Elton John served up hit after hit in his show at KeyArena Saturday night, to the clear delight of the audience. The nearly three-hour performance drew heavily from his landmark 1973 album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (reissued in a lavish box set earlier this year). John’s set kicked off with the dramatic medley that opens the album, “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” but he packed in other classics as well, including “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Rocket Man” and “Your Song.”
“I wouldn’t even be here tonight if I hadn’t written that song,” John said of the latter number, recounting how his longtime songwriting partner Bernie Taupin brought him the lyrics in 1969, which John then set to music. Released as a single in 1970, “Your Song” was John’s first top 10 hit in the U.S.
The 67-year-old’s voice never flagged throughout Saturday’s show, switching easily between 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” (originally a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and later given new lyrics in the wake of Princess Diana’s death).
His sparkly blue jacket struck the only note of extravagance for the performer once known for the kind of over-the-top costumes that rivaled Cher’s. (See Ken Lambert’s photo gallery for a good look.) Placing his piano at stage right also kept John at something of a distance from the audience. As the star of the show, he’d have been better placed at center stage; ideally on a raised platform, since a pianist can’t roam the stage the way a guitarist can.
John did make an effort to engage with the crowd, standing up from his piano frequently to wave and jokingly cupping his ear with his hand, as if having trouble hearing the tumultuous applause. At one point he took a break to sign autographs for the fans clustered at the front of the stage.
After joyously rattling the rafters with “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock,” John sent his band offstage and performed a moving solo rendition of “Circle of Life.” He admitted it was potentially “too cheesy” to close the show with a song from a Disney cartoon (the 1994 film “The Lion King”), but it nonetheless provided an uplifting ending to an evening with a master showman.