Sing Us Some Songs, You’re the Piano Men

20 Jul

Pardon the cheese, but it was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday over at Gillette Stadium this weekend. We were all in the mood for some melodies, and Elton John and Billy Joel had us feeling all right.

Captain Fantastic and the Piano Man were there to play another of their joint shows, and despite any mockery I may have encountered for going, it was definitely worth it.

Elton and Billy’s tour is officially called “Face 2 Face,” but it could more accurately be called “Songs You Know By Heart” — to borrow the title of Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits album. As the duo winds its way through more than three hours of show — first together, then Elton for an hour, then Billy for an hour, then together again — you’re reminded time and again why you fell in love with their music in the first place.

Elton’s one-two punch of “Tiny Dancer” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was a perfect example. I’m not the world’s biggest Elton John fan, but those two songs in order made me reconsider that stance.

Likewise, it’s one thing to hear Billy perform “Angry Young Man,” but watching him pound the keys is an impressive sight, even after all these years.

And I say “after all these years” because both emphasized their classics — before many of his songs, Billy noted when in the 1970s they had been released. Elton’s released plenty of albums since the height of his fame in the ’70s and ’80s, but I don’t think he played much of anything from the ’90s on. (Billy, of course, hasn’t released an album of new songs since River of Dreams in 1993.)

They also each played at least one deeper album cut that wouldn’t be considered a mainstream hit; for Elton it was “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” or “Madman Across the Water,” and for Billy it was “Zanzibar.”

Anyway … as much as these two guys have in common, the show was a study of contrasting styles. Whereas Elton’s set was marked by pomp and power, Billy’s was looser and more fun. Elton may have more musicianship, but Billy has more showmanship. One’s a bitch and the other’s a brawler. Billy was pre-occupied with flies and other bugs on the stage, while Elton seemed to have no such issues. Billy spoke with and interacted with the crowd, introducing every member of his band, and Elton mostly just played his music without saying much.

Regardless, both seemed to be at the top of their game. These are two consummate pros, and together, they put on a great show.

Would I have been happier if I didn’t have to hear “Candle in the Wind” or “Uptown Girl?” Sure.

Was I bummed that they didn’t play “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” or “Summer Highland Falls?” Yeah. (“My Father’s Gun” was just a pipe dream.)

But after listening to “My Life,” “Levon,” Rocket Man,” “You May Be Right,” and even “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” I was more than satisfied.

Billy and Elton have been doing these “Face 2 Face” shows for more than a decade and a half (I saw one at Giants Stadium in 1994), and I haven’t seen either of them live since then — making this show feel like I was reconnecting with old friends at a reunion or something.

Given the emphasis on classic hits, the show hasn’t changed much, but that’s alright: I like these guys just the way they are.

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