Review: Elton John’s show in Salt Lake City includes a few wrong turns, but ultimately gets fans where they want to go

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Elton John performs in Salt Lake City on Wednesday Sept. 4, 2019.

A scene in the fantastical musical biopic “Rocketman” depicts Elton John’s debut concert at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour club, wherein his opening performance of “Crocodile Rock” proves so mesmerizing and touched by ecstasy as to negate gravity and cause both the burgeoning pop star and all his concertgoers to literally float above the ground.

On Wednesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, in the show that kicked off the latest U.S. leg of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” retirement tour, the inclusion of “Crocodile Rock” — the sole difference in the setlist from his European tour stops — had the pedestrian-by-comparison effect of merely lifting a reverential if occasionally restless audience from seat to feet.

Whatever the expectations going in, the show was not particularly epic or transformative. The vignettes accompanying the songs on the giant video screen were frequently nonsensical and sometimes cringeworthy. Aside from one bombastic performance featuring a simulated thunderstorm replete with smoke machines and strobe lights, the most ostentatious component of the show was John’s assortment of bedazzled coattails. And though the setlist was lovingly overstuffed in an effort to give fans their money’s worth, several song choices reduced the atmosphere to quizzical indifference, while the 2-hour, 33-minute total run time was simply too long to maintain a consistent verve.

And yet, this is all nitpicking, of course — circumventing the laws of physics is an impossible standard to live up to. In the end, it came down to a simple question: Were any or all of these accumulated flaws sufficient to make anyone regret attending Sir Elton’s alleged final-ever concert in Utah?

The simple answer: “Of course not, you insouciant, blathering moron.”

From the moment he took the stage (adorned in a black suit augmented with silver, blue and red sparkles; blue-rimmed trademark oversized sunglasses; a silver cross dangling from his right ear; and a simple, thin gold band on his left ring finger) and started methodically pounding out the opening chords to “Bennie and the Jets,” Elton had an adoring audience eagerly attuned to his every move.

Admittedly, there were fewer moves than there used to be. At 72 years old, John drew roars for simply rising from his piano bench and crouching down during the post-chorus segments of “Bennie.” He was mostly relegated to punctuating a song’s end by standing up and taking a bow; or shuffling over a few feet in either direction, pumping his arms, and exhorting the rapturous masses to cheer longer and louder.

And it goes without saying that he did exactly zero handstands on his shiny black Yamaha grand piano. But his dextrous fingers proved to have myriad wonderfully gymnastic feats within them yet.

Elton was at his best when he and his band — a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer, and two percussionists (because it’s just not a rock show without timpani and bongo drums) — amped up the energy and took everyone along on a rollicking ride.

Jaunty struts through “Philadelphia Freedom,” “The Bitch Is Back” and the antithetically-monikered “Sad Songs” incited spontaneous and infectious outbursts of dancing. Extended instrumental denouements to “Rocket Man” and “Levon” were awe-inspiring demonstrations of musical genius and prowess alike.

His famed falsetto long gone as a result of vocal cord surgery in 1987, he put his warm and rich tenor on display, most notably in a full-throated rendition of “Believe.”

Effervescent throughout the evening, he endeared himself by appearing as relatable as any obscenely rich and famous pop star can — sharing songs’ origin stories; telling tales of personal hubris and redemption; and, of course, praising the fans for making his 50-year career possible: “Without you, I mean diddly-squat,” he said. “You buy the records, you bought the 8-tracks, the cassettes, the CDs, the DVDs, the merchandise — but most of all, you bought the tickets to the shows. As much as I love to make records, as much as I love to write songs, the greatest thrill to me is to play to another human being and get a response.”

In the wake of that, a perfunctory-sounding performance of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” could be forgiven. Uninspiring song choices such as “Indian Sunset” and “Burn Down the Mission” could be (and indeed were) quickly forgotten.

And so, when he prefaced the playing of “Crocodile Rock” with an onscreen message of, “This song is for my fans. Love, Elton,” there was zero doubt that a thunderous response was indeed forthcoming. That the crowd singalong to the simple-but-effusive “Laaaaaaa-la-la-la-la-la” chorus failed to cause anyone to literally float several inches off the ground mattered not to anyone in the end.


1. Bennie and the Jets

2. All the Girls Love Alice

3. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

4. Border Song

5. Tiny Dancer

6. Philadelphia Freedom

7. Indian Sunset

8. Rocket Man

9. Take Me to the Pilot

10. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

11. Someone Saved My Life Tonight

12. Levon

13. Candle in the Wind

14. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

15. Burn Down the Mission

16. Daniel

17. Believe

18. Sad Songs (Say So Much)

19. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on ME

20. The Bitch is Back

21. Crocodile Rock

22. I’m Still Standing

23. Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting


24. Your Song

25. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road