Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me

If you don't follow me on twitter and haven't heard me ramble about this, I've been excited about this for over a month now:

That's right... last night I fulfilled a dream I've had for, um, longer than I'd care to discuss.  We'll just say, since junior high.  I got to see Billy Joel live and in person.  The fact that he was playing with Elton John was a big bonus.

I had looked at the two dates they were playing in Texas, and unfortunately, I found out too late to get tickets.  Houston was way past sold out, and San Antonio only had single tickets available. At that point, I went to my good friend the internet and started looking in other places.  Since this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, I figured I could go ahead and spend the bucks for a floor seat.  Turns out I could get a 2nd row seat in Phoenix for $1600, or I could go to Tulsa and sit farther back for not much more than face value.  Hmmmm... I choose sanity.

Tulsa built their BOK Center about a year ago, according to some friendly folks we ran into at dinner before the show.  There was apparently some public curiosity about whether Tulsa could pull in big names with an arena.  Turns out Kevin Costner was right: if you build it, they will come. Here's a shot of the stage prior to the show.  You'll see that screen again later.

I went with my friend Heather. There are only so many people you can drive 15 hours and stay in a hotel room with over two days. She's a keeper. She also took all the pictures; I was afraid they'd ban my big DSLR from the arena, so I left it in the car.  Awesome photog job, Heather!

I'll grant you that her camera has a big ol' zoom on it, but this was a cool stage setup, and just being in the room with these two men was electric.  Elton is on the left; Billy is on the right.

These men can flat THROW DOWN on the piano.  Their styles are vastly different, though; it didn't take long before I didn't need visual cues to tell me whose hands I was watching.  Both are just stunning to watch play, to say nothing of their songwriting and singing talents. I went in with expectations set on "sky-high" and they exceeded all of them.

Here's a second picture of the two of them on that giant screen you saw before. They used this screen for all kinds of stuff: pics of the two of them, illustrations of stuff in the song (the stuff they played during "We Didn't Start the Fire" was really interesting and obviously historic), cartoony fun stuff, you name it. Great use of a set design element.

Also, since we were in an arena, there was the huge thing hanging over our heads with screens on four sides.  We weren't in the best position to get a good pic of it, but Heather got shots of both men on it.  Billy first:

Then Elton.

And if you want the real nitty-gritty details, here are my notes from the night, complete with set list.

There was no opening band.  The stage started bare; the pianos rose out of the stage, complete with dry ice and all that wonderful stage-y stuff.  They began by playing and singing together, trading verses in each others' songs.  They then played individual sets (Elton first, then Billy), coming together at the end for another set together.

The entire concert was three and a half hours -- longer than Heather and I had dared to hope. They played every monster hit and many little-known songs. Every song that Heather had been dying to hear was played, so she can now die happy. I would have loved to hear some that were not played, but they were never hits, so no complaints from me.

We were sitting quite a way back from the stage, on the left edge of the floor seats (or stage right for you theater types).  The couple next to us were also huge Billy Joel fans and were very nice. There was a group of four people in front of us (two couples) that was, er, interesting. Both women had bought flashing LED glasses frames that they wore throughout the show. Fortunately, the stage lights were brighter, and we didn't notice them most of the time.  

Set list (songs are in bold; my notes are not): 
Elton and Billy together:
Your Song
Just the Way You Are
There was a woman two rows in front of us, clearly intoxicated even before the show, who was dancing energetically to the two slow opening songs.  Ummmm, ok...
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
My Life
Billy sang backup on this one -- his own song!  I found that amusing.

After "My Life," Billy left the stage, and Elton did his solo portion of the show.

Elton's solo set:
Peachtree Road (I have this title wrong, but I didn't recognize the song)
There was one person standing on the floor during this song.  Perhaps you might guess where he was?  Yes, that's right: directly in my line of sight to Elton.  Granted, Elton wasn't who I was there to see, but still, I thought it was rude.
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Burn Down the Mission
Mad Man Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
I noticed on this song that Elton wasn't even trying to hit the high notes in his songs.  Either another singer or the keyboard player would hit the high notes, and he would take a lower note. It wasn't terribly distracting, but I noticed it because I was looking for it; Heather and I had wondered if these guys would still be able to hit those notes (Billy still hit all his, which impressed me). Elton's voice is still amazing -- his tone is beautiful, and his voice is strong and resonant. He just doesn't have the range on the top end that he once enjoyed.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
He had the audience singing along to hit the high notes on this one.  We didn't mind.
This was the one I most wanted to hear from Elton.
He did probably a 10-minute jam on this song.  I thought he was finished with his set after this, but he faked us out.
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock
This song is even more fun live than on a recording.  We had a great time dancing around to it.

This concluded Elton's set. He received a long standing ovation, walked around the entire stage (which was more or less done in the round), and shook hands and signed autographs before exiting. I was pointing up at the screens and telling Heather, "For only $1200 more, that could have been us!"


So, up next was Billy's solo set.  And holy cow, Elton had done 11 songs with some seriously long jams!  What did we have to look forward to?  Lots of great stuff, as it turned out.

Billy's solo set:
Angry Young Man
I wasn't really familiar with this song, but I figured that would be the exception to the rule.  In fact, it was the only exception.
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
By this song, Heather and I and the couple next to us were on our feet, singing along and dancing.
Billy introduced this one by saying it was "what used to be commonly referred to as 'an album cut.'" He told us it was a great tune and urged us not to use this time as a restroom break. Since "52nd Street" and "Glass Houses" were the first two Billy Joel albums I owned (and I do mean albums -- I had them on vinyl originally), I knew every word of this song.  And I will never hear it the same way again.  Not the album cut I wanted from "52nd Street," but whatcha gonna do?
Don't Ask Me Why
Another great tune from "Glass Houses."
She's Always a Woman
Like he could get out of there without playing this.
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
This was the one that Heather most wanted to hear.  She learned to play piano because of Billy Joel, and she and her dad and brother used to play this tune together (dad on guitar, Heather on piano, brother on either bass or the egg).  It holds a lot of emotion for her. I was so glad he played it.
River of Dreams
Another great one to sing and dance along to.  I was seriously feeling bad for the people in the non-floor seats who were all sitting down.  We were having so much more fun.
We Didn't Start the Fire
Billy played guitar on this, and did some crazy things with the mic stand, throwing it up in the air and catching it.  At the end of the song, he threw it literally the length of the stage to one of the other musicians, who caught it. Wild.
It's Still Rock & Roll to Me
More singing and dancing.  I love me some Billy Joel.
Only the Good Die Young
Still more singing and dancing. Seriously, the man is an amazing entertainer. Loved it.

After this song, Billy made his rounds of the stage, also shaking hands and signing autographs. Heather and I were both struck by how gracious both men were with the fans, and also by how much fun they seemed to be having playing, entertaining the crowd, enjoying the music, each other, and the fans. I don't think you can fake that.

Last part of the set:
Duo, part two:
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
Great tune.  On this song, as with many others, I noticed that Elton couldn't help singing along (away from the mic) during Billy's parts of the songs.  Billy did the same thing during other songs.  Also, during one song (and I failed to write down which one), Billy clearly came in at the wrong time and mouthed an exaggerated "Oops!" face at the camera.  Good stuff.
Uptown Girl
At the end of this song, a female (fan?  not sure) got onstage, dancing to the song.  She danced over to Billy, kissed him on the cheek, then went over to Elton and kissed him on both cheeks followed by a big smooch on the mouth. She then left the stage. I didn't see security hustling her off, and Elton and Billy just kept playing, but it was weird.
The B!tch Is Back
Again, not familiar with this song, one of Elton's.  The crowd was really into it, though. Bleeped the word cuz, y'know, I'm a family blog and all.
You May Be Right
I was happy to hear this one.  It was great as a duet.
Benny and the Jets
Billy took all the high parts on this.  Worked out well.  Another great singalong.
You Say It's Your Birthday
Not sure if that's really the name, but whatever the rock 'n' roll birthday song is.  They asked if anyone was having a birthday, then they sang it. It was cool, but there are other things I would rather have heard from them.
Back in the USSR
Candle in the Wind
Heather said later, and I agreed, that if she'd been asked she would have said that she could have gone a long time without hearing this song again since it was so overplayed back in the day. It was fantastic live, though.  Really beautiful.
Piano Man
Yes, they saved the ultimate singalong -- and their theme song -- for last. It had to be played.  It was epic.  They stopped playing and let the the audience sing one round of the chorus.  Wow: the power of 20,000 voices.

These men have been entertaining people for well over 50 years between them. They are serious about music, and they blew. me. away.


Aden said...

Wow! Sounds like an awesome show. Both men did the songs I would have liked to hear most and then some. I am so glad you got to go, and had such a great time.

Cindy said...

Sounds like a great show!! I'm glad you & Heather got to go...what a fun road trip too!

Dy said...

Well, leaving out your obvious Billy-bias (I checked when I got home, 13 EJ to 4 BJ... Not surprising) it was amazing and I'm glad you have pics, I was afraid to take my camera!

San Antonio was awesome. We were in the nosebleeds, but got some bonus goodies, namely "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" and "I'm Still Standing" plus Billy Joel doing a John Wayne impression and playing the theme to "Alamo" and "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (no singing on those too, though).

I was impressed by Billy's showmanship, but Elton will always be my first love in that pair. Now if they'd just do a concert album. Or I could convince dh to give learning the piano another shot. Better yet, both. :-D

Robin ~ PENSIEVE said...'re a "real" fan.

Yep...looks like an AWESOMEGREAT time!