'Our last show ever in Texas': Elton John makes it count at San Antonio's Alamodome

Elton John performs on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.
Elton John performs on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

SAN ANTONIO -- Just before Elton John told Texas farewell with his encore closer "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" on Oct. 29 here at the Alamodome, he addressed the crowd one last time. And it was clear he'd done his homework.

He mentioned the exact dates of his first-ever concerts in Texas — May 20, 1971, in Houston — and San Antonio, the following night. And then this cumulative tally: "Tonight is my 81st concert in Texas." It was also, he announced earlier in the evening, "Our last show ever in Texas. So we better make it a good one!"

Whether that holds true remains to be seen. The legendary showman and songwriter who took pop music by storm with an avalanche of hits in the 1970s booked his current "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" as a last hurrah. But at 75, he's still singing and playing with enough joy and vigor that you could see him changing his mind in a few years.

For now, though, John seemed sincere when he bid adieu to a full house at the 72,000-capacity Alamodome. "Thank you for making my life so amazing," he said. "I need to spend some time now with my family because I love them so much, and I can't keep traveling because I miss them. So thank you for understanding."

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Given the thundering ovations throughout the night, it was clear his fans appreciated this chance to see him for perhaps the last time. Many of them took sartorial cues from Elton, wearing sparkly glasses, sparkly hats and sparkly shirts; true, it was Halloween weekend, but most likely they would have dressed this way regardless. For John's fans, it's all about showing him what his towering cultural presence has meant to them for five decades.

It all started with the songs, and Elton reeled off 23 of them in a 142-minute performance that gathered plenty of hits but also took some surprising turns toward deeper album cuts. That was a wise decision: John has more than 50 U.S. top-40 hits, so even if he'd stuck to just those songs, he'd play less than half of them.

So it seemed fair for those who maybe wanted to hear "Daniel" or "Island Girl" or "Little Jeannie" to accept that Elton might want to explore other corners of his catalog instead. Thus we got the dramatic medley of "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" from the landmark 1973 double album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," the epic "Have Mercy on the Criminal" from "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player" (also released in 1973), and a highlight from 1970's "Tumbleweed Connection" in "Burn Down the Mission." ("Not the one here," he was careful to add for any locals remembering the Alamo.)

Elton John waves to the crowd between songs, with keyboardist Kim Bullard in the background, at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.
Elton John waves to the crowd between songs, with keyboardist Kim Bullard in the background, at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Elton's attire included nods to his famously flamboyant fashion of the 1970s but with a more elegant grace befitting his august years: a sharply tailored dark suit with pearl inlays, swapped mid-show for a red-white-and-black checkered blazer with sparkly accents. After each song, he stood and waved to the crowd to acknowledge their applause, before returning to the piano bench for yet another pop-music classic.

Some of John's past tours were much more ambitious productions than this comparatively modest affair. High-definition jumbotrons mixed artful images and live footage that enhanced the experience, especially for those in the upper deck and opposite end of the venue, but there weren't many extra bells and whistles, save for a set-ending blast of confetti in the shape of mustard-colored rectangles. (Ah yes, yellow bricks.)

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And though John's band was exemplary and powerful throughout, he didn't go grandiose with orchestras or choirs. His five-piece crew included guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionist Ray Cooper, who've been with him almost since the beginning. Alongside them were comparatively recent additions: percussionist John Mahon (who joined in 1997), keyboardist Kim Bullard (2009) and bassist Matt Bissonette (2012).

Band members Davey Johnstone (guitar) and John Mahon (drums/percussion) perform with Elton John at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.
Band members Davey Johnstone (guitar) and John Mahon (drums/percussion) perform with Elton John at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

John and his band used the singer's classic recorded versions as guides but not as ironclad templates, splitting the difference between George Strait (who pointedly plays his songs just like the records) and Bob Dylan (whose live renditions are often unrecognizable). Elton frequently tweaked his vocal delivery, sometimes for the sake of variety and spontaneity, occasionally to avoid high notes he can't quite hit anymore (as on the chorus of "Tiny Dancer").

He and the band frequently revved up the end of songs, pushing them into overdrive. The energy boost was natural for a concert performace, though Elton's vamping chants down the stretch sometimes subtracted more than they added. More poignant were a couple of solo-piano turns. John dedicated his early hit "Border Song" to Aretha Franklin, one of the first artists ever to cover his songs. And for the emotional "Candle in the Wind," which included footage of Marilyn Monroe on the jumbotrons, his piano glided slowly from stage right to stage left, allowing those on the other side of the arena to get a better look.

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John mostly followed an obvious and sensible set-flow. After a one-two opening punch of "Bennie and the Jets" plus "Philadelphia Freedom," he concentrated richly melodic and often melancholy tunes such as "Tiny Dancer" and "Rocket Man" and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" in the first half of the set. That allowed him to save his most rockin' favorites for the end of the main set: We got "The Bitch Is Back," "I'm Still Standing," "Crocodile Rock" and "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" like a boxer's flurry of rights and lefts, before John returned for a three-song encore highlighted by his first big hit, 1970's "Your Song."

Just before that home stretch, he served up a sterling rendition of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." Perhaps it's time for Elton to let the sun go down on his own career, and he's certainly earned that right. But judging from the cheers and love he received in San Antonio, it's clear he'd be welcome back for an 82nd show in Texas any time.

Elton John setlist at the Alamodome in San Antonio

  1. "Bennie and the Jets"

  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"

  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"

  21. "Cold Heart" (encore)

  22. Your Song (encore)

  23. "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (encore)

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Elton John farewell tour concert review at San Antonio's Alamodome