Piano men’s onstage fun infects the crowd


Piano men’s onstage fun infects the crowd

Elton John, Billy Joel make terrific match in almost all-hits show

By DAVE TIANEN dtianen@journalsentinel.com, Journal Sentinel

Thursday, April 10, 2003

When the roadies start to dance, it’s always a good sign.

Elton John was pumping some high-octane rock into “Rocket Man” Tuesday night when I happened to look down and see two roadies dancing away in front of the sound board.

Some nights, it’s just about the fun.

That’s how it was Tuesday night when Elton John and Billy Joel brought their Face To Face tour to a sold-out house at the Bradley Center. Sir Elton and Billy have been working the road together on and off for years, but they still seem to be having a blast, and the party is contagious.

At one point in the middle of “The River of Dreams,” Billy ripped into “The Beer Barrel Polka” and the Bradley Center hit near- meltdown. Later, he opened their dual encores with a leap into “The Mickey Mouse Club March.” As Elton tore into “The Bitch is Back,” Billy climbed up on his piano and did an Irish jig.

At 56 and 53 respectively, Elton and Billy are hardly in what is usually considered rock ‘n’ roll prime time. Elton is no longer the sequined bauble of yore. In his lavender blue suit, he now looks like a flamboyant retired florist. Billy actually looks a little trimmer than he did a couple of months ago on the Grammys, but that famous puff of black hair is now a shiny pate.

They make a terrific match. Elton is a little bit more roadhouse rock ‘n’ roll. He closed his opening set with “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock.” I thought his voice was starting to fray a couple of years ago in the Madison Square Garden concert, but Tuesday he sounded as strong as ever.

Billy’s New York roots shine through in his doo-wop leanings. “An Innocent Man” may be the best Drifters song never recorded by the Drifters. In the same way, “The River of Dreams” clearly comes from the same pack as the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Billy did seem to have a few throat gremlins Tuesday, and he now lets a backup singer handle those high notes on “An Innocent Man.”

Both of them have their neoclassical side. It occurred to me that Elton’s an underrated prog-rocker. Neither Yes nor E.L.P. ever wrote anything with the furious pomp of “Funeral for a Friend.” Billy indulged his classical tendencies by opening “New York State of Mind” with a slice of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

A popular musician has no greater resource than a bulging catalog of proven hits, and both piano men are stocked to the hilt. Elton is the only living artist with more top 40 hits than the Beatles, and Billy has more than 30 hit singles himself. In an almost all-hits show that ran 3 1/2 hours, consider what they didn’t get to: “Daniel,” “Honky Cat,” “Candle in the Wind,” “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “Uptown Girl,” “The Longest Time,” “Keeping the Faith” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

They opened the night playing together, parted for separate sets and then reunited at the end. It was a flat-out joyous finish: “Bennie and the Jets,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” a medley of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

And then the perfect closer: “Piano Man” as nearly 20,000 people without a word of prompting sang, “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man. . . .”

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