Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Face 2 Face

Saturday night, I attended the Billy Joel/Elton John concert at Washington, D.C.'s Nationals Park. Billed as the "Inaugural Concert" of this tour, the two legends put on a great 3.5 hour show for the 40k fans in attendance.

This is the second John/Joel show I've been to (the other was in Syracuse in 2001), and at this point you kind of know what to expect. The show opens with the two of them at their pianos playing "Your Song" followed by "Just the Way You Are", "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me", and "My Life" - gradually adding members of their bands with each successive song. Then, Billy leaves the stage for Elton's solo set, Elton leaves the stage for Billy's set, then both play more duets with their bands until it's just the two of them at two pianos again for the closer "Piano Man".

Saturday was a little different. During the first two songs, you could tell Elton wasn't happy about something. Every time it was Billy's turn to take a verse, Elton turned to one of the stage hands and yelled (nothing that got picked up on the mikes). After about three measures into the third song, Elton just stopped playing. Billy made comment about technical difficulties (the sustain pedal on Elton's piano was stuck), and Elton had stormed off the stage. Billy made a couple wisecracks and launched into a funny rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Elton came back and tried the piano again, but still wasn't happy. Billy said, "At least you know we're not on tape! This is an authentic rock-and-roll fuck-up. You don't see many of these anymore." At this point, Billy walked over to Elton's piano, took off his jacket, and tried to fix the pedal himself. Still there was no luck, so Elton left the stage again. Billy then called his band out and started in with his set.

The set was great as always. He bantered with the crowd between songs, introduced his band members, and had his trademark rotating piano so the folks behind him didn't have to stare at the back of his head the entire show. He did surprise everyone with a performance of "Zanzibar" featuring a great trumpet solo (though I forget the guy's name, sorry). Later, "Don't Ask Me Why" put him in a contemplative mood. He said, "I don't know why you're listening to me. That was written for my first ex-wife. And this is the first show I'm doing after three divorces!" Of course, everyone laughed and cheered at that comment. He closed with "Only the Good Die Young" and it was time for Elton's set.

Elton came out with a grand performance of "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and then apologized to the crowd for the earlier technical difficulties and thanked Billy and his band for pitching in. Elton's set was a bit slower than Billy's (who had a good mix of uptempo and slow songs) and he treated the crowd with a 10+ minute rendition of "Rocket Man". After about the third time people thought the song was over, I turned to my friend and said "I'm not clapping again until I know he's done." :)

Elton seemed a bit more of a diva this time than when I saw him before. After every song he did, he jumped off the piano bench and hectored the crowd into applauding for him even more than they would've normally. It's an interesting contrast to see both performers' personalities side-by-side.

The two closed out the show with the songs they aborted in the opening ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" and "My Life") plus their typical enders. The last two songs they did were just the two of them and their pianos: "Candle in the Wind" and "Piano Man".

I've seen Billy in concert four times (counting Saturday) and Elton twice (counting Saturday). I've always said even if you're not a superfan of either guy, you should definitely check them out live. They put on a heck of a show.

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