It’s not the 50-some years of performing behind him that’s pushing Elton into retirement from touring. If anything, John seems immune to exhaustion. Springing to life under the bright lights, his eyes glisten like his bejeweled jackets every time he gets up from the piano bench to bask in the audience’s adulation. But as he put it to the MSG crowd on Friday, “two curveballs” prompted his decision to bid adieu to the road. Those curveballs, ages 6 and 8, were trotted out after the show by their father to wave at the audience, looking somewhat perplexed and certainly grateful their earplugs were firmly in place.
Elton John and David Furnish’s sons weren’t the only ones to get a spotlight during the show. Superfan Jim Turano, who’s seen EJ more than 170 times since 1976 and hosts a podcast called Captain Pod-Tastic, earned a dedication, with John declaring “this one’s for you, baby” prior to a glorious “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” And several queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race appeared on the big screen via a recently-shot video that accompanies John as he rollicks through “The Bitch Is Back.” Morgan McMichaels, Valentina, Mayhem Miller, Mariah Balenciaga and Eureka -- dripping in Golden Era Hollywood glamor -- get into a raucous poolside fight that’s hysterically campy, and if you wanna watch it, well, you better get a ticket.
The radio hit-heavy setlist leaves nothing wanting -- sure, he leaves a few Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s on the floor (which is a pretty baller flex), but what Elton John fan in 2018 is clamoring to hear “Island Girl” or his cover of “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds” anyway? John does include album cuts like “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Burn Down the Mission” that you’re unlikely to hear on classic rock radio, and mid-show, he blessedly he busts out the monumentally epic “Love Lies Bleeding/Funeral For a Friend.” That 11-minute Goodbye Yellow Brick Road opener, one of his finest compositions, is quite possibly the most fun moment of the show, with Hammer horror movie fog rolling across the stage as his piano spins and the band indulges in some extended riffing. And when Elton does jam out on the piano, his dexterous fingers fly like he’s a hybrid of Little Richard and Liberace.
Even though Elton has played classics like “Your Song,” “Daniel” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” countless times, he delivers them with a fragile intensity that makes you believe he’s fully reliving the emotions that moved him and co-writer Bernie Taupin to craft these undying compositions in the first place. And despite admitting to CBS This Morning he’s beyond tired of playing “Crocodile Rock,” he’s pro enough to know the audience wants those la-la-la’s, so naturally he obliges -- although he did introduce it by specifically saying, “This is for the fans.”
And those fans sure don’t seem ready to say goodbye just yet. It’s not uncommon to see some people filter out of a Madison Square Garden concert before the end of a show, attempting to bypass the human traffic jam that inevitably occurs, but everyone at Elton John’s MSG show on Friday night stayed put until the very end, riveted by the icon’s jubilant stage presence and peerless sense of style. Thankfully, the end isn’t quite here just yet -- John will return to MSG for two dates in November, and again in 2019 -- but when his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour does come to a close, he can rest easy knowing he went out on top, and left the audience hungry for more.