Is it the end of the yellow brick road for Elton John?
Is his concert at Dodger Stadium on Nov. 20 the final curtain for him in the United States?
Is his future going to largely be a virtual one?
Is he really going to leave the limelight when his now four-year-old world farewell tour finally concludes next July with two concerts in Stockholm, Sweden?
The answers to those questions are: probably not, definitely maybe, perhaps, and, well, let’s wait and see.
“After the tour finishes, I’m very much looking forward to closing off that chapter of my life by saying farewell to life on the road. I need to dedicate more time to raising my children,” John said, in early 2018, when he announced his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” concert trek.
But a lot has happened since then to make this enduring superstar reconsider things.
After kicking off his tour in late 2018, John was on the road for much of 2019. He then unexpectedly spent most of 2020 and 2021 with his family, after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a slew of his tour dates being canceled and rescheduled. A serious hip injury in the late summer of 2021 led him to postpone the remainder of his European tour dates that year. Most were rescheduled for 2023.
“At the end of my summer break I fell awkwardly on a hard surface and have been in considerable pain and discomfort in my hip ever since,” he said in a September 2021 statement on his social media pages. “Despite intensive physio and specialist treatment, the pain has continued to get worse and is leading to increasing difficulties moving.
“I have been advised to have an operation as soon as possible to get me back to full fitness and make sure there are no long-term complications. I will be undertaking a program of intensive physiotherapy that will ensure a full recovery and a return to full mobility without pain.”
Dua Lipa and Britney Spears
True to his word, John returned to the stage this January for a concert at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, followed by two dates in Houston. He had to postpone his subsequent pair of concerts in Dallas, after he contracted COVID-19.
In March, John added 11 stadium shows to the 2022 North American leg of his tour.
His unexpected time off in 2020 and 2021 may have led John to realize that, while he won’t miss doing extended world tours, the desire to perform, collaborate and write and record new songs — or repurpose old ones — is in his blood.
Witness his recent collaborations with Britney Spears, Dua Lipa, Charlie Puth, Young Thug, Ed Sheeran, Lil Nas X and others. These pairings have helped introduce John to millions of new listeners, some too young to be familiar with the songs he contributed to the soundtrack for the hit 1994 movie “The Lion King.”
John acknowledged as much in April, saying: “I have worked in this industry for a long time, over 50 years. Even after all this time there is still the utter thrill of when you hear your new music played on air for the very first time. The fact that I get to reach a whole new generation of listeners is very special to me.”
In addition, the worldwide box office success of “Rocket Man,” the Oscar-winning 2019 biopic about John’s life, earned him yet another crop of fresh fans. Reports from England indicate that he has already recorded new music as the sequel to his 2021 album, which was aptly titled “The Lockdown Sessions.”
As for post-farewell tour performances, John — who will turn 76 in March — could well be ready to say adios to the rigors of extensive tours. This likely holds true whether they are limited to one country or span continents.
But the allure of performing and again hearing the cheers of his fans may prove too hard for him to resist. And doing a new iteration of his “The Red Piano” concert residency — which saw John perform from 21 to 50 times a year, between 2004 and 2009, at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — could be just the ticket.
Either way, John will be launching a virtual performance Nov. 17 on Roblox, the online game platform and game creation system.
Recently he debuted “Elton John Presents: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road,” a metaverse experience that offers trivia quizzes, virtual scavenger hunts and interactive challenges that set to his greatest hits. Also included is a “digital fashion show” designed so fans can “try on complete outfits or mix-and-match individual items to recreate Elton’s look on their avatar.”
In a release, John said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be launching ‘Beyond the Yellow Brick Road’ on Roblox. I’ve seen the joy that Roblox has brought to my (sons).”
John also lauded the “possibilities it creates by the ability to interact with fans in such an exciting, and forward looking way. I’ve always been myself and used my image, eyewear, and music to express myself, and Roblox really encourages that self-expression. Now my fans can do the same, and that’s really exciting.”
On stage or online, the question remains the same: Is Elton John, who first announced he would no longer perform concerts back in 1977, really the retiring kind?
Let’s wait and see.
Livestream at Dodger Stadium
Elton John will conclude the 2022 leg of his North American farewell tour this month with three concerts in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. The third of those L.A. dates takes place Nov. 20 and will be livestreamed on Disney+ as a three-hour special.
“To feel the energy from the best fans, not only in Dodger Stadium again, but this time around the world from those watching live at home, will be truly extra special for me,” John said in a statement.
“I’m thrilled to celebrate this momentous evening globally. I hope everyone feels the power and joy of performing on a stage as iconic as Dodger’s. Just like I did almost 50 years ago.”
John first played at Dodger Stadium in 1975. That was two years after his 1973 concert at San Diego’s Balboa Stadium. The Nov. 20 livestream is a prelude to next year’s Disney Original Documentary, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: The Final Elton John Performances and the Years That Made His Legend,” a collaboration between Academy Award-nominated producer R.J. Cutler and John’s husband, David Furnish.
Elton John, prog-rocker?
“Me,” Elton John’s 2019 autobiography, packs a lot into its 375 pages. But there’s not a single reference to how his early career almost included a turn to progressive rock.
In early 1970, John nearly became become the new lead singer in the pioneering English progressive-rock band King Crimson, whose 1969 debut album had been hailed by the Who’s Pete Townshend as “an uncanny masterpiece.”
Had everything clicked, John could have replaced King Crimson co-founder Greg Lake, who had left the band to co-found Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It’s unclear that would have worked, since Lake had also been King Crimson’s bass guitarist and his vocal style and John’s had little in common.
Nevertheless, John was slated to provide lead vocals on King Crimson’s second album, “In the Wake of Poseidon,” as Robert Fripp — the band’s leader, then and now — recounted in the liner notes to “The Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson” compilation album in 1976.
“Elton had been booked to sing all the songs on ‘Poseidon’ for 250 pounds (then about $1,000) as a session singer and as I wasn’t familiar with his work, Mark Fenwick of E.G. (Records) gave me a copy of Elton’s first album,” Fripp wrote. “But his style didn’t seem right for Crimson and the album was poor, so I canceled the sessions ...”
What makes this even more intriguing is that John recorded his second solo album, “Elton John,” in April 1970, after his potential King Crimson session date had fallen through.
John’s 1969 solo debut album, “Empty Sky,” had — as he writes in “Me” — “only sold a few thousand copies.”
Did he regard the aborted King Crimson recording date as merely a side session gig to earn a little extra money when times were still tough for him? Or would John have put his fledgling solo career on hold to tour with King Crimson after “Poseidon” was released?
That is a question only Elton John can answer. Maybe one day he will. Either way, some fans still hope Fripp will one day share the audition tape he has of John singing King Crimson’s near-apocalyptic “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
Elton John’s strangest album
Before he became a star, and then a superstar, the young Elton John — still known as Reg Dwight — was busy doing studio session recording work in London with other artists. They ranged from Tom Jones and The Hollies to, um, The Bread and Beer Band.
This led to “Reg Dwight’s Piano Goes Pop,” released in 1970. The 20-song album of cover versions features John’s renditions of The Four Tops’ ”It’s All in the Game,” Cat Stevens’ ”Lady D’Arbanville,” Badfinger’s “Come and Get It” and, um, Bob & Marcia’s “Young, Gifted and Black.”
John described as “insane” the album producer’s request to have him, as Reg Dwight, sing “Young, Gifted and Black,” but he recorded it nonetheless. Moreover, John wrote in his book “Me,” he loved making an album of cover versions so much that he happily recorded a sequel.
“Here’s how much I enjoyed the sessions for the covers album, this supposedly laughable artistic nadir in my professional life: I went back and did another one after my solo career took off,” he wrote in “Me,” adding: “I assure you I’m not making this up.”