It’s a final tour that promises to be endless, especially since we believed for a long time that it would never resume. By the fault of the pandemic and health concerns that led to serial postponements. After more than half a century of loyal – and not always good – service to the UK’s balance of trade, Sir Elton John has decided to bow out with the ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour’. In reference to his great work, the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, released in the fall of 1973 after recording sessions at the famous Château d’Hérouville, near Pontoise (Val-d’Oise). The “goodbye” of the original title has therefore been replaced by the word “farewell”.
Like those of the day before, the thirty thousand spectators who gathered on Sunday June 12 at Paris La Défense Arena, the sports arena built near the Grande Arche, discovered on stage a setting reproducing the yellow brick road of the cover, borrowed from the Wizard of Oz. From the introductory cabaret piano of Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road structures the vocal turn. With the melancholic pause of Candle in the Wind (Marilyn Monroe version, not Diana Princess of Wales), the progressive rock of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding (a model for the opening of Starmania, by Michel Berger), the fight entertainment from Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting and, as expected, the title track to conclude the encore.
A sublime melody, perhaps the most beautiful of Elton John, born when his partnership with the lyricist Bernie Taupin could cause this pop ecstasy of which Lennon and McCartney had the secret. At the time, Taupin saw his accomplice losing his footing with fame, vodka-tonics, soon cocaine (“When are you going to get off?/When are you going to land?”) and informed him of his desire to return to the countryside to find his plow and “the owl that hunts the horned toad”.
Virtual duet with Dua Lipa
It is therefore Elton John’s turn to turn the page, that of long-haul flights, honors and admiring crowds. This stage release was initiated in the United States in the fall of 2018, shortly before the release of the biopic Rocket Man, which he co-produced, and the autobiography Moi Elton John (Albin Michel). However, it does not mean that the musician intends to give up his main activity. We have a painful illustration of this with Cold Heart, an electro mash-up of Sacrifice and Rocket Man, produced with his young compatriot, the singer Dua Lipa (present on the screen through a virtual duo). Elton John is nevertheless proud of this single from the summer of 2021, taken from The Lockdown Sessions, an album of remote collaborations born from the interruption of this tour, for the very material and futile reason that it allowed him to find the tops of the UK charts.
It’s the only recent title that has found a place in his setlist, and above all the only one that dates back to… 1984. Of the 23 songs on offer, 19 were published between 1969 (Your Song or Border Song, dedicated to the great and late Aretha Franklin) and 1976 (the sad breakup of Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word). Elton John is rather lucid when he looks back on his discography. In Le Monde in 2002, he admitted to having gradually “settled in comfort”: “I didn’t pay enough attention to the albums in the 1980s, because I used too many drugs, and in the 1990s, because I had other plans. »
It is not his public who will complain about his choices. The age group begins with the quadras, otherwise they are children who have accompanied their parents. A neighbor is even looking for a seat for his 88-year-old mother. No “rock’n’roll attitude” on the horizon, we are here among soft-rock lovers, with a strong female presence. Behind his grand piano, Elton John himself has opted for a relative sobriety – which would be that of a Liberace – if we consider the escapades of yesteryear: white tail coat with black lapels, frilled shirt and blue sequined glasses.
Uplifting boogie energy
He will only change twice, to appear in a dressing gown at the encore. These are his songs, and the best ones, that he intends to celebrate despite dispensable projections of images: a very “United Colors of Benetton” clip for Philadelphia Freedom, kitsch spatial images for Rocket Man or drag queens for The Bitch is Back. Except when photos of Martin Parr that we imagine in the possession of the collector Elton John, showing couples in escheat, illustrate I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.
In two hours and twenty minutes of concert, the septuagenarian deploys above all a joyful boogie energy on the piano and sings with strength and eloquence. His group of six musicians brings together some very old traveling companions, such as Nigel Olsson, English drummer with white butler gloves and two bass drums stylized in his name, at his side since 1969. Or the Scottish guitarist Davey Johnstone, collaborator since Madman across the Water (1971), which has just been reissued in a luxurious version. This great Americana record was long neglected before being rediscovered thanks to the late success of Tiny Dancer, the country-rock marvel used in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000). Among the two percussionists, one inevitably distinguishes, overhanging, the legendary Ray Cooper, a musician who played with all of Her Majesty’s rock aristocracy, always delighted to spend the evening essentially wielding a tambourine.
The ensemble demonstrates the cohesion of a rock group, vocally supporting the star in the choruses and able to overflow the structures of the songs. This at full volume, presumably to mask the main problem: location. This impossible La Défense arena with the acoustics of a station hall with its untimely echo, which would make the Stade de France regret. That is to say. With the accumulated date postponements, this tour will return to Paris in June 2023 in a more pleasant venue, the Accor Arena in Bercy. This should be the last opportunity to hear Elton John on French soil. Unless, inspired by Bob Dylan, he turns his farewell into “Never Ending Farewell Brick Road Tour”.