Elton John wraps up his Detroit career with a final goodbye for 40,000 at Comerica Park

As sad goodbyes go, they don’t get much more festive than this.

Elton John’s Monday night extravaganza at a buzzing, sold-out Comerica Park, the latest stop in his extensive Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, was his Detroit swan song. Nearly 52 years after his first Motor City show, the iconic piano entertainer played his last.

In November 1970, “Your Song,” the rising artist's breakthrough single, was still working its way to the U.S. Top 10 when he performed at the cozy Eastown Theatre on Harper Avenue. By the time John got to Detroit's baseball stadium Monday, he was armed with a massive arsenal of singalong standards, a colorful career mythology and unshakeable status as one of pop history's giants.

For the 40,000 on hand at the Tigers' ballpark, the 2½-hour show brought choice album cuts sprinkled among the broadside of enduring hits — from the infectious lope of “Bennie and the Jets” at the show’s start to a sentimental “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” at its finale.

In between was a stadium spectacle befitting the legacy of John, the likable star with the gap-toothed grin and conspicuous fashion sense. He hammed it up, blew kisses and played to the back rows.

Even when making his way to his grand piano with the gait that’s become part-shuffle, part-waddle, John looked every part the accomplished powerhouse. In his pearl-studded tux tails with a cat’s face sparkling on the back, he was comfortable and commanding on the big stage, a half-century’s worth of experience guiding every intuitive move.

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Monday was the second night of John’s final U.S. tour leg, which is scheduled to wrap up four months from now at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium, an iconic venue in the Elton universe.

His first-ever Comerica Park concert was the seventh Michigan show of his farewell tour, following four visits to Little Caesars Arena and two to Grand Rapids’ Van Andel Arena. As the singer himself noted onstage, it was the 55th Michigan performance of his career and his 26th in Detroit proper.

Elton John plays for fans during his farewell tour at Comerica Park Monday, July 18, 2022.
Elton John plays for fans during his farewell tour at Comerica Park Monday, July 18, 2022.

Aside from the scale of the venue and significance of the occasion, Monday’s set wasn’t dramatically different from John’s other recent area concerts, going back to the earliest Farewell Yellow Brick Road dates in 2018.

This one did include an encore rendition of the 75-year-old’s most recent global smash, 2021's “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix),” with fellow Brit star Dua Lipa appearing via recorded video to sing her parts over the slick dance beats.

It was followed by a reliably sweet and warm “Your Song” — a handy bookending of John’s first hit with his latest one.

John’s goodbye outing is a lengthy, intensely paced affair: Monday was the 240th date on his tour, and he still has 90-plus to go before things wrap up next year in Europe.

That’s a serious workload, but John clocked in at Comerica Park like he was fresh off a long vacation. He may not be bounding across the stage anymore, his vocal range is limited, and his band has to carry much of the weight. But on Monday, even with nostalgia permeating the air, John's showman’s instincts found him engaged and invested in the moment.

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The set was a career-spanning affair that mingled rollicking ‘70s numbers (“Take Me to the Pilot,” “Crocodile Rock”) with ‘80s chestnuts (“I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” “I’m Still Standing”). When things went poignant — as with “Levon” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” — John struck the right emotional notes.

“Rocket Man” got an extended coda with a boogie-woogie blast, while the dependably penetrating “Tiny Dancer” earned a pair of roaring ovations from the stadium crowd. By 9:30 p.m., the sun had sufficiently set to give the musical and visual drama of “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” even more epic dimensions, aided by three giant video displays onstage.

Among the fixtures in John’s goodbye tour has been 1970’s “Border Song,” a number he introduces with a dedication to late friend Aretha Franklin, who once covered the gospel-tinged tune. He recounted Monday how the Detroit singer, visibly ill months before her 2018 death, insisted on performing at his AIDS foundation fundraiser in a New York church.

“For an hour and a quarter she blew the roof off the cathedral,” he said with sincere admiration, more than just a bone thrown to the Queen of Soul’s hometown audience.

Elton John plays for fans during his farewell tour at Comerica Park Monday, July 18, 2022.
Elton John plays for fans during his farewell tour at Comerica Park Monday, July 18, 2022.

John was joined by a seasoned band that included Detroit native Matt Bissonette on bass, along with longtime stage mates Nigel Olsson (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion) and Davey Johnstone (guitar). Johnstone was a musical rock in his own right, from the supple slide for “Tiny Dancer” on his double neck guitar to the lithe leads in the group vamp that ended “Levon.”

At concert’s end, John got strapped to a device that rolled him up a ramp, where he disappeared into darkness at the back of the stage. It was so Elton John: a touch of unapologetic, gauche theater to top off the musical greatness.

The show got a film-worthy finale as tour credits rolled on the big screens. For Detroit, the 52-year-long Elton John concert movie was at last done. What a fun, rich and rewarding adventure it's been.

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Elton John says final Detroit goodbye for 40,000 at Comerica Park