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Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium is the packaged version of the livestream event Disney+ presented on November 20, as the musician and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer closed out the final North American dates of his ongoing farewell tour. (“Ongoing” is right: Elton John, now 75, has been winding his way around the world on the Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour since 2018, a stretch that’s included numerous COVID-related delays.) In addition to the video testimonials and well wishes from the likes of Quincy Jones, Dolly Parton, David and Victoria Beckham, Coldplay, Sting, Lil Nas X, and Miley Cyrus, Farewell from Dodger Stadium features John in performance with special guests Brandi Carlile, Kiki Dee, and Dua Lipa.
Opening Shot: “It’ll be a historic and emotional night at Dodger Stadium,” SportsNet LA reporter Kirsten Watson tells us in a preshow standup, “as Elton John plays his last show of his last ever American tour.” Watson also connects the evening’s performance to John’s memorable two-night stand at the stadium back in 1975. The singer’s sequined and glittered-out Dodgers uniform from those shows remains a classic of stagewear drip.
The Gist: Sweeping aerial cam shots and Elton John’s musical vamp give way to a single chord struck on the piano, and a close-up of the singer in a glittering tuxedo flexed out with red, white, and blue spangles. “Benny and the Jets,” the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road standout and a classic rock radio staple, hits with a few stabs of sharp funk and sci-fi keys before John and his band transition into “Philadelphia Freedom” to the delight of those caught flailing and swooning in the crowd cutaways. Feather boas? Check. Varsity coats emblazoned with Rocket Man in script? Yes. “Bitch is Back” T’s? You know it. John then advances his career timeline to the 1980s for “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”
“OK! It’s time to dance. Here we go…” and John and his band can move easily from a rousing run through “Burn Down the Mission” into “Sad Songs Say So Much,” which he punctuates with a celebratory slam of his Yamaha grand piano’s lid. But the seasoned singer and pianist can also deftly transition the mood, which he does with the 2002 ballad “‘Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” where his vocal is particularly strong.
Those quieter moments do encompass a bit of melancholy. Elton John’s been doing this for a lot of years, and he’s lost people along the way. But there’s also a revisiting of those joyous 1975 Dodgers Stadium shows with Kiki Dee’s appearance on “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” and new blood, too: Brandi Carlile joins John for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and Dua Lipa graces the evening’s encore for a performance of the Lockdown Sessions single “Cold Heart.”
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Speaking of a tour’s culminating show being filmed, Netflix has Barbara Streisand: The Music, The Mem’ries, The Magic, which captures the singer’s 2017 concert in Miami. And Disney+ isn’t through with Elton John: the Dodger stadium performances will be incorporated into the grandly-titled upcoming documentary Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and the Years That Made His Legend.
Our Take: Production-wise, the iconic medley of “Funeral for a Friend,” with its 70s progressive rock-leaning atmospherics, and “Love Lies Bleeding,” which kicks off the 1973 double-album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, is realized here with the full capacity of Elton John and his band, arriving complete with moody visuals, thunderclaps, and a rotating piano dias before guitarist Davey Johnstone leads into the rocking riffs of “Bleeding” with his gold-splattered Les Paul. And “Rocket Man,” another classic – Elton John is one of these people whose catalog goes so deep, you forget about how many options he has in the live space – hits on the grandeur of the original and builds on that with an extended, contemplative instrumental section led by piano and touches of guitar filigree. Lines like “I think it’s gonna be a long, long time/’Til touchdown brings me ‘round again to find” just hit different when you’re playing a final North American gig before the onset of retirement.
Other set highlights? John’s band really howls on “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Levon,” Johnnstone breaks out a double-neck electric guitar for “Tiny Dancer,” and John’s solo piano performance of “Candle in the Wind” gets everybody teary-eyed, arriving complete with the requisite Marilyn Monroe visuals.
Sex and Skin: Nothing here.
Parting Shot: In between heartening renditions of “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John brings out longtime collaborator and lyricist Bernie Taupin for a big hand, as well as “the reason why I’m retiring,” his family: husband David Furnish and their sons Zachary and Elijah.
Sleeper Star: “I’ve learned a lot from each and every one of them,” Elton John says of the musicians and singers who’ve performed in his band over the years. “But this band I have now is probably the best one, save for the first one, because every night I come on stage they play so well, and inspire me to play well, and they’re just fantastic musicians and people.” John’s introductions include touching tributes to percussionist Ray Cooper and drummer Nigel Olson, who have each been in and out of his touring band for going on five decades.
Most Pilot-y Line: “It’s been a long journey,” Elton John says at one point from his piano, pausing for a bit of emotion. “I first came here to America in 1972, to the City of Angels, Los Angeles. And I played a club called the Troubadour, which thankfully is still there.” John says that back then, when he and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin learned that Aretha Franklin had covered the Elton John single “Border Song,” they were two English kids just starting out and completely blown away that the Queen of Soul herself had chosen their composition to sing. His resulting solo piano performance of “Border Song” is in tribute to Franklin and themes of equality, harmony, and tolerance.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Elton John Live: Farewell From Dodger Stadium honors the singer and pianist’s lengthy career and legendary songbook with a host of rousing performances, a bit of humor and nostalgia, and a few guest shots to highlight John’s enduring legacy.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges
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