When news broke in May that Elton John was coming to Maine for a pair of performances, in Portland and Bangor, the excitement was palpable and both shows sold out quickly.

It’s been almost a decade since John, 70, has performed in Maine and the tour is in support of last year’s “Wonderful Crazy Night” album.

John’s famous musical partnership with lyricist Bernie Taupin celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the Friday night performance in Portland was a two-hour-and-15-minute hit parade with a few deeper album cuts thrown in. Dressed in a flamingo-sequined tailcoat, sparkling pink shoes and white sequined glasses, John dashed out on stage to an exuberant response from a packed house, plunked down at his grand piano and launched into “The Bitch Is Back” from the 1974 “Caribou” album. When the song ended, John stood up and acknowledged the ecstatic crowd, even those sitting behind the stage, and he did this throughout the evening. The audience knew they were seeing a still-great legend work his magic, and the ride continued with “Bennie and the Jets.” John ended the song with an extraordinary several-minutes-long piano burst, and he was an absolute madman across the keys. This would happen several more times; songs would be extended and John was dazzling.

John doesn’t hit the high notes like he once did but rather delivers them lower, and it worked just fine, especially with some backing vocal assists from his stellar band on songs like “Daniel.”

Early on in the set John played a pair of songs from the “Wonderful” album – “Looking Up” and “A Good Heart” – with the latter being a well-received ballad. But then it was back to the hits by way of “Philadelphia Freedom,” which, like several other well-known John tunes, brought the house down.

“I Want Love” – from 2002’s “Songs from the West Coast” – was introduced with John saying there are so many people divided and who hate each other. “I’m here to make things better and to bring people together.” The song proved music’s capacity to unite as hundreds of fans held up their lit-up phones. It was a lovely sight to see, accompanying the tender lyrics.

There are Elton John songs that people love and then there are ones that go beyond love – they’re almost transcendent in that they elicit a huge emotional response and an uncontrollable urge to sing along as if nothing else mattered in the world at that moment. “Tiny Dancer” is one of those songs. And there’s nothing quite like hearing John and his band perform it live. But then, just like that, John does it again with another epic, sweeping tune: “Levon.” It too had a jaw-dropping ending and was another shining star in a galaxy of overwhelming and heart-filling moments.

With our voices still ringing and smiles 10 miles wide, Elton John took the show right into orbit with “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time.)” John started it with an intricate intro that left the crowd in suspense as to what the song was. But with the opening lyric of “She packed my bags last night pre-flight” the cat was out of the bag, and the rest of the band rejoined John for a version of the song that ended with gorgeous acoustic guitar played by John’s longtime musical director and guitarist, Davey Johnstone.

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Your Song,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much), “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and “I’m Still Standing” were all played and it was a testament to and reminder of just how significant John’s contribution has been to the past several decades. He’s sold more than 250 million records and at one point had 29 consecutive Top 40 hits.

Since he started touring in 1970, John has played more than 4,000 shows in 80 countries. He’s more than still standing; he seemed ready to play all night long. Lest anyone had any doubts about this, they were surely convinced during the 1972 smash hit “Crocodile Rock.” Everyone did indeed remember when rock was young and were more than happy to sing the “la la la la las” when cued by John to do so.

He ended with “Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting)” and then proceeded to shake hands and sign autographs for several front-row fans. But the show wasn’t quite over yet. There was still one more song to play for the encore, and that song was from the 1973 “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album. John sent the capacity crowd home with “Candle in the Wind” and it was glorious. It’s a song he’s likely performed live thousands of times and yet it, like every part of the show, didn’t feel like John was just going through the motions.

In the row in front of me were a man and woman and their two high-school-age sons. The couple had last seen John play 25 years ago when they were engaged. Now they were there with their children as a family and they all swayed arm in arm to “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” That seemed to me the perfect example of how much the music of Elton John matters.

Elton John is truly one of the great ones and he and his band put on a spectacular show from start to finish.


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