Elton John says goodbye to Chicago with spirited Soldier Field set

Before retiring from the road, veteran pop star and his impressive band recap decades of hits.

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Elton John reacts to the crowd during his Friday concert at Soldier Field, said to be his last in Chicago.

Courtesy Soldier Field

All good things must eventually come to an end. Even the road treks of Sir Elton John.

Now nearing the end of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, the 75-year-old legend did one more lap around Chicago Friday night with a stacked 23-song set list that made it truly hard to grasp this was goodbye. Especially with one final gesture as Elton played his last note, walked over to a platform on the stage and was symbolically beamed up to the cosmos, where the Rocket Man will live on in spirit.

Surprisingly, Elton John’s final appearance in town was also the first time he has headlined Soldier Field. “I’ve always wanted to play here,” he shared, quick to note the concert was his 51st in Chicago, the first being Nov. 25, 1970, at the Auditorium Theater alongside Derek and the Dominoes. Friday night also marked the 246th on the current global trek, making it one of the industry’s longest goodbyes.

John and his phenomenal six-piece band now get a break until they pick up again Sept. 7, ultimately ending at Dodger Stadium in November, yet they were no worn-out machine. The ensemble played nearly 2.5 hours with solos galore (with John still maintaining his incredible dexterity and voice) and a successful curated collection of material that touched on decades of brilliance from John and his longtime writing partner Bernie Taupin. 

The show opened with “Bennie and the Jets” and closed with the fitting “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and the rest was filled in with a good amount of content from his 1970s golden era that made you wish you could have been a fly on the wall at that infamous gig at L.A.’s Troubadour.

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Elton John performed 23 songs in his 2.5-hour show at Soldier Field.

Selena Fragassi/For the Sun-Times

During this night’s set, “Have Mercy on the Criminal” stood out for its huge rock crescendo highlighting the work of guitar player Davey Johnstone. The triple percussive line of Ray Cooper, John Mahon and Nigel Olsson (the OG drummer from 1969) also brought the thunder for “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding,” playing the opening number of John’s magnum-opus album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” with such force it felt like Soldier Field was a Dolby Surround Sound experiment.

Prior to the emotive “Border Song,” John also spoke of Aretha Franklin, who once covered the track and made her final public appearance in 2017 at his annual AIDS Foundation gala, dedicating the number to her “longevity and genius.” 

Later, the strategic bookending of John’s newest No. 1 hit, the clubby “Cold Heart,” right before his very first, “Your Song,” added to the breadth of the finale, while the autobiographical showstopper “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was a reminder of how the world would have felt very different if Elton John was not still standing.

Following Elton’s lead, the musicians (fleshed out by Kim Bullard on keys and Matt Bissonette on bass) suited up for the occasion, coming off like the true orchestra they were. Even when they broke formalities it was a true spectacle, with Elton standing up after every song and slapping the cover of the piano in self-congratulation like a team that had just scored a winning goal. John shared he had a true “soft spot” for this band out of the many configurations over the years — and seeing them help the star ride out in a blaze of glory, it’s clear why.

Even though it was nearly the same setlist and with similar nostalgic video montages as the previous stop at United Center in February, this time felt different. There was a sense hanging in the air of this really being the last time — the final chance to belt out the chorus to “Tiny Dancer” with a crowd of 60,000 people; the final chance to wear your best feathered boa and buy blinking Elton glasses and conjure some of the star’s wild abandon; the final chance to hear his sweet accent thanking everyone for helping a little piano rocker from England become a superstar.

Toward the end of the night, dressed in a casual robe, John saluted the full cast and crew of the “Devil Wears Prada” musical in the crowd — he wrote the music for the new production (which opens Sunday in Chicago) and had attended a preview earlier in the week. Among the pack was his husband David Furnish and two boys who John said are the reason he’s calling it a day on touring.

“I’m going to be 76 years old next year, and I want to spend the rest of my life enjoying them,” he shared. “But I won’t forget all of you … I’m taking you with me in my heart and soul. Thank you for all the love and loyalty. Goodbye.”

Set list

SET LIST

Bennie and the Jets

Philadelphia Freedom

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues

Border Song

Tiny Dancer

Have Mercy on the Criminal

Rocket Man

Take Me to the Pilot

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Levon

Candle in the Wind

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

Burn Down the Mission

Sad Songs (Say So Much)

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

The Bitch Is Back

I’m Still Standing

Crocodile Rock

Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting

Cold Heart

Your Song

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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