Elton John is the consummate entertainer.
For 50 years he’s toured the world regularly, with or without outrageous outfits and custom spectacles, but always armed with a thick songbook of hits. And while many of his classic-rock peers have boiled their live repertoire down to only their most recognizable Top 40 tunes, John has regularly raised the profile of album tracks like “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and “Burn Down the Mission.”
John’s current Farewell Brick Road Tour, launched in 2018 and expected to run through 2021, stops at the Target Center on Thursday and Friday. If the tireless performer actually does stick to his promise to retire at the end of the tour, this may be your last chance to see him live. So it may help to be schooled in deep cuts from the prolific stretch of the ‘70s that made the London singer-pianist one of the biggest acts in popular music.
His 1969 debut, Empty Sky, failed to connect with the pop charts, but that hasn’t stopped John from listing the eight-minute title track among his favorite compositions. And his days of toiling in obscurity wouldn’t last long. “Your Song,” from his self-titled second album, launched him to superstardom a year later, with its more uptempo B-side “Take Me to the Pilot” also becoming one of his signature live songs. By the time “Your Song” was a hit in the States, the follow-up Americana concept album Tumbleweed Connection was already out, and it ended up outselling and out-charting its processor in the U.S. with no singles. As such, Tumbleweed Connection is a prime argument for John as an album artist, someone who’s worth listening to even when the pop hits aren’t flowing (although “Amoreena” was used memorably in the opening credits of Dog Day Afternoon).
In the first eight remarkably prolific years of his recording career, John cranked out 11 studio albums, largely with the same core collaborators: lyricist Bernie Taupin, producer Gus Dudgeon, bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson, and orchestral arranger Paul Buckmaster, who died in 2017. If you’ve ever swooned to Buckmaster’s sweeping strings on “Tiny Dancer” from 1971’s Madman Across the Water, you’ll appreciate the cinematic grandeur he brought to the album’s title track and “Indian Sunset.” Elton John prides himself on his ability to resurrect obscurities onstage, with the latter being one of his biggest causes of the past decade. “Nobody knows that song at all, it’s an obscure track,” he told Rolling Stone in 2011. “And it gets a standing ovation every night.”
Elton John has referred to Taupin and himself as “the Tin Pan Alley Twins,” and their strict division of labor, with John acting strictly as the singer and melodist who turns the words into songs, is unusual in the rock era, a relic of another time. But John’s ability to find a sparkling melody in every sublimely poetic or puzzlingly strange set of lyrics Taupin has ever sent him is a unique gift. And sometimes their less remembered experiments, like the darkly funny “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” or the sci-fi comic book homage “Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future),” are as satisfying as their timeless ballads.
Where: Target Center
When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21-22
Tickets: $59.50-$249.50; more info here