Shirola: Elton John brings good music, important messages to fans at the United Center

Wesley Shirola, Daily Columnist

I’ve had the pleasure to be a fan of Sir Elton John since I was 5 years old, and I am immensely thankful to him and his music for inspiring me to become a pianist and singer myself. When John announced in January 2018 that he would be retiring from touring, I was heartbroken. But, thankfully for me and his thousands of other fans, he’s not hanging up his Donald Duck costume or parting ways with his signature, flamboyant glasses just yet. In fact, his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour will take him to five continents and over 300 shows before wrapping up in 2021.

The tour began in Pennsylvania last month, and when it came to the United Center on Friday and Saturday nights, the 71-year-old John showed no signs of slowing down just yet.

For close to three hours he played hit after hit — “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Tiny Dancer” to name a few. The songs were big and brilliant. As his fingers pounded the keys, John’s famous gap-toothed smile showed that he was having as much fun as the crowd, if not more. Three hours wasn’t enough time to include all of the classics he’s written over the past half-century, however. “If I’ve left any of your favorites out, I truly apologize,” he said early in the show. Indeed, some of my favorites were missing, but apology rightly accepted.

I’ve seen Elton in concert nearly 15 times and can say with certainty that this is his most extravagantly produced show to date. The stage — framed fittingly by a yellow brick road that acknowledges a few of John’s many achievements over the years — is adorned with a giant LED video screen that stokes the wildness of old, presenting John as the revolutionary pop-icon that he was and still is. The singer himself changed costume three times, all heavy on the jewels and glitter and combined with the crazy eyewear he’s known for.

Aside from the great music and all the glamor, however, one thing that struck me about this concert in particular was the important messages — both through the lyrics of his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin and his own personal experiences — that John shared with the crowd.

“Indian Sunset,” for example, tells the plight of the Native Americans who — in addition to being dehumanized, scalped and disenfranchised — were forced to live on reservations in terrible conditions. “In this land that once was my land, I can’t find a home,” John sings — not only about Native Americans, but also about so many of us today who are still trying to find a place in this changed world that we live in.

During “Border Song,” a collage of human rights pioneers flashes across the video screen as Elton sings, “Let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease.” The song was written in 1970, but the lyrics are, sadly, still relevant today. “There’s a man over there, what’s his color I don’t care. He’s my brother, let us live in peace.” John continues.

John, himself, had words of wisdom to impart on the crowd, compelling us to embrace “the healing power of compassion and love … it’s exactly what needs to happen in the world now.”

John also addressed the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people only hours before the start of his Saturday show. “Love is the cure for what’s happening in the world today,” he proclaimed. “We need to be nicer to each other.” He couldn’t be more right. In a world full of crime, violence and hatred, we do indeed need to be nicer to each other. It’s time we finally realize that we’re all human beings and that we all call the same planet home. It’s not that hard to do, as John showed those of us in the crowd, pointing out that we all came together to share the joy of music, ignoring political affiliation, religion and color for a change.

“I’ve finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road,” John sang to close out the show. After the final chord dissipated, John left the stage by rising into the heavens emblazoned on the video screen, walking down his yellow brick road and leaving the audience behind.

Wesley Shirola is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.