Two luminaries of rock ‘n’ roll descended upon the newly-named St. Pete Times Forum Friday night, making good on a canceled concert date from March.
Billy Joel and Elton John, men whose careers have spanned decades, played to a practically sold-out crowd. The piano men’s Face to Face Concert Tour is a show that should not be missed by any fan of either musician. The list of hits from just one of them is enough to make any current boy band cringe, but combined, John and Joel give new meaning to the term “superstar.” The audience, composed mostly of middle-aged men and women, and a few families, was more subdued than most. But the screaming started as soon as the pianos rose through trap doors in the stage. Joel was the first to emerge, making his entrance to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” John followed to the appropriate, “God Save the Queen.” Neither pianist wasted much time acknowledging applause, and it was down to business.
They opened the concert together, splitting the singing duties, while they both banged on their keyboards. First up was John’s classic, “Your Song,” then Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” followed by “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
Almost immediately afterward, Joel exited stage left, and his piano disappeared, leaving Sir Elton and his band in the numerous spotlights. John played for about fifty minutes, spanning all the decades of his lengthy career. His playlist included “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Rocketman,” “Tiny Dancer” and “Crocodile Rock.” Everything was well received, especially “Crocodile Rock” and the audience was up on their feet as he took his bow.
Joel is the quintessential American rock icon. His hits have ranged from “Piano Man” to “Uptown Girl” to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” He has always written about social issues, and his songs have the ability to tell a story while being musically intricate.
He started his set with the offbeat “Angry Young Man” and “Allentown.” Even though Joel has been through rehab just this summer, his voice sounds better than it has in years, and his live piano playing is a gift to behold.
“New York State of Mind” has become Joel’s calling card since Sept. 11, 2001. It was a given, and halfway through his set, Joel did not disappoint. The song was cheered from start to finish, and each refrain got more applause. Joel’s amazing tenor saxophonist played a great improvisational solo that incorporated a snippet from “New York, New York.” The audience got the joke and appreciated the nod to New York history.
As was expected, they finished the concert together, splitting the singing duties again, with “My Life,” “You May be Right,” “Hard Day’s Night” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Each song received more applause and got audience members out of their seats and dancing in the aisles.
As “Great Balls of Fire” finished and the audience was again on its feet, Joel and John hugged and waved, slapped hands with the people rushing the stage and signed a few autographs. They left stage, but the audience was not done yet. The cheering continued for at least two full minutes before both performers reappeared.
Surprisingly, they started off their encore with “Candle in the Wind.” But finally, judging by audience reaction, they played what everyone had been waiting for, “Piano Man.” It was the best way to end a concert with two of the best pianists of this generation.
Contact Megan Sullivanat firstname.lastname@example.org