Elton John and Billy Joel
Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fl • March 2, 2009
Forced at gunpoint, almost anyone can name at least a handful of tunes from each of these two legendary artists. Together they’ve racked up over 80 Top 40 hits and have sold a total of more than 300 million records. Over the last decade or so, this co-headlining, double-whammy tour de force has proven to be an über successful union and despite current economic difficulties and a $200 per head ticket price (incl. ser. chrg.), these two rock icons are still making sweet music together at the box office.
A sellout crowd of 15,000 music fans — of all ages — filled Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida on a Monday to witness opening night of the 2009 Face 2 Face tour.
The arena went black at 7:45 pm while spotlights flashed across the venue and two pianos, placed nose-to-nose, arose from beneath the stage. To the tune of “Yankee Doodle” blasting from the PA, 59-year-old Billy Joel appeared from stage left dressed in a black suit with a dark blue shirt and red necktie. Then, from stage right, looking like a glam version of the Monopoly Man, wearing black tails trimmed in electric purple with matching purple-tinted glasses, 61-year-old Elton John appeared while the majestic sound of his own intro played. The two legends waved to their enthusiastic and adoring fans as they met and shook hands at center stage.
Then, without backing musicians and under a mere couple of white spotlights, each man sat at his respective piano and kicked off the 33-song hit parade with Elton’s first Top 10 smash, “Your Song.” Together, the two singer/songwriters performed the first two numbers, which also included Joel’s 1978 hit “Honesty,” as a duo and then were joined by both of their bands for Elton’s 1974 classic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and one of Joel’s signature fan faves, “My Life.”
Joel, his band, and his piano all disappeared from the stage at approximately 8:00 as Elton’s 80+ minute solo set ensued. Showcasing material from 1969 – 1974, Sir Elton delivered such early classic album cuts as “Burn Down the Mission,” “Madman Across the Water,” and “Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding,” in addition to such obvious biggies as “Daniel,” “Good Bye Yellow Brick Road,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Levon,” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” The only non-golden era tune to make it onto the set list was the rather appropriate 1983 hit “I’m Still Standing.” The former Pinball Wizard engaged in little in-between-song banter except to concisely introduce each song and to comment once on how he enjoyed “looking at the pretty girls” who were seated front row — which is actually kind of ironic, ‘cuz he’s, uh, you know, Elton John.
His five-piece band, which once again featured classic-era alumni Nigel Olsson on drums and guitarist Davey Johnston, was a musical powerhouse. However, after undergoing throat surgery in the early 1990s, Elton’s legendary falsetto has now grown low, making such backup parts as the infamous “na-na-na’s” of “Crocodile Rock” a bit difficult to hit these days. Despite such opening-night glitches as intermittent feedback and a clunky transition into Joel’s set, Elton’s set was masterful and was highlighted by an amazing, revamped, dynamic rollercoaster version of “Rocket Man.”
Opening his set with the old school staple, “The Angry Young Man,” Billy Joel took the stage at 9:30-ish. He immediately apologized to fans whose seats had them looking at the back of his head. Then, as his piano spun in the opposite direction, he pointed out to fans on the other side of the venue, “Now these are the shitty seats.” In contrast to Elton John, who remained seated throughout most of his set and had little interaction with the crowd, Billy Joel was a full-throttle dynamo — actually playing piano at one point with his butt and spinning his mic stand like a majorette on steroids during “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” In addition to non-singles, “The Angry Young Man,” “Zanzibar” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” Joel’s set also included “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “In the Middle of the Night,” “Movin’ Out,” “I Go To Extremes,” and several of his other golden greats.
Initially I thought I had shitty seats (sec. 105, row F), but once the show started, I realized that with a production of this scale, you really needed to be about half way back in order to take in the entire spectacle, which included an amazing light show and state-of-the-art video projections.
By around 10:45, Joel ended his solo set with “Only the Good Die Young” and his classic closing tag line, “Don’t take any shit from anybody.” He was immediately rejoined onstage by Elton John, and once again with both bands back onstage they kicked off a five-song encore which included “The Bitch is Back,” “You May Be Right,” “Bennie and the Jets,” and The Beatles classics “Birthday” and “Back in the USSR.” Then, just as they had started more than three hours earlier, the two men brought the show to a grand finale at 11:00 performing as a duo — closing the show with Elton’s “Candle in the Wind” and Joel’s “Piano Man.”