Piano men deliver summer blockbuster

A review of Elton John and Billy Joel at Gillette Stadium on July 18, 2009

, Managing Editor

Fifteen years later to the date, Billy Joel and Elton John returned to Foxboro for their “Face 2 Face” tour. The two great piano men were razor-sharp playing in their first show ever at Gillette Stadium, deliver over three hours of their classic hits.

The stage was as grand as the setting with an ornate, musically themed set, and two huge banners bearing images of the performer’s hometowns, London and New York, flanking the stage. John and Joel took to the stage together to start the evening; Billy in a dark suit while Elton wore a long jacket bearing multicolored musical notes on the sleeve and the Yellow Brick Road on the back. Elton’s wardrobe was interesting as always but it was actually Joel who was more over-the-top throughout the night: cracking jokes, dancing, and even swatting flies. However, they started the show off in a milder manner, dueting on two of each other’s most famous love ballads. “Your Song” began the show with Billy taking the lead on the vocals to start. Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” followed with a commanding first verse from Elton.

After appearing alone on stage for the first couple songs, the two stars were joined by John’s band during early highlight “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me.” Bright lights beamed like the sun itself over the crowd during the rousing chorus. A big ovation followed as Billy began a snippet of “Joyful, Joyful” before “My Life” got some people out of their seats and dancing after which he departed as Elton’s solo set began.

John started his set with “Funeral For A Friend”, pumping up the crowd during the stormy beginning. It was the first time guitarist Davey Johnstone, who recently played his 2,000th show with Elton, was given the chance to shine, as they both jammed away to close the song.

After “Saturday Night’s Alright” stirred the crowd into a dancing frenzy John pleased the fans once again by announcing that “the Patriots are my team” and how excited he was to see them play in London this upcoming season. Three tracks off of Madman Across The Water followed, including the title track. John performed “Levon” with a powerful, almost forceful delivery and ended it playing like a madman himself. “Tiny Dancer” was then dedicated to friends Robert and Myra Kraft (who happily sat front row center) as well as all the ladies in the audience, who all joined in for a jovial sing-along.

Although Billy was on a roll on Saturday, Elton was quite playful himself as he stood up after almost every song and basked in the ovation, pointed at fans in the crowd, and walked to center stage to stir excitement on several occasions. Then he humorously invited fans to sing along to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” as if they really needed an invitation.

“Rocket Man” went with more of a spaced-out than space theme as images of psychedelic-looking flowers coasted across the screens. The trance didn’t last long though as John finished his set strongly with a three pack of dance tracks in “Philadelphia Freedom”, “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock”. “Crocodile” really got the place rocking as the audience filled in on the “Na’s”. John even paused the song and conducted the audience in their singing from center stage.

As soon as Elton left, Billy emerged pumping out “Angry Young Man” like a machine. After “Movin’ Out,” Joel began what was like a comedy routine as he imitated the Boston accent in his band introductions and referred to sections of the audience in reference to parts of Massachusetts. For example, the people in the “shitty seats” were “way down in Cape Cod”. He was most intrigued by the nature around him, saying with his trusty yellow flyswatter in his hand, “you guys got some big ass bugs up here in New England… did you see that bastard?!”

Putting the jokes aside for a second, Joel genuinely thanked the crowd for coming out, remarking about the hard economic times, before fittingly playing “Allentown”. However, he was quick to get back to the jokes, telling the people in the expensive seats up front they should think again about their position as they were “sitting below lighting equipment holding about 12 people who haven’t gone the bathroom in three hours”. Getting back to the music, “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “She’s Always A Woman” provided strong sing alongs, with the ladies much more prominent on the latter. Joel reacted by saying “You guys can sing it too! Some places sing like shit.”

“Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” had the fans on their feet and singing but many took their seats after for the slower “River of Dreams”. However, the fans shot out of their seats as Joel paused the song to play a bit of local anthem “Dirty Water” while the stadium went wild. Taking a break from the piano, Joel then introduced “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by saying “this song doesn’t mean a damn thing… but so what!” The most humorous moment of the evening came during the song’s performance as pictures flashed of everything mentioned in the song. For the “England’s got a new queen” lyric a picture of Elton quickly appeared on the screen, which had to amuse anyone who caught it. Joel stalked the stage twirling a mic stand for “Still Rock N’ Roll To Me” before closing his set back behind the piano for “Only the Good Die Young”.

The two returned to the stage together shortly afterwards, Elton in a new sparkling coat and Billy with his flyswatter. They were joined by both of their bands for the more upbeat portion of the encore including “Uptown Girl”, “The Bitch Is Back”, which began with Billy standing on his piano and Elton on his bench, and “You May Be Right”.

The two were left alone on the stage for the two closing numbers, which happened to be their two of the biggest hits. John’s “Candle in the Wind” preceded Joel’s “Piano Man” as fans held lighters and cell phones in the air for the tender ballad. John changed a line in Joel’s song to “you’re a very good crowd for a Saturday” receiving cheers as the night capped off beautifully with the show’s loudest sing along during “Piano Man”.

Delivering over three hours of music to a sold out crowd of over 53,000, Billy Joel and Elton John put on one of the best concerts of the year (and arguably the best). Although both men are now in their early 60’s they played with a youthful spirit and an energy that proved that there’s nothing they’d rather be doing, and if you were lucky enough to be there it’s likely you felt the same way.

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