Elton John didn’t perform his The Lion King hit “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” at his Ottawa concert Friday night, but if he’d asked the question of his audience, the answer would have been obvious.
“If there’s one thing I know as I get older,” he told the crowd, “it’s the extraordinary power of love.”
The music legend was at the Canadian Tire Centre (CTC) for his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which he says is his last. It will be a long goodbye: more than 300 shows on five continents over three years lasting until 2021. Having started in early September, the tour is still in its infancy with Ottawa just the eighth stop so far. So, John and company are just getting started, still fresh and appeared to genuinely love every minute on the stage.
“Music plays a part in people’s lives,” Sir Elton said when announcing this final tour. “I want people to come to the shows, take away some good feelings and it’s hopefully like saying goodbye to friend.”
And so John said goodbye to Ottawa the best way he knows how: with two hours and forty minutes of hits that have become part of our cultural landscape: “Daniel,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Bennie and the Jets” and so many more. His voice, at age 71, remains as rich, powerful and agile as ever, and he belted out the songs with a passion and delight that made the cavernous arena, packed literally to the rafters, feel intimate and joyous. His six-man band, a number of whom have been with him for decades, gave his music the big sound fans expect and some generous, mesmerizing jams they didn’t, including a spectacular one in the middle of “Levon.” Throughout the evening, people sang along, danced, swayed together and delivered thunderous standing ovations.
Towering over the stage as a backdrop, a massive LED screen that may just be the largest ever seen at the CTC, displayed special effects, photos and clips of John’s wondrous and varied career and a variety of videos to complement the songs, from a psychedelic journey through space for “Rocket Man” to a hilarious, over-the-top drag queen drama for “The Bitch is Back.”
Compared to the outrageous getups of his earlier days, John’s Gucci-designed outfits were positively sedate: a white mandarin-collared shirt under a black tailcoat with pearl trim and sequined tiger on the back to start the show followed by a pink and green floral jacket with matching pink pants. As always, there were the signature rhinestone glasses.
John made easy banter with the crowd, providing stories behind the songs, paying tribute to his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, mentioning both his struggle with and triumph over addiction, and expressing his desire, as a gay man, to join the battle against AIDS/HIV and create the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
For the Ottawa audience, which ranged from elementary school kids with their parents to an 88-year-old woman who showed up with her two grandsons, it was as though John was leading them down the Yellow Brick Road not to Oz but to a place just as magical. Whether it was his evocative ballads or rock classics, his creations are anthems that form the soundtrack of so many lives. Like the best music, they touch the soul and for those old enough to remember, revive memories as cherished as the songs.
“As a musician, the greatest thing for me is to play for another human being,” he told the crowd. “I’m going to miss you and I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you’ve given me.”
In a time when so many concert goers have their eyes fixed on their smart phone screens as they record the performance, it’s revealing that the overwhelming majority of people at Elton John’s concert kept their phones in their pocket and their eyes on the stage. Captain Fantastic lived up to his name and more, and knowing they probably will never see him perform live again, his fans clearly wanted to cherish not only the sights and sounds of this last hurrah, but the feeling as well.