"Do I dare disturb the universe?"
~T.S. Eliot

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sing us a song, you're the Piano man...

Two nights ago, I was fortunate enough to hear two of the greatest living musicians of this era. Billy Joel and Elton performed to a sold-out crowd at Wrigley Field in Chicago on July 16, and they still have all the passion and soul of their heydays. The concert was about 3 1/2 hours long without intermission, and featured multiple sets that kept the show in constant motion. Elton John, dressed sharply in a tux with a flashy blue collared shirt and his signature shades, opened with the tender "Your Song." Soon, Billy Joel, dressed in a black suit like a classic jazz pianist, also selecting something sentimental, performed "Just the Way You Are" as his solo opener.

They then joined together in a dueling-piano style, the two grands "face to face," as the subtitle of their concert implied. They turned up the heat with "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," the old-fashioned LED lights projecting a sunset, echoing the evening sky itself, and rocking the house with the passion of the rebellious teens they once were, with "My Life."

John and Joel proceeded to play generous individual sets. Personal highlights from John's set include the melodic "Levon," classic "Tiny Dancer," with it's instantly recognizable piano intro, and poetic "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." In the latter, the back up vocalists carried the enthusiastic crowd through the sweeping, melodic chorus. John concluded with "Crocodile Rock," which got the crowd on their feet dancing, and really highlighted his tight band.

At this point, the audience assumed a break, but soon the lights came up again to reveal Billy Joel, jamming like he would love nothing better than to deliver a crowd-pleaser. He opened with the catchy "Angry Young Man," an immensely energy-filled, piece, impressively driven by his two drummers and guitarists. He continued with a multitude of his bests, including the rhapsodic "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," (highlighting Joel's band and talented saxophone players) the classic "River of Dreams," and the anecdotal "We Didn't Start the Fire," which, now in 2009, reminds us all of the repetitive nature of history. The crowd was on its feet again, snapping and shimmying with his closing "Only the Good Die Young."

Next, the duo joined again for a combined set of both their songs. I loved hearing the two great masters jam together and add a new voice to each other's music. What strikes me as unusual in the world of celebrity, is that after all the years in the spotlight, both musicians still seem grounded, and they showed a genuine gratitude for their audience's enthusiasm. Both portray stylistic differences to a similar genre; John's songs often tend to be more sentimental and poetically abstract, and his voice is sweeping and rich in timbre. Joel sings honestly about the struggles of the every day man just trying to get by, and his voice cuts through the air with sharp passion, even when singing softer, more lyrical tunes. Both voices may have been roughened by age, but the passion behind the music was as present as ever, and their fingers still sharp. Their chemistry on stage is evident, pointing and gesturing to give the credit to the other. The audience that comprised the full house was diverse in age, revealing how John and Joel's music speaks to every range of people.

While both remained on stage for the encores, both had a final word--John sang his beautiful and touching "Candle In the Wind," written in honor of Marilyn Monroe's death (and re-written as a tribute to Princess Diana after her death), while we linked arms and swayed, lighters and cell phone lights popping up across the stadium bleachers. Of course, Joel's Piano Man was the most fitting closure to the night...we were all indeed in the mood for a melody and were certainly feelin' all right.

At that point, the stage went dark, but I was not ready for it to be over. I could have listened to the two play far into the night. As the bright stadium lights came on, and I resigned myself to the bittersweet sense of finality. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see these two brilliant musicians light up the stage together, perhaps for one of the last times.

Billy Joel and Elton John's Face 2 Face Tour will play again at Wrigley Field on July 21st, and have scheduled performances in other cities across the country through November.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful review. You should be writing for the deerfield review more often!!