Concert Review: Elton John and Billy Joel
February 20, 2010
The Elton John-Billy Joel “Face 2 Face” concert tour has been the largest grossing act on the circuit for the last few years, and it’s not tough to understand why.
Take the two top pop piano players around, aging as they may be. Put them on stage for more than three hours. No intermission. Listen as they crank out a set list of 30-plus classic hits and the enthusiastic audience roars their approval. Remind me—what exactly are we not supposed to like?
Their glory days may be behind them, but the Piano Man and the Rocket Man are seasoned showmen. They know what the crowd wants. And they do not disappoint.
The lights dim at 7:45 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose as the arena fills with the sounds of Randy Newman’s “The Natural.” Twin grand pianos rise up from underneath the giant stage. Billy Joel, 60, comes out first to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Elton John, 63, enters from the opposite side to the blaring “Hail Brittania.” The two music superstars share a warm embrace and acknowledge the thunderous roar of the crowd.
If there is a criticism of “Face 2 Face,” it is the predictability of the concert set list. There are rarely surprises. Sitting across the stage from one another, John and Joel fire off an impressive, though well-worn, opening salvo of “Your Song,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and “My Life.” At that point, Joel disappears backstage and Sir Elton and the lads, most of whom have been with him since the beginning, take over.
Name a hit by Elton John from the ‘70s and we heard it. Starting, as always, with “Funeral for a Friend,” John jumps immediately in to “Saturday Night.” His set list focuses on fan favorites: “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon,” “Goodbye Yellow Road,” “Daniel,” and a 10-minute extended version of “Rocket Man” that is always the highlight of his performance.
Elton John is a performer of few words. Rarely does he speak to the audience, preferring to focus on the music. But after each song, he leaps up from the piano and starts slashing the air with his index fingers, stoking the audience on. John is the only performer I’ve seen who will take time between songs to scribble autographs for the crowd. Nice touch. He does eleven songs before disappearing.
Within minutes, Billy Joel, looking his age, is racing through the opening standard “Angry Young Man” and then jumping to “Moving Out.” Joel is the wise guy who loves talking to the crowd. “I’m Billy’s old man,” he announces after the second song. “Billy couldn’t make it tonight, but it’s OK. I know all his old shit.”
Indeed he does. Joel offers up the set he has performed for years: “Allentown,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “River of Dreams.” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “She’s Always a Woman,” and “Don’t Ask Me Why.” It seemed a little strange to watch the graying Joel swinging his hips to “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” – perhaps he should stay longer at the piano. The voice isn’t the same, but the passion remains. Few singers can work a crowd like Billy Joel.
And give credit to his band. Whereas Elton John’s mates pretty much stay in place, Joel’s musicians cover the stage from one end to the other, almost literally disappearing into the audience. Elton John puts his focus on the music; Billy Joel reaches out to the audience and connects.
Nearly two-and-a half hours later, the dynamic duo reunites on stage and the last few songs are the strongest in the set, including “Benny and the Jets,” and “Uptown Girl.” I miss the Beatles medley that was in the Anaheim show last March, but closing numbers “Candle in the Wind,” plus a few bars of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” before a final sing-along of “Piano Man.” make for a pretty powerful ending.
11:05. Lights up. Three hours and twenty minutes. 32 songs. Well worth the wait. Well worth the drive.