Thursday, February 4, 2010
Here's something you'll find only at a Billy Joel/Elton John concert: Air piano.
Instead of standard rock-guy faux-guitar contortions, fans — baby boomers and teenagers — were moved to impressionist ivory-tickling as the icons of piano pop played a three-hour, song-swapping concert at KeyArena. Part of the ongoing Face 2 Face Tour, Wednesday night was the first of two makeup dates at Key, which, along with a performance set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, recoup a pair scrapped in November due to John's illness.
He and Joel appeared hale and spirited on stage Wednesday night, John earringed, in sunglasses and wearing a black tailcoat and pink silk scarf that read "Stardust Kiss"; Joel subdued in a black jacket, slacks and T-shirt. Both are rounder and heavier — and in Joel's case, balder — than in their hitmaking heyday, but the weight of their songs has also increased with age.
Joel took the stage to "Yankee Doodle Dandy," John to "God Save the Queen." Rendering the tour title literally, they faced each other from behind Hummer-sized grand pianos, John stage right, Joel stage left. An enormous LED lighting rig curved above them, flanked on either side by a bass and treble clef, equally enormous. They began with John's "Your Song" and Joel's "Just the Way You Are," trading verses: just two voices and two pianos, unmistakable, captivating 17,000 fans.
From there, band members emerged until a full 11, including a pair of drummers, a pair of guitarists, a keyboardist, three hornmen and a bassist, were on stage for John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me" and Joel's "My Life," led into via Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Joel exited the stage, and his piano sunk pneumatically beneath it, leaving John and his feather-haired, silk-suited, impeccably tight five-piece band. From deep in John's 1970s catalog, "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and "Madman Across the Water" both dipped into long, prog-rock instrumentals, meandering a bit before John's vocals brought the song back to earth.
"Tiny Dancer" and "Rocket Man" were ineluctable highlights, the latter featuring an extended outtro with John on boogie-woogie piano and his guitarist swapping electric and acoustic guitars. John dedicated "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" to the Chihuly family, seated up front, and Alice in Chains, one of his "favorite bands." He went disco-esque on "I'm Still Standing" and led an arenawide singalong of "Crocodile Rock's" lalalalalas before relinquishing the stage to Joel's six-piece band.
Compared to John's polished, permed sophisticates, Joel's crew — including longtime members Crystal Taliefero and Mark Rivera — looked like "Jersey Shore" and sounded like garage rock. Joel opened with the machine-gun piano prelude to "Angry Young Man" and riled the crowd with "Allentown" and "Anthony's Song," his piano rotating 360 degrees during the former.
He had a few choice words about the Tacoma Dome's sound ("like s — t") and his first gig in Seattle (circa '71 and a round of Boeing layoffs, at the long-defunct Fresh Air Tavern on Capitol Hill. "The place was a dump," he said, "but they had great beer.") "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me" and "Only the Good Die Young" had all of KeyArena singing word-for-word as Joel, center stage, twirled his mic stand like a kid with a baton.
Midway through his set, Joel turned his attention to catcalls from the crowd. "Purple Haze?" he repeated, and without hesitation lead a rambunctious take on the Hendrix classic, seemingly off the cuff. (What kind of knucklehead requests "Purple Haze" at a Billy Joel concert? And what kind of rascal is Billy Joel for actually playing it?)
John and his band rejoined Joel for another round of shared songs. More than two hours into the show, the performers' energy level was still increasing and the crowd could barely handle it, on its feet and near hysterical for "You May Be Right" and "Benny and the Jets." Things settled down as the backing musicians left the stage, only John and Joel remaining to gently close with "Candle in the Wind" and "Piano Man," two signature songs from two beloved artists.
"Just the Way You Are"
"Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
"Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"
"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"
"Madman Across the Water"
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"I'm Still Standing"
"Angry Young Man"
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"She's Always a Woman"
"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"
"River of Dreams"
"We Didn't Start the Fire"
"It's Still Rock n Roll to Me"
"Only the Good Die Young"
"I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues"
"The Bitch Is Back"
"You May Be Right"
"Bennie and the Jets"
"Candle in the Wind"
- Seattle Times
Memorable quotes: "I'm probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but it sounds like shit." -- Billy Joel expressing his distaste for performing at the Tacoma Dome .
"I thought you were Lady GaGa for a minute." -- Elton John joking after a swift glance at his performance partner, in reference to his Grammy performance just days ago.
WTF moment: Two hours into the show, BJ and EJ emerged as a duo once more to perform "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." The first several verses were plagued with annoying thumps and clinks. It wasn't until BJ barked, "Turn off that amp!" that someone--who understandably looked scared shitless--darted onstage to make the appropriate changes to the system. Get it together, people! You really needed one of the headliners to tell you what needed to be done?