As he will do 300 times in cities around the world over the course of three years, Elton John said farewell to Omaha Tuesday with 2 hours, 45 minutes of the music that has made him one of the most beloved entertainers of the last half century.
It started with “Bennie and the Jets” and wrapped up with “Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road.” In between, John and his brilliant five-man band hit the high points of a 50-year career, some of them hits, some revelatory deep tracks.
Reaching back to “Border Song” from his self-titled 1970 second album, John talked about how Aretha Franklin recorded it, he said, giving him and writing partner Bernie Taupin confidence when they most needed it -- “I loved her so much,” he said.
Moving forward to his fourth album, 1971’s “Madman Across The Water,” John romped through “Tiny Dancer,” while a video of Los Angeles street life playing on the big screen behind him, handled “Rocket Man” well enough, bypassing the high notes he can no longer hit for a gravelly punctuated chorus, and rocked out on the piano on an extended version of “Levon."
With “Indian Sunset,” one of the night’s highlights, he talked about writing with Taupin, who, he said, gives him the words. He reads them, a story comes up in his mind, the tempo and genre of the piece emerges and “I put my fingers on the keyboard and hope for the best. It seems to work.”
Then he delivered a powerful version of the three-part song, joined only by animated percussionist Roy Cooper.
From 1975’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” which he said was among his favorite albums, came a beautiful, touching version of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” which John said was its “most personal” song.
There were, of course, other touching ballads -- “Candle in the Wind,” accompanied by film clips of Marilyn Monroe, “Daniel,” and “Believe,” which came with a socio-political message -- “We’re shouting at each other from two side of the river and it’s not good,” John said. “We need to show each other a little more kindness.”
And there was some rock ‘n’ roll, which began with the boogie of “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” after which John talked about his decision to end his touring career to spend more time with his family, then paid tribute to his fans, 15,000 or so of whom packed the CHI Health Center.
“You have bought the 45s, the albums, the 8-tracks, the cassettes -- I hate cassettes -- the CDs, the DVDs, and you always bought tickets to the show,” he said. “I want to thank you for the love, the loyalty, the generosity and the kindness you’ve shown me all that time. I’ll never forget you.”
Appropriately, then came a majestic version of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” a song made more poignant as John says goodbye to touring. It kicked off the run of hits that closed the show.
Rockers all, the rush to the finish found John hammering away on the piano on “The Bitch Is Back,” saw old photos and videos of Elton throughout his career on the big screen during “I’m Still Standing,” tearing through “Crocodile Rock” and going back to back with guitarist Davey Johnstone on the set-closing “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”
Emerging for the encore clad in a pink robe with sequined cats on the back, John wrapped up the night with a touching “Your Song” then hit the yellow brick road for the last time in Omaha.
With any luck, the celebratory show won’t be John’s Nebraska farewell. There’s another city where he’s played a couple of times that, I hope, he’ll stop at sometime before the three-year-tour ends. We’d love to say “thank you and farewell Elton” in Lincoln.