Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Elton John and Billy Joel at Nationals Park

Here's the recipe:
1 flamboyant piano-playing diva from England
1 blue-collar rock-n-roll legend from New York
40,000+ fans

Mix ingredients together in a brand new stadium and let sit in a beautifully warm, yet not too muggy, summer night. Cook at 70 degrees F for 3.5 hours.

The result is usually a reliably solid concert with more sing-along hits than you could find at a karaoke bar... at least that's what I would guess, because this was not a normal evening. On this night, there was one last ingredient that was added to the tried and true formula that is Elton John and Billy Joel's 6th concert tour together called, "Face 2 Face." Billy Joel, playing the part of Iron Chef Chairman, announced that the secret ingredient was an "authentic rock-n-roll f*** up."

Normally, the show begins with a few songs performed together, followed by solo acts by Elton John and Billy Joel, in that order. The show then concludes with a full set of duets. However, with the secret ingredient in the mix, taking the form of a stuck sustaining pedal on Elton John's piano, the entire show slowed to a halt mid-way through the second song.

Now there may be people out there that could hear the problem, but when Elton John was frantically screaming at the techs in the middle of his own lyrics, you can count me among the "what the heck is going on?" crowd at Nationals Park . When he stopped the song for a true diva moment (he stormed off the stage), Billy Joel was left all alone to entertain and apologize to the masses. Ever the entertainer, he uttered the aforementioned line of the night and began to play a rock-n-roll rendition of Yankee Doodle. When Elton John returned to his piano bench only to find that no improvements had been made, Billy Joel avoided another blowup by whipping off his suit jacket and crawling underneath Elton's piano for a closer look. (Insert here your own inappropriate but still rather funny joke about Billy Joel lying between Elton John's feet - I'll try and make it through being grown up about it.)

Needless to say, this was not part of the set list but made for an amazingly awkward, hilarious, and memorable moment. It would be quite a feat for the rest of the concert to not be overshadowed by this moment, but in the end, it was memorable for its musical merits too. Maybe this snafu shook up the night just enough to make the millionth performance of "Piano Man" fresh, or maybe it is just a testament to the incredible talent, professionalism, and presence of these two legendary entertainers. Either way, lucky us!

After Billy Joel emerged from under Elton John's piano, he proceeded to bang out a set that was almost entirely recognizable by everyone in attendance. I'm always amazed when musicians can perform their songs exactly how they have countless times before, yet have it come off as if it is the first time, especially when it comes from a group that orders off the senior's menu at Denny's. Billy Joel and his crew played with enormous energy and enthusiasm that made the mulletted folks seated around us quite happy.

Elton John reemerged and followed with an equally enjoyable set of his own. Ever since I was little I've been hearing from my dad about Elton's amazing live performances, and all my life I've wanted to hear "Bennie and Jets" live. I don't even like this particular song all that much but after hearing about him getting crowds to echo back "Bennie," it has been on my bucket list. While I can now check that one off and say it was definitely cool, for some reason I had higher hopes for him. Maybe 20 years of build-up was too much to live up to.

Don't get me wrong, Captain Fantastic was fantastic, but he had a very tough act to follow coming off the energy that was produced from Billy Joel's set. Maybe the piano issue was still in Elton's head, but I would argue that it was more a reflection of an exceptionally strong performance from Billy Joel that was aided by an audience that clearly favored the American.

The night ended with an exclamation point. Back and forth they went, playing off of each other in a way that can only be described as playfully. Despite their very different styles and personas, it was easy to tell that these two great talents shared a friendship and respect for one another. That connection was also extended to the crowd which sang lyrics at full force. Personally, I love moments when large crowds sing in unison. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Dodger Stadium, "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, a college football fight song in any packed stadium (Colorado University comes to mind), the "Rock, Chalk Jayhawk" chant during the Final Four, any big hit during a U2 concert... you get the idea.

In short, it was a magical and memorable night and not just because Elton's pedal needed a BJ... (sorry, I couldn't help it.)

J Says

BJ jokes aside, I think the less-than-conventional opening made the show memorable and a lot of fun. As B noted, Billy Joel was the ultimate professional and carried the show. It apparently was a great night for Joel as he met his new girlfriend (soap opera star Alex Donnelley) backstage at the DC concert.

Maybe it's because we share the same birthday or maybe it's because I'm a sucker for the song Piano Man, but I left with a renewed enthusiasm for Billy and his music. I went in to the concert expecting to like Elton more but Billy's energy was contagious. If the dueling pianos make a stop in your neighborhood, I highly recommend that you do what it takes to snag a ticket.


MC said...

OMG i'm so jealous! That show sounds amazing!

Juan said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Amy said...

J shares a birthday with Billy Joel.

Alix said...

And I share a birthday with Hillary Clinton.

Alix said...

I don't know if my last comment went through ... J shares a birthday with Billy Joel, who wrote a song about my college town. That will now be stuck in my head all day. So thanks.