Elton John bids farewell to Las Vegas with a memorable three-hour sendoff

Elton John at T-Mobile Arena
David Becker/Powers Imagery for T-Mobile Arena

Four and a half stars

Elton John September 6, T-Mobile Arena.

Well before Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars were filling theaters on the Strip, Las Vegas had Elton John. For the better part of 15 years, he has made Vegas his second home, first with the Red Piano residency from 2004 to 2009 and then with The Million Dollar Piano, which ran from 2011 until May 2018.

Given his relationship with Las Vegas (he played 445 shows during that time!), John's September 6 Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour stop felt special inside T-Mobile Arena. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Rocketman, this year’s musical biopic starring ‎Taron Egerton, has surely captivated a new audience of fans, and the sold-out Vegas crowd reflected all ages and walks of life.

John kicked off his three-hour show with "Benny and the Jets," donning a black tuxedo embroidered with sequins. His vocals started out pitchy but quickly warmed up, and by the second song, '73 cut "All the Girls Love Alice," the singer was flying high, hitting all the right notes as his lightning-fast fingers set the pace for his exemplary six-piece band.

Over the course of three hours and 25 songs, everything about the 72-year-old’s performance sparkled. The pianist got up from his seat, bowed and interacted with the crowd after every number, whether to offer thanks or reflect on his fabled career—like the time Aretha Franklin covered his 1970 track "Border Song."

Elton John

Elton John

Nearly 50 years years after its initial release, that song—like so many of John and longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin's creations—feels more relevant than ever, driven home by poignant black-and-white photos of men and women of all ethnicities rotating on a giant screen. When John pivoted from that somber track to an upbeat one, "Philadelphia Freedom" showcased a diverse cast of non-binary people of color, dancing in what felt like a joyous Gap ad.

“I want to tell you that I’m going to miss you guys,” John told the crowd. "You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul, every fiber of my being. I will never forget you, but I have a life now. Years ago I never thought I’d have a family of my own, but I do now … I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

John provided plenty of intimate moments throughout the night, including a beautiful rendition of “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” which he called “the most personal song” on 1975’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Still, nothing came close to "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," which saw John exit the stage as smoke, thunder, lightning and the sound of rain filled the area, and then return in a red, white and blue suit, sit at the piano and begin moving across the stage on a track. The song's epic climax shined a deserved spotlight on his band—drummer Nigel Olsson, percussionists Ray Cooper and John Mahon, keyboardist Kim Bullard, bassist Matt Bissonette and guitarist Davey Johnstone—some of whom have been with John since the '70s.

Toward the end of his set, John talked about the darker times he has endured—some of which are depicted in Rocketman—and encouraged people to get help and to help others in need. "I was a drug addict and alcoholic and I loathed the way I was, so I decided to be very brave and say three words, which were 'I need help.' It took me a long time to say those words, but when I did say those words, I got help and I got clean and sober,” he said, calling it “one of the best things” he’d done in his life.

John also spoke about the Elton Johns AIDS Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded when he got sober. “We have the medicines to stop the spread of the disease, but we have to get the medicines to people who can’t afford them. I think that in my lifetime we will see the end of this pandemic, and I will fight tooth and nail until I do,” he said.

"Love truly is a cure for what ails us,” he added, before jumping into the ballad “Believe” off 1995 album Made in England. A raucous version of "I’m Still Standing" featured a background montage of John’s most outlandish performances and outfits, and was followed by the energetic and buoyant “Crocodile Rock,” for which John led the entire audience in a sing-a-long.

John returned for an encore of “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and then John climbed aboard a chair lift and ascended into an opening in the backdrop, waving until he was no longer visible. After 52 years of touring, more than 30 albums and 300 million records sold worldwide, Elton John gave a memorable farewell to Las Vegas—a city that can forever call him one of its own.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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