Review: Elton John made his ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ concert at Petco Park a night to remember

If Elton John is really going to retire at the end of his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road: The Final Tour,” he’s going out with a major league bang, not a halfhearted bunt.

He resoundingly proved this with his triumphant Wednesday night concert at San Diego’s Petco Park, where the generations-transcending superstar and his ace six-man band performed for a sold-out audience of 40,000 very enthusiastic fans.

“Tonight, we’ll have the best time you can possibly have,” he vowed after completing “Philadelphia Freedom,” his second selection of the night. Thankfully, it was not an empty promise.

At 75, it would have been easy for John to simply punch the clock and do short, perfunctory versions of his greatest hits before grabbing the money and running. His farewell tour — which began in 2018 and included a memorable 2019 show at Pechanga Arena San Diego — has already grossed $661 million as of last month, according to the music industry magazine Billboard.

But John does not appear to be in any hurry. And, much to his credit, he is clearly not short-changing his audiences.

His Petco Park concert featured 23 songs that, together, clocked in at two-hours and 23 minutes. It opened with “Bennie and the Jets” and concluded with the title track to John’s 1973 double-album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which inspired the name of what is billed as the final concert tour of his now 53-year-long solo career.

In between came a slew of golden classics, including “Tiny Dancer,” “Rocket Man,” “Levon” and “Your Song.” John’s red-hot version of “Burn Down the Mission” was performed with so much fire it made the mock flames — which briefly appeared on the stage’s giant video screens — seem silly and redundant. (The full set list appears at the conclusion of this review.)

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Just as potent were his back-to-back versions of “The Bitch is Back,” “I’m Still Standing,” Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” which brought John’s 19-song main set to a rousing close before his three encore selections.

It is possible, of course, that he had a good incentive to rock with more vigor than usual Wednesday. The temperature was 56 degrees when John took the stage at 8:09 p.m. under a nearly full moon. It dipped to 51 by the time the show concluded at 10:32 p.m.

But John didn’t even mention the chilly (by San Diego standards) night. Instead, he played with palpable conviction on all but one of his nearly two-dozen selections.

That sole misfire came with was his first encore, “Cold Heart,” which found John sitting at his Yamaha grand piano — but not playing it — and only singing intermittently while a virtual Dua Lipa mimed her vocals, to a pre-recorded, EDM-lite-flavored backing track, on the video screens. John suddenly seemed like a bystander at his own show.

Happily, the rest of his set was on target. It included two songs he did not perform at his 2019 Pechanga Arena show — the bluesy 1973 deep-album cut “Have Mercy on the Criminal” and 2002’s “Sorry Seems to be the Saddest Word.”

John’s marathon concert was well-paced and delivered with the polish and precision you would expect from such a veteran performer and his first-rate band. Happily, he injected even his best-known songs with new vigor and freshness by changing or stretching out the arrangements.


Of course, no one will ever mistake John and his band for Phish or the latest iteration of the Grateful Dead. But the extended instrumental excursions on the suitably spacey “Rocket Man” and a super-charged “Take Me to the Pilot” were a treat, with John and guitarist Davey Johnstone trading lines and sometimes soloing in unison.

When John broke into a sparkling, double-time piano break in “Levon,” his ear-to-ear beam made it look like he was having the time of his life. He injected full-fisted, barrelhouse piano romps one moment and delicate filigrees the next, all in service of the song at hand.

Near the end of his Petco Park concert, John warmly thanked the audience for its decades of support and noted that Wednesday marked the 266th concert of his farewell tour. His first show here, he recalled, was in September 1971 at the nearby Community Concourse.

“I’ve had an amazing career.” he said. “Next year, I’ll be 76 and I want to spend the rest of the time with my (two) sons and David (Furnish, his husband).”

Fair enough. But the joy John exuded here on stage, like the exultation he inspired in his listeners, begs a question.

After an ample amount of time has passed, could Elton John find himself yearning to make music again, live and in real time, and to hear the roar of the crowd once more? Perhaps not on a world tour, but at periodic concerts?

Here’s hoping.

Elton John, Petco Park set list

1. “Bennie and the Jets”

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2. “Philadelphia Freedom”

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

4. “Border Song”

5. “Tiny Dancer”

6. “Have Mercy on the Criminal”

7. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time)”

8. “Take Me to the Pilot”

9. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”

10. “Levon”

11. “Candle in the Wind”

12. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”

13. “Burn Down the Mission”

14. “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”

15. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”

16. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”

17. “The Bitch is Back”

18. “I’m Still Standing”

19. “Crocodile Rock”

20. “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”


1. “Cold Heart”

2. “Your Song”

3. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

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