Elton John chose his encores carefully at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, July 23. The final song was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” a natural for a tour that is named Farewell Yellow Brick Road and is intended to be his final tour, ever. But before that came his 2021 hit duet with Dua Lipa, “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix),” and then “Your Song,” his breakthrough hit from all the way back in 1970.
“I tell you, at 75 years of age, it’s so great to have a No. 1 record everywhere in the world,” he said between the two songs. “I have to thank Pnau and Dua Lipa for making it possible.
“That was my latest hit. This was my first hit, 52 years ago.”
While John has had hits in every decade from the ’70s to the ’20s, he naturally focused on the ’70s in the ’80s at this concert, which was loaded with his signature songs and contained a just few non-hits from early in his career (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “Burn Down the Mission” and “Border Song,” the last of which was introduced with some fond words about Aretha Franklin, who gave John and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin a great lift by covering it). But there was only one real wild card in the setlist: the glowering “Have Mercy on the Criminal,” from John 1973 Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player album).
Highlights included “Rocket Man” with a long and appropriately spacey instrumental interlude, and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” accompanied by footage from the “Rocket Man” biopic that made it more even more poignant than it ever has been.
John’s voice had a bit of a harsh edge early on, but he loosened up and hit his stride soon enough. Ballads such as “Candle in the Wind” and “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” felt intimate even in the vast setting; “I’m Still Standing” (featuring photos and video clips from throughout his career) and “Crocodile Rock” (dedicated to his fans and made into a singalong at times) were among the most celebratory numbers in a very celebratory show.
Not so successful, I thought, was “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix),” performed as a virtual duet with Dua Lipa, with canned music. I understand why John wanted to perform a song that proves he can still have a hit so late in his career. But the show emphasized his ability to thrill a crowd with a real, organic, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll band; this song stuck out like a sore thumb.
The Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour has already come to the Prudential Center in Newark (in 2019 and February of this year), Madison Square Garden (in 2018, 2019 and February of this year) and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (in 2019 and March of this year). But the current two-night stand at MetLife Stadium represents its last stops in New Jersey or New York.
John reflected on this before performing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”
“Tonight is the 241st show on this tour, and this is my 12th concert in East Rutherford,” he said. “I first came here, to the Meadowlands Arena, on Aug. 4, 1989, and tonight is my 28th concert in New Jersey. I’ll never forget Wildwood and Asbury Park, playing there, a long time ago. And it’s my 187th show in the tri-state area. And … tomorrow night will be my last show, ever, in New York and New Jersey, because next year, when I come off the road, I’ll be 76, and I will want to spend the rest of my life with my family.”
Big cheer here, from the crowd.
“And I’ve had one hell of a ride. And you have been there. You have made it possible. You came to the shows. You bought the albums, the CDs, the cassettes. The vinyl. You bought the tickets to the shows, ’cause I love playing live so much. It’s been an amazing time.
“Some of you here tonight have dressed up in the most wonderful outfits. (Reads sign audience member is holding up) 167th show there for, um … Wayne Martin! Yes! 167 shows he’s been to. (Reads another sign) Someone has their 65th birthday. And you guys make me happy when you put the crazy glasses and the costumes on. It makes me feel so great.
“You’ve made my life amazing, and you’ve given me so much love, always. And I’ll never forget the concerts that I’ve done in this area. The Fillmore East with Leon Russell. Madison Square Garden with John Lennon. Madison Square Garden, the 9/11 Concert. And my 60th birthday at Madison Square Garden. And all the shows that I did with Billy Joel. He’s something else. He’s the greatest New Yorker I’ve ever met, okay, so there you go.
“Anyway, I want to wish you health, happiness, love, and peace, and prosperity. I love you. I’ll never forget you. I’ll take you with me in my heart, my soul, and I’ll tell my kids all about you when I come off the road next year.”
The tour, which is scheduled to end in Europe in July 2023, also represents something of a victory lap for his band, which includes three musicians whose history with him dates back to the ’70s (guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionist Ray Cooper) and whose playing is as spirited as ever, as well as keyboardist Kim Bullard, bassist Matt Bissonette, and drummer-percussionist John Mahon.
John’s second and final MetLife Stadium show of the summer takes place at 8 p.m. July 24. Visit ticketmaster.com.
Click here to see a complete list of all his New Jersey shows, from 1970 to now.
Here is the July 23 setlist, with some videos below:
“Bennie and the Jets”
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
“Have Mercy on the Criminal”
“Take Me to the Pilot”
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
“Candle in the Wind”
“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
“Burn Down the Mission”
“Sad Songs (Say So Much)”
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters”
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
“The Bitch Is Back”
“I’m Still Standing”
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
“Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
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