorm in the winter of 1980, soon followed by a piano book that inspired my piano playing for the next several years.
But generally, Elton lost me after 1984’s Breaking Hearts, the follow-up to his surprise comeback a year earlier and the last album that featured his falsetto voice, nailing it on songs like “Burning Buildings” and the title track, and balancing the ballads nicely with gritty songs like “Restless” and “Who Wears These Shoes?” After this release, he sailed off a cliff into adult contemporary schlock, still able to churn out a beautiful melody and occasionally compose a gem – the song “Believe” from Made in England is a standout – but generally wading in the calm, safe waters of Disney and VH1. I stayed away and didn’t purchase another album of his until just recently, when I added Ice on Fire and Leather Jackets just to round out my vinyl collection, but I say it with authority: both of those albums blow.
I saw Elton on that tour of 1984. The French hornist from my high school band drove me and my buddies Kurt and Mike to East Troy, Wisconsin, where Elton performed at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, opening with “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon” before flash-forwarding to his current releases. A beautiful woman in an evening dress stood in front of us, and during the song “Blue Eyes” she gushed with excitement, strolled all the way to the front of the aisle and tossed a bouquet of roses onto the stage. Later, when Elton picked up the bouquet, she started weeping. He didn’t have quite the same effect on me, but I liked the show, though the benefit of hindsight and live recordings from that time show that it wasn’t Elton at his best. He was aided tremendously by the return of his classic band of Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone and Dee Murray, but the addition of a synth player Fred Mandell, who layered cheesy string to just about every other song, was a detriment, and Elton yielded a bad attitude, announcing at one point that they would play songs from Too Low For Zero, and that they might as well “get them over with.” Nonetheless, it was Elton at the end of his purest voice, and I’m glad to have seen him before he had to change keys and employ numerous backup singers to handle the high notes of his 70s recordings.
Since then, I’ve been tempted to see him numerous times, but something kept telling me to let him go and not witness his decline. I was ready to pull the trigger three years ago here in Chicago, but car trouble kept me from following through. Alas, he opened up with “Funeral for a Friend,” and my brother who attended the show said that song alone was worth the price of admission.
So now I’m in. Or…I’m in a year from now. Here’s hoping the piano player can hang in there for at least another. And here’s hoping that this almost-fifty piano player can too. You never know.