Midsummer 2009 finds Billy Joel continuing the rapturously received series of concert dates that he and touring partner Sir Elton John commenced in early March. Beginning in Florida and sweeping through the heartland before notching some major Canadian cities, the tour’s venues have gradually shifted from indoor arenas towards bigger outdoor stadiums.
The tour’s outdoor debut in Washington, D.C., held a special resonance as it also marked the inauguration of live music at Nationals Park, a year-old baseball facility that serves as home to the Washington Nationals. Despite construction delays on the city’s Metro system and a brief threat of rain as dusk settled in on the park, by show time an excited crowd had filled the bleachers and covered infield.
The show began in its usual impressive fashion, with seasoned mimic Billy doing a fine job of channeling Elton on several verses of “Your Song”, and Sir Elton returning the favor on “Just the Way You Are”.
Then with, Elton attempting to accompany his own “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” on his massive Yamaha concert grand, came a mishap that was distracting to say the least. As recounted by Washington Post contributor Chris Klimek in his review:
John called a timeout after that opening two-fer while a roadie tried to fix a stuck sustain pedal on the royal piano.
As John cursed, relief pitcher Joel played an impromptu and funny “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Joel even crawled under his fuming co-star’s piano to try to help solve the problem himself. It was one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the evening, with three hours to go. “At least you know we’re not on tape!” Joel quipped. “This is an authentic rock-and-roll [expletive]. You don’t see many of these anymore!”
Turning back to his own ever-ready Steinway (which gets a meticulous daily inspection from piano tech Wayne Williams, the same man who catches Billy’s flung microphone stand after “Still Rock `N Roll To Me” each night), Billy and band roared into his own portion of the set.
The Post account picks up the saga:
John finally withdrew while Joel fielded his band for a 65-minute set that opened with a swaggering “Prelude/Angry Young Man.”
As the entire spectacle was seen by Adam Mazmanian of The Washington Times in his July 13 review, “Piano men John, Joel rally over mishaps”:
In the end, the glitch proved to be a little bit of spilt milk in a 33-song musical feast that left all but the most gluttonous adult contemporary fans sated. Mr. Joel’s set featured a rapid fire spray of crowd-pleasers, executed without too much frippery or noodling. There is a relentless drive to the melodies in “Movin’ Out,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Don’t Ask Me Why” that Mr. Joel mines to great effect in performance with bombastic piano playing and an energetic singing style.
First attempted in 1994, the Face 2 Face tour’s pairing of Mr. John and Mr. Joel almost had to happen. The two are nearly exact contemporaries – Mr. John is 62; Mr. Joel is 60 – and they occupy similar spots in the public imagination as leading piano men in a world of guitar heroes.
That kind of rally bode well for the several remaining big-venue stops on the current tour leg, and anticipation was high both amongst the Joel troops and of course, the awaiting fans for tonight’s visit (followed by another show July 21) to the city’s historic Wrigley Field. With epochal converts in his native New York forming a good part of the Joel lore-his Yankee Stadium show in TK was perhaps topped only by last year’s “Last Play At Shea”-baseball parks have been very, very good for Billy. His good pal Sir Paul McCartney is playing the New York Mets’ new Citi Field stadium this Friday, an event which was likely to see Billy in attendance, and the tour’s upcoming arrival at the New England Patriots’s Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
With both piano prodigies sharing a determination to deliver a rocking show every night out, dates in the coming days in New York State and Billy’s traditional stronghold of Philadelphia promise to generate further buzz around a tour that is consistently topping the Billboard tally of top-grossing road acts. As a local reviewer found noted after attending an energetic gig in Columbus, Ohio:
Fifteen years ago, singer-pianists Billy Joel, 60, and Sir Elton John, 62, first toured together, including an appearance before more than 60,000 fans at Ohio Stadium.
In 2003, they hit the road again to more than 18,000 fans in Nationwide Arena. So the third time they’ve been “Face 2 Face” (the tour’s name) may not have been as memorable an event as that first concert, but musically, it was just as great.