JOEL AND JOHN ARE AT THEIR BEST TOGETHER
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 1/24/2002
Talk to the experts and they'll agree that ever since Sept. 11, many concert fans are gravitating to familiar, feel-good performers who take their minds back to better times.
Enter, then, the warm and fuzzy Linus blankets of rock 'n' roll - Billy Joel and Elton John. The two Piano Men, with a collective 75 years of experience, have sold out five FleetCenter shows. Tickets cost up to $175 - meaning stadium-sized, million-dollar-plus grosses each night. Tuesday night's 3 1/2-hour, nostalgia-drenched opener was a glorious display of craft and rock 'n' roll heart, but it was actually too long, if you can believe that.
Billy and Elton each played lengthy headlining sets, but it would have been better if they had tightened those up and had played more together. This "Face 2 Face" tour was only face to face for three songs at the beginning, then a more generous eight at the end.
That said, the evening was a stellar display of music and showmanship, as each artist, propelled by the unwritten competitive atmosphere, went all out to seize the audience. And each did.
Elton's set was the more party-oriented, and Billy's the more pensive (with several references to Sept. 11).
A confirmed New Yorker, Joel thanked the Boston audience for its support after Sept. 11 - and said how proud he was to be on tour with the English Elton, who is "from a country that stepped up to the plate" during the crisis. Joel also took time to perform "Miami 2017," his song about apocalyptic events in New York that was written years ago. It was a perfect choice for the Concert for New York a couple of months ago.
It wasn't quite as perfect this time - many people didn't recognize the little-known tune, but those who did appreciated it.
Joel and John emerged at the start (with Elton wearing an iridescent pink suit that Liberace would have loved) to harmonize on "Your Song," "Just the Way You Are" (which Joel dedicated "to my ex-number two" wife), and "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," which John dedicated to "one of my ex-husbands," as the sold-out crowd of 18,500 roared.
Then came Elton's long set, weaving from hoary rockers such as "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Rocket Man," through new tunes like the John Lennon-esque "I Want Love" and a compelling AIDS number, "The Ballad of the Boy with the Red Shoes." He finished with "Crocodile Rock," bowing to fans who were already hoarse from singing along.
With no set change, Joel and his band then took over, opening with the masterful sketch, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant." He moved from lullabyes to hard-rockers, before hitting some Sept. 11 bases and finally peaking with "Only the Good Die Young." Then Elton rejoined him for a thrilling, if delayed, climax that included the Beatles "Here Comes the Sun" (dedicated to Peggy Lee, who passed away Monday) and "Bennie and the Jets," among other nostalgic nuggets that were just what this crowd needed to hear.