Elton John’s 10 most legendary concerts

Elton John has, through more than 50 years of performance, established himself as one of the most dynamic artists in music history.

From stage design to lighting and costumes, John’s concerts have been a feast for the eyes. Yet these elements never overwhelmed the music. With one of the richest catalogs ever created by a solo artist, John has always had plenty of material to work with. In concert, he has brought these songs to life, delivering deeper instrumentation, powerful emotion and an unmatched level of showmanship.

In short, these have always been must-go events. See for yourself: We’ve collected his 10 most legendary concerts and presented them in chronological order below.

Aug. 25, 1970 in Troubadour, Los Angeles

Elton John first concert on American soil was the legend, a powerful performance that announced his arrival on the musical landscape. He took the stage on Aug. 25, 1970 in front of about 300 people at Troubadour in West Hollywood, and continued to blow the crowd away with his showmanship. At various times, John threw his body in the air, kicked over his piano bench and fell to his knees while performing. “It was just all systems go,” he later recalled, looking back on that night. “Nothing was impossible. You work on adrenaline and the sheer fact that you are a success.” A report in Los Angeles Times the next day predicted that John would become “one of rock’s biggest and most important stars.” They were right.

February 5, 1972 at the Royal Festival Hall, London

John released material at a prolific rate early in his career, releasing his first five studio albums in just three years. The pace was so fast that he barely managed to properly promote one LP before the next one was announced. Example: John started touring afterwards in 1972 Crazy over the waterbut almost immediately began mixing in material that would come later that year Honky Chateau. This concert, held at the prestigious Royal Festival Hall, located on the banks of the River Thames, featured many notable live debuts. The fans in attendance that night experienced the first performances of nine songs that would be featured on Honky Chateauincluding “Honky Tonk,” “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and the now iconic “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be a Long, Long Time).”

November 28, 1974 at Madison Square Garden, New York

This wasn’t John’s first show at Madison Square Garden (that took place in 1973), but it might be his most memorable. He performed a set of classic tunes such as “Bennie and the Jets”, “Candle in the Wind”, “Daniel” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. Still, the biggest moment of the night came when John welcomed his friend John Lennon to join him on stage. The look stemmed from a bet: When Elton sang Lennon’s song “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” he made the former Beatle swear he’d perform with him if the tune hit No. 1 in America—and it did . So Lennon joined Elton at MSG and performed three songs: “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” plus The Beatles the classics “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Unfortunately, this was to prove to be last concert performance of Lennon’s lifetime.

Oct. 25, 1975 at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

In a career that has featured many unique costumes, the images from John’s 1975 appearance at Dodger Stadium are among his most famous. In fact, the sequined baseball uniform from that night became so iconic that it was used in many of the posters for the 2019 biopic, Rocket man. Of course, the outfit would never have achieved such legendary status if the performance had been boring. Fortunately, “boring” is not a word in John’s vocabulary. He opened the night with solo renditions of “Your Song” and “I Need You to Turn To” before being joined by his band for such notable favorites as “Border Song”, “Take Me to the Pilot” and “Levon” . After a short break – and a costume change to the aforementioned Dodgers uniform – John continued to wow the crowd, delivering more than three hours of music in total. The concert also featured two Beatles covers. (Coincidentally, they were the latest act to play the famous venue.) Bernie Taupin and tennis star Billie Jean King also made guest appearances, but the night was undoubtedly Elton John’s. “My best memory was the electricity from the crowd,” he said decades later. “The energy was palpable – you could feel it vibrating from your feet!”

28 May 1979 at Rossiya Concert Hall, Moscow

John history made in both musical and political form, when he was the first Western rock star to play behind Russia’s Iron Curtain. The presentation was sparse, just John and his piano, with no backing band to support his performance except for percussionist Ray Cooper. (Appropriately, John supported him A single man album.) He owned the stage and won over a crowd that consisted of both fans and members of the KGB and the Communist Party. Footage from the performance would be featured in the documentary To Russia … with Eltonwhile the official live recording of the concert was finally released in the 2020s Live from Moscow 1979 album.

September 13, 1980 in Central Park, New York

You’ve never seen a grown man play “Your Song” while wearing one Donald Duck costume? Well, you obviously weren’t among the 400,000 fans who packed Central Park to see Elton perform in 1980. While the duck suit remains the most memorable image from that day (how could it not?), John originally began his set in a military-style outfit, adorned with piano keys. Highlights included renditions of “Tiny Dancer,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Bennie and the Jets.” John even covered Lennon’s “Imagine”—perhaps hoping the former Beatles star could hear it from his nearby apartment at the Dakota. The night ended with John in his duck costume performing a rocking rendition of Little Richard‘Good Golly Miss Molly.

December 14, 1986 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, Sydney

Elton John was at a career crossroads when he visited Australia in 1986. Years of performing had damaged his vocal cords, with polyps that would require surgery. Despite this, John pressed forward with the trip, even though he coughed up mucus and blood on an almost nightly basis. His voice sounded rawer than ever, but it also had an intensity that added deeper emotional resonance to the material. Backed by a full symphony orchestra conducted by James Newton Howard, John delivered passionate performances on the tour, culminating in this final stop in Sydney. The December performance would be recorded on Elton John lives in Australia with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestrapublished the following year.

April 26, 1989 in Arena di Verona, Verona, Italy

A timeless talent performing in an ancient venue, John took the stage in a magnificent Roman amphitheater built in 30 AD. John’s set list included such new material as “I Don’t Wanna Go on With You Like That” (from 1988’s Reg fights back), to classic hits such as “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word”, “Daniel” and “Candle in the Wind”. John even offered new versions of his tunes, including a soulful version of “Sad Songs (Say So Much)”. “With my backing singers, we injected some Gospel Soul into ‘Sad Songs,’ bringing the spirit of the Deep South into a 2,000-year-old amphitheater!” John later revoked.

November 25, 1995 at Estadio Do Flamengo, Rio De Janeiro

Given Elton John’s flamboyance and the colorful culture of Rio, you knew his first tour of Brazil would provide some priceless moments. As John later recalled, fans were “curtain launched into a dancing, flag-waving, multi-hour sing-a-long frenzy!” With a crowd of more than 100,000 hanging on every note, John rocked through many of his best-known tunes including “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me ” and “Bennie and the Jets.” The energy in the stadium was so high that night that John came back for three encores, only to be met with rapturous applause with each one.

March 25, 2007 at Madison Square Garden, New York

John has enjoyed many memorable nights at Madison Square Garden over the years, but this performance held a special meaning. Not only was it his 60th appearance at the legendary venue, but it coincided with John’s 60th birthday. The set featured guest appearances by Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Bernie Taupin, as well as a recorded message from former President Bill Clinton. John also took the opportunity to delve into some of his lesser performed tracks, playing “Where to Now St. Peter?”, “High Flying Bird” and “Ballad of a Well-Known Gun” for the first time in over a decade . (In fact, “Well-Known Gun” had not been performed since 1972!) A two-disc DVD of the concert titled Elton 60 – Live at Madison Square Garden arrived later that year.

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