When are you going to come down?
These are words that Elton John has sung countless times, the opening to one of his trademark hits, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” And for most of his career, the meta answer to the question has been sometime later, but not now. But that all changed in recent years, as he embarked on his final tour, cleverly dubbed “Farewell Yellow Brick Road.” A Covid pandemic slowed the run down, but on Sunday night in Los Angeles — as well as around the world on Disney+ — he took his final American bow, playing his last scheduled US tour date at a location steeped in Elton lore. Will it actually be the last time American audiences can see him? That feels unlikely, be it a one-off or something else, but for the moment, this was goodbye. When are you going to land? Right now, apparently.
The reason for hanging them up is noble enough: to spend time with his young sons, whose mid-70s father has been working globally for most of their lives, and most of his own. Before the final song on Sunday night, he brought the family out to show who he was leaving life on the road for.
It’s not for any declining ability to perform. For most of the 2.5 hour set, Elton sounded stunning while in his standard, soulful register. Sure, he might not be able to hit the highest notes anymore, but he elegantly sang around the natural limitations of age at the peaks of “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man.” (In comparison, someone like Paul McCartney opts to surround himself with many backing singers to help carry the tunes. There’s no right or wrong way to age as a performer and both are affecting successes, but there was something particularly admirable in Elton not having a chorus of singers behind him, allowing for an appreciation of just how much of his youthful vocals do remain.)
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And it’s certainly not for waning relevance. Just in the last year, Elton found himself in the top 10 of the Hot 100 with his clever Dua Lipa collaboration, “Cold Heart,” which the pair playfully performed in concert on Sunday. It’s just one recent example of his embracing whatever cultural trends are happening, something that has punctuated every era of his career. His been animated on both The Simpsons and South Park, performed at the VMAs with Eminem and Axl Rose. When Britney Spears released a comeback single this year, it was with Elton John. ’90s kids will love him for writing music for The Lion King, and 2010s kids might wind up loving him for the Oscar-winning Rocketman. There’s never been a period where Elton John wasn’t touching modern culture. Even looking around my section of the audience, you could spot John Stamos, Josh Homme, and Jojo Siwa rocking out, different worlds and experiences with the legend colliding.
For me, though, Elton John will always be that early cassette tape I owned, a perfect object for a five-year-old to wear out, intrigued by the big glasses and white suit that the man donned on the cover. He created music so timeless that a child could obsess over how instantly accessible and permanently memorable each song was, and feel the same thing 30-plus years later in concert. One person behind us held up a sign that read “Thank you Elton John for my life” and I couldn’t agree more — as a person that gets paid to read and write about music, that early exposure to Elton John’s music helped set me along my path.
But regardless of how or when the tens of thousands of Angelenos in attendance came to Elton John’s music, we were all saying farewell the same way. We all wore little blinking bracelets that changed color with the music. We all sang our loudest to “Burn Down The Mission” and “Levon.” We all shed a tear as Elton paid tribute to Aretha Franklin for “Border Song” and his fallen bandmates ahead of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” the latter spruced up as a duet with Brandi Carlile. We all smiled from ear to ear as confetti rained down at the end of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and as Kiki Dee took the stage to duet “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”
But mostly we all savored the moment. Elton didn’t really bask in the ending of it all, giving nods to his connection to the city without pressing for sentimentality — he shouted out the LA Times’ Robert Hilburn for jumpstarting his career with his famed 1970 Troubadour review and paid homage to his 1975 rhinestone Dodger uniform with a new rhinestone Dodger robe, perfect for retirement. Looking around, at fans young and old, there was an abundance of gratitude and appreciation for a legacy that extends far beyond the music.
If we’re going by music alone, Elton John could still stand ahead of most anyone from the classic rock era (shouts to his lyrics partner Bernie Taupin as well). But things like his advocacy for AIDS and LGBTQ rights, his knighthood, his numerous Grammys and Oscars and Tonys, his iconic tributes to Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana and so much more make him the kind of enduring cultural monument that can hardly be matched. He might be gone from touring in America (head to Europe or Australia in 2023 if you want to catch him), but he’ll never be gone from our imagination. His impact will continue to ripple long after the last song is sung.