Elton John is bringing his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour to the Tacoma Dome Sept. 17-18, part of an immense five-continents-spanning, 300-plus-shows juggernaut that’s billed as his last tour.
Long before a $192 million-grossing biopic was made about him, Sir Elton was packing arenas here, playing the region numerous times over the past decades.
Here’s a look back at what our Seattle Times reviewers said about some of his concerts.
Elton John played on a double bill at Seattle Center Arena with Ballin’ Jack, singing hits including “Friends,” “Your Song” and “Country Comfort.” “John’s piano work was excellent, reminding one of the best of Ramsey Lewis, Leon Russell and Ray Charles,” wrote reviewer Carole Beers. “His singing was adequate but too similar to that of Joe Cocker and, at times, James Taylor, to be ear-catching.
“What did stand out,” Beers continued, “was his showmanship; it was spectacular. But it had a disturbingly gimmicky, trumped-up quality.”
The next year, either John toned down his show before a full house of 6,000-plus at the Arena, or reviewer Janine Gressel found his showmanship to her liking. “Although he is known for his physical antics while playing the piano — kneeling, jumping up and down, etc. — they were kept to a suitable minimum and never distracted from the genuine brilliance of his playing or became gimmicky,” she wrote.
John played “the most energetic piano since Jerry Lee Lewis” for two hours and 20 minutes, Gressel noted. Then, he played a first encore that lasted nearly an hour and “still had strength to respond to a second and then a third standing ovation.”
For the first of two sold-out shows at the Seattle Center Coliseum, lines started forming in the morning, stretching from the Coliseum to Center House by 5 p.m. “John brought his new nine-piece band and with it a new emphasis on the music,” wrote then-Seattle Times music critic Patrick MacDonald. “Gone were the outrageous costumes, enormous hats and ridiculous glasses; there were no explosions nor dry-ice smoke.”
Not that there weren’t antics. John was “a blur of activity throughout the concert,” MacDonald noted, jumping on the piano, going around back to see the audience behind the stage — and throwing his piano bench off the stage four times.
Despite MacDonald observing that John’s voice sounded a little strained, this concert ended up being named by Seattle Times readers, in a poll, as the best concert of 1975 — beating out the likes of the Rolling Stones (which came in second) and Led Zeppelin (third). MacDonald himself put the John concert in seventh place, with the Rolling Stones first.
Again playing to a sold-out Coliseum (though it took several weeks to sell out rather than a few hours, as with past shows), John seemed to “be mellowing in his old age (33),” appearing less flamboyant and almost subdued, MacDonald wrote. He included only a few songs from his latest albums, instead performing mostly his hits from the mid-’70s.
Those hits from the ’70s again got the biggest response from the crowd when John returned to the Puget Sound area, after an absence of some 11 years, to play the Tacoma Dome. “You could almost hear bell bottoms ringing to the strains of classics such as ‘Bennie and the Jets’ and ‘Honky Cat,’ ” wrote reviewer Ted Fry. Still, “the anthem-like grandeur of songs from his later period was perfect for the setting.”
A reinvigorated John — now Sir Elton, after his knighting earlier that year — rode a resurgent wave, coming back after rehab, penning with lyricist Tim Rice the hit “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from “The Lion King” soundtrack, and reworking “Candle In the Wind” into an enormously popular tribute to the late Princess Diana.
At KeyArena, he “came across like a beloved avuncular imp,” MacDonald wrote, “dispensing nostalgia and good cheer to a packed house of adoring longtime fans.” Still, it took some urging to get the crowd going, as “the veteran superstar, who turns 51 next month, was a lot more lively than most of those who paid $30 to $45 to see him.” John nonetheless “showed every sign of having a good time,” saying before his last encore: “We had a blast,” MacDonald wrote.
John returned — this time with Billy Joel — to the Tacoma Dome in 2001, with the two superstars singing not just their own songs but each other’s, and sharing the stage at times. Much of John’s set was “pretty mellow,” MacDonald wrote. “It almost had the feeling of a recital. And without the glitter and spectacle he’s known for, you could appreciate the songs for their fine lyrics and engaging arrangements.”
Even back then, the “Tacoma Dome crawl” on Interstate 5 was a thing, as those in the capacity crowd of 22,000 tried to make their way to the arena. “Even though the concert started 15 minutes late, fans kept streaming in for the first hour,” MacDonald noted.
The then-67-year-old John played nearly three hours during his KeyArena stop, with a voice that never flagged and that switched easily “from a robust and powerful delivery for ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ and a more eloquent approach on gentler ballads such as ‘Candle in the Wind,’ ” wrote reviewer Gillian G. Gaar.
John admitted it was “potentially ‘too cheesy’ to close the show with a song from a Disney cartoon,” Gaar wrote, but his solo rendition of “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King” film “nonetheless provided an uplifting ending to an evening with a master showman.”
Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, 8 p.m. Sept. 17-18; Tacoma Dome, 2727 E. D St., Tacoma; remaining tickets start at $243 (prices subject to change); tacomadome.org
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