This year, some of music’s biggest stars have hung up their microphones and retired from touring — New York troubadour Paul Simon, pop master craftsman Neil Diamond, thrash icons Slayer. Leave it to Elton John to throw the most fabulous goodbye party of them all: His Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, which stopped at TD Garden Saturday night and will return next month and in November 2019, is a three-year round-the-world jaunt celebrating the British piano man and his huge catalog, which he crafted with his longtime songwriting partner and lyricist Bernie Taupin. (John’s discography is so massive, he apologized early on for omitting any audience members’ personal favorites from his 24-song set.)
Resplendent in royal blue and bright pink, and wearing sparkling sunglasses, John opened Saturday’s set with “Bennie and the Jets,” the wicked music-business satire that opens with deliberate piano chords before blooming into a fanciful showcase for John’s swaggering style — which he put fully under the spotlight with a lengthy piano coda, one of many extended outros and solos that John and his bandmates would engage in during the raucous, hit-filled evening. John and his band were a well-oiled machine, amping up the theatricality on some songs while reinventing others: “Funeral For a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding,” already a maelstrom on record, doubled down on its prog-rock splendor with guitar-hero soloing courtesy of axman Davey Johnstone; “Sad Songs” was turned into a shuffle that echoed the blooze-rock practiced by The Faces and their heirs; “Rocket Man” had twinkling arpeggios added to its end, adding an undercurrent of triumph to its depiction of lost-in-space loneliness.
John would pause between songs to give gratitude to his audience, and he told a few stories about his nearly half-century reign as a pop star— highlighting his separate-rooms songwriting process with Bernie Taupin, recalling the moment when he found out that Aretha Franklin (”such an idol of mine,” he recalled) would be covering his peace-minded “Border Song,” touting the $400 million raised by the Elton John AIDS Foundation in its quarter-century. They contributed to the evening’s feeling of totality, as did the gilded frame surrounding the stage; from far away it looked like a gold-leaf bracket for the video screen, but a closer look revealed it to be an intricately detailed map of John’s own yellow brick road, honoring achievements like his award-winning compositions for musicals like “The Lion King” and his groundbreaking 1975 appearance on “Soul Train,” as well as the eye-popping outfits with which he became synonymous.
The Rocket Man’s forthcoming exit from the road means that there will be a little less glitter and a little less pomp on the arena-rock circuit. But John’s songs, from the irresistible open-road anthem “Tiny Dancer” to the show-closing, tour-name-inspiring “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” will endure, and Saturday night’s show was a bittersweet testament to that fact.
At TD Garden, Oct. 6 (returns Nov. 6)Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.