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5 of Elton John’s most memorable Las Vegas shows

Updated September 6, 2019 - 12:00 pm

He’s played here more than any other city.

More than 450 shows. With two to go.

It might the last time we see Elton John live in Las Vegas.

Since first coming here on tour in the early ’70s, John has logged a number of memorable performances, from christening Studio 54 at the MGM Grand in December 1997 to duetting with Celine Dion at a benefit concert at Caesars Palace in February 2006 to playing Andre Agassi’s Grand Slam for Children concerts more than a half dozen times.

Now it’s time to say goodbye.

As John brings his farewell tour to town this weekend, let’s look back at five of his most noteworthy Las Vegas shows:

Convention Center, Sept. 15, 1971

It took a concept album about the American West to actually get Elton John to the American West.

John made his Las Vegas debut on his third U.S. tour, in support of his third record, “Tumbleweed Connection.”

“Tumbleweed” remains an inspired outlier in John’s catalog, his most country- and blues-influenced offering.

Four years after his first show here, John returned to the venue, but then he’d only play in Las Vegas three times in the next 20 years.

That would change big time over the ensuing decades.

Circus Maximus, Caesars Palace, Dec. 31, 1999

The Y2K bug proved to be a flea.

No, computers didn’t crash en masse on Jan. 1, 2000.

Mass hysteria was averted, there were no locust showers, nor did dogs and cats start living together.

The end times would have to wait until the Kardashians got on the air.

While there may not have been technical difficulties with your laptop that night, there seemed to be some onstage when Elton John played a big show in a small room on New Year’s Eve.

“More piano!” John can be seen mouthing heatedly at the onset of his set at the now-shuttered, 1,200-capacity Circus Maximus theater, setting an edgy tone for the concert.

Still, John soldiered on.

“We’re gonna be as up as we can tonight,” he promised after a show-opening “The Bitch Is Back.”

Twenty years later, it remains John’s most intimate ticketed gig in Las Vegas.

MGM Grand Garden, March 24-25, 1995; Feb. 17-18, 2001; March 28-29, 2003

It was mano a mano, piano a piano, when Elton John and Billy Joel first teamed up for their blockbuster “Face to Face” tour in 1994-95.

And Vegas was the only place you could see them with a roof.

Their two-night stand at the MGM Grand Garden marked the only non-stadium dates of both legs of the outing, which was remarkably successful.

For instance, the two sold out Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, a whopping five times, drawing nearly 300,000 fans in the span of a week in July 1994.

In Vegas, they played to a combined crowd of 26,613 to the tune of $2.8 million in box office receipts.

John and Joel would return to the venue for a pair of shows in both 2001 and 2003, selling out all six concerts and grossing nearly $12 million.

And some of that money would stay in Vegas: As John started coming to town more, he became a regular at Wax Trax Records, where the vinyl obsessive has added to his collection by the crateful.

“The Red Piano” residency, Colosseum at Caesars Palace, February 2004-March 2009

Several blow-up props, including hot dogs, breasts and bananas, surrounded the man of the hour.

Directed and designed by photographer Dave LaChappelle, “The Red Piano” was a winkingly adult show in a wide-eyed adult playground, the titillation provided by, among other things, footage of Pamela Anderson working a stripper pole at one point.

For some hot-and-bothered types, that might have justified the $250 ticket price for select seats.

Speaking of pricey ducats, while that titular piano may have been red, this production was decidedly in the black: The residency’s 22 legs drew almost a million fans for 248 shows, earning more than $169 million.

And that’s not counting what was raked in by the diamond-adorned, $20,000-plus mini-piano souvenirs peddled in the gift shop.

“The Million Dollar Piano” residency, Colosseum at Caesars Palace, September 2011-May 2018

It was more like the $130 million piano.

Elton John’s second Vegas residency again did second-to-none business.

In total, John drew 776,518 fans in nearly seven years, filling the venue to 99 percent capacity over the course of 197 shows.

While the numbers were similarly impressive, the show was different this go-round, with fewer frills and more album cuts, elevating sentiment over spectacle.

Of course, there was still plenty of the latter.

During “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” for instance, an animated video looked back on his career.

And now that “Road” is coming to an end.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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