When Elton John announced for the first time a stop in Indianapolis during his farewell tour, no one knew what a COVID was. “Social distancing” was just the number of us talking about our high school love lives.
The country had a different government in January 2018. Gainbridge Fieldhouse, where John filled a resplendent crowd decked in glitter and lit glasses on Friday night, had a different name.
John’s Farewell Show has since been delayed three timespushing him back more than 29 months.
Looking back now, it’s hard to think of anything that didn’t change during that time.
Nothing can ever be truly timeless, but a rabid Indy audience came close to a few such moments in the performance of 75-year-old John.
Let me start, as I get poetic about time, at the end.
John’s encore began with a seated vocal of “Cold Heart,” an electronic duet with Dua Lipa released last year.
“It’s great to have a hit song at 75,” he said.
He then played a strong rendition of “Your Song”, his first hit, released nearly 52 years ago.
Before saying goodbye to us all forever with the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” apt, John shared a tender moment.
“My first performance in Indianapolis was on July 21, 1976 at the Market Square Arena. I’ve played there 13 times. This is my 25th gig in Indianaand my last gig in Indiana.”
The audience groaned and even booed a little.
He then thanked the audience, played the final number and rose to a platform on the state through a hole in the giant screen behind his band – presumably, back to his plow.
It was one of the strongest emotional endings I’ve seen at a gig – probably due to the cross-generational appeal of much of John’s music, and a real ending to what will be his nearly five-year “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour.
Take “Tiny Dancer”. For many in the audience and around the world, it was a song at their ball. At their wedding. At a relative’s funeral.
Even for the youngest of audiences, it’s a song from an iconic scene from “Almost Famous.” Not such a deep feeling, of course, but a memory nonetheless linked to this piece of music.
For that reason, we were all ready to look past a few simple flaws during a performance by a singer and half band that’s been in it for five decades.
The high notes will not be there. There will be vocal breaks taken during certain songs. What was once a veritable 11-minute-plus epic for “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” is about to get shorter and sweeter. There won’t be as many costume changes (but definitely some).
At one point early on, the crowd broke up for the first chorus of “Tiny Dancer,” but John was playing the long game a bit more and keeping it pretty reserved.
I wasn’t surprised by any of this, and such trivia was more than outweighed by various highlights.
Elton and the boys crushed “Border Song,” which he dedicated to the great Aretha Franklin and came with an excellent video thumbnail, as many songs were.
The band tore the house down – almost literally, I felt the tremors and was tired of the ongoing renovations at the Fieldhouse – with “Rocketman”. The ending is the loudest thing I’ve heard in easily five years.
In one particularly poignant moment, John called Indianapolis a “preeminent feature of my life.”
He explained that after he attended Ryan White’s funeral in 1990the Indiana boy who opened the world’s eyes to AIDS in the ’80s, he changed his way of life by finally getting sober and staying sober ever since.
John then dedicated “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” to White’s mother, Jeanne White-Ginder, who was in the audience.
I also have to shout out Ray Cooper, one of the three percussionists in John’s band. During “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and “Levon,” this man was an animal living his best life on about 30 different instruments backstage.
The team also made a fantastic version of “I’m Still Standing”.
Unfortunately, the audience also put the entire state of Indiana to shame when we missed our cue to sing the “La La” part of “Crocodile Rock.” John waved his arms to get us back on track, and we rallied.
There was also a considerable box office queue at the start of the show, as many years-old tickets needed to be changed. A few hundred people were late for the long-awaited and expensive show, and that’s a shame.
Gainbridge released a statement late Friday evening saying some ticket holders were affected due to reconfiguration of its lower bowl and mezzanine as part of ongoing bookings.
On Friday, the site said it contacted ticket holders and increased staff in its customer service areas. He apologized for the delays and asked anyone affected to email [email protected], or wherever they purchased their tickets.
Once everyone entered, however, the show did not disappoint.
John’s playing was excellent throughout, as was that of his band. I probably won’t even remember my name at 75, not to mention the lyrics and furious beats on 21 songs. Although seated for most of the show, he was magnetic.
Artists tend to develop severe amnesia when it comes to farewell tours. But if it’s really the end, it was a good ending.
Elton John’s Indianapolis setlist
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Rory Appleton is the pop culture reporter at IndyStar. Reach him at 317-552-9044 and [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.