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Watching Elton John perform at Madison Square Garden always feels historic — even though he’s performed there more than 70 times, he frequently says it’s his favorite place in the world to play.
Even more historic is the feeling of watching him play what he says will be his last show ever* at the iconic venue. (Then again, this is a man whose 300-stop worldwide farewell tour began in 2018 and, due to Covid-19, may be going on considerably longer than the 74-year-old originally planned.)
“This is definitely the most magical venue to play in the world,” an emotional John told the New York City crowd on an unseasonably warm Wednesday evening. “I have had so many wonderful nights here.”
He can check off at least one more. Two years and one pandemic behind schedule, John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour resumed at a sold-out Madison Square Garden — for the second night in a row — to an energetic, vaccinated and mostly mask-less crowd. The seemingly tireless performer was front-and-center for some 23 songs and two and a half hours, taking only two brief breaks to change outfits and swap his signature bedazzled shades.
He knows the songs the crowd came for, and wasted no time in getting to them. After kicking off the show with a rousing “Bennie and the Jets” segueing into “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” John said, “How lovely it is to be here after all this time away.” He had the 20,000-strong crowd in the palm of his hand for the entire evening, as they swooned to “Tiny Dancer” and “Candle in the Wind” after a 24-month wait for this show, which was rescheduled from its original March 2020 date.
Indeed, the entire set was filled with greatest hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, with only “Cold Heart” — his recent duet with Dua Lipa from his “Lockdown Sessions” album that interpolates four of his earlier songs — dates from this century (and, funnily enough, was performed by Lipa two nights earlier and just a few miles away during her headlining set at UBS Arena in Queens.)
With the exception of a couple of songs (such as “Daniel”), the setlist did not deviate much from Elton’s 2019 stop at the storied venue (his 70th), not that the generation-spanning audience minded. John mostly let his songs do the talking, taking only a few moments in between songs to talk to the crowd. When he did, he spoke passionately about of his love for New York, a place he’s performed 150 shows, and Madison Square Garden, a venue he’s now sold out 72 times.
“This is my last show here,” an emotional John said as the crowd instinctively and endearingly booed at the mere idea of John hanging up his sparkled suits and glittery glasses. “By the time I finish my last show, I’ll be 76, and I want to spend time with my family and my children. There are other people who will take my place, and you’ll enjoy them.”
He joked he’s not getting any younger — “When you get to 74 and have a hip, it feels really good,” he said with a laugh. That may be true, but he is nothing less than a completely commanding presence on stage, even after recovering from Covid-19, which forced the fully vaccinated star to postpone two shows in Texas. He was in top-notch form on Wednesday night, bursting with energy as he tore through several powerful minutes-long piano solos. He sat parked in front of the keyboard most of the night, only occasionally standing up to soak in the decibel-shattering screams on the floor and up through the rafters.
He closed out the show with a string of crowd favorites — “The Bitch Is Back,” “I’m Still Standing,” a lively “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday’s Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” — which culminated with golden confetti raining down from the ceiling.
Ever the showman, John pretended to leave the stage only to come back and croon the number that first made him a star, “Your Song.” And of course the finale was “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which was played against a backdrop of videos from his earlier years, in wild costumes and piano-centric stunts.
And with that, a now-tracksuit-clad Elton stepped onto a platform that ascended up the stage as he waved goodbye to Madison Square Garden for what may have been the last time.