Photo: CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com. Elton John at his Atlanta appearance at State Farm Arena November 1, 2019.
Photo: CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com. Elton John at his Atlanta appearance at State Farm Arena November 1, 2019.

Concert review: a still potent Elton John says this is it in Atlanta - really! 

Originally posted Saturday, November 2, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on Melissa Ruggieri’s AJC Music Scene blog

Eleven months ago, esteemed part-time Atlantan Elton John made two appearances at State Farm Arena as part of a grandiose three-year worldwide farewell tour.

He maxed out sales as 25,000 people showed up over two nights, generating $3.3 million in concert revenue from eager fans who grew up with his massive stable of hits. 

My colleague and music writer Melissa Ruggieri wrote a rapturous review December 1, 2018 on the presumption these would be his final concerts ever in Atlanta:

Hearing his voice waver slightly toward the end of Friday’s epic performance at State Farm Arena as he said while seated at his piano, ‘I will miss you all so much, but I’ve had enough applause for a million, million years,’ even the toughest cynic would recognize the truthfulness in his intention.

But his promoters were well aware there was still pent-up demand in Atlanta. So in February, they announced two more dates at State Farm this weekend for another 25,000 people to scoop up. And they did. 

Ruggieri was out of town so she asked me to check out the show. Normally, the AJC doesn’t go back and review the second leg of a concert if they return to town. But John is a special case.

Besides his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credentials and the massive success of the recent biopic “Rocketman,” he has lived part time in Atlanta since 1991, owning a penthouse in Buckhead. 

During the 1990s, John was a fixture in town, regularly visiting Star 94’s Steve & Vikki morning show, playing in charity tennis events for his AIDS foundation and checking out the latest CD releases at Tower Records every Tuesday. He isn’t in Atlanta quite as much anymore but his affection remains evident. On stage, he said more than once how much he loves the city and name dropped a few of his closest friends. 

In fact, he noted before playing “Believe” that he founded his AIDS foundation in Atlanta and is thrilled that the disease is no longer a death sentence but a manageable situation with proper medication. But the “horrible stigma” remains, he said, and he continues to fight that: “Eight or nine people died of AIDS last year in Atlanta. Nobody should be. Stop shaming the people who are frightened. Kicking them out and disowning them as family members. Show compassion and love. Love cures what ails our world.”
Indeed, his concert was all about love. Love for music, of course. Love for his bandmates, many who have worked with him going back to the 1970s. And love for his fans.

Creaky joints no longer enable him to jump around his piano with glee (as shown in archive video on the massive screen behind him during “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”). But after most songs, he’d stand up and open his arms out, absorbing the waves of love that came back his way. 

Photo: CR: Rodney Ho. Archive video of Elton in his younger days jumping high in the air off his piano plays behind him during "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

John curated this farewell tour’s 25-song set list for maximum impact, leaning heavily on his 1970s classics. He played 14 of the 20 songs from his seminal “Elton John’s Greatest Hits” volumes 1 and 2. 

He isn’t the type of man to mess with a winning formula. The three-hour show was virtually identical to what he played 11 months earlier in the same space. Earlier this year, he added a single song to the tour mix: his 1976 top 10 hit “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.”

And the concert was also a testimony to one of the most successful songwriting duos in history this side of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. All 25 songs were co-written with his friend Bernie Taupin, who he gives full credit as his lyricist and muse. (John chose to omit several hits without Taupin including “Little Jeannie,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Blue Eyes.”)

And John inserted a few specific non hits such as “All the Girls Love Alice” and “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”  that highlight his incredible musicianship on the piano, an extension of his being. Some of the best moments came during extended instrumental interludes on “Levon” and “Rocket Man,” where John’s ethereal piano play evoked a feeling of floating in space.

John can still sing with all-out passion, resolve and full-throated timbre. He made only minor concessions to vocal wear, including skipping some high notes on “Rocket Man.” Fashionwise, he stuck with three signature outfits, all packed with standard sparkly regalia, ending in an over-sized robe. Sir Elton indeed.

It’s still hard to believe he’s ready for retirement. 

Bt near the end of the show, he received his only boos of the night when he said Saturday night’s State Farm concert would be his final show ever in Atlanta. “Ten years ago, I didn’t have a family of my own,” he said. “I need to be with them. I’ve had enough applause for a thousand lifetimes.” (Yes, that’s an echo of what he said a year ago.)

He and his husband David Furnish have two young sons via surrogate, and his primary residence is now Windsor, England. At age 72, he wants to maximize raising a family in a way he was not raised himself by his mum. 

After John sang the final notes of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” people on the floor rushed to the front of the stage to take photos and wave farewell as he doffed his robe, stepped on a platform, rose 20 feet up and exited from a door on the video screen, sort of like Truman in “The Truman Show.” A grand exit for a grand man. 

Photo: CR: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

FYI: For folks coming to Saturday night’s show, get there on time. He starts his show by 8:10 p.m. at the latest and it will run until about 11 p.m.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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