Two pianos facing each other suddenly appeared from the beneath the stage at the Bell Centre. They sat empty for just a moment before two of the most famous ‘piano men’ came to give them a tickle. Elton John and Billy Joel are two of the best known acts in piano-based rock ever and they brought the third version of their famous “Face 2 Face” tour to Montreal. Previously in 2002, they came through town on their first go round of the tour. The two consummate performers enjoyed each other’s company so much and it was so successful that they have done it again and again.
During their first couple of songs together you could tell that this was going to be a good night of music. The two longtime performers played mostly from their greatest hits catalogues and so it made all their fans happy. Another reason it is a good idea to pair these two up is that they are such good piano players that they prod the other on to reach for even greater height; there is no falling asleep at the keyboard or you will look bad! Each forces the other to up their game and it is the audience who benefits.
Other positives included, that it was very interesting to hear Billy Joel sing Elton John songs and vice-versa. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they both do each other’s material justice. Each sounded great singing the other’s songs. Also, there did not seem to be any competition between the two (you would have to think that they must be secure enough this deep into their careers) or divaism.
But if you were keeping track…well, the first points in this head-to-head battle went to Sir Elton as after the third song in (John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me) the crowd exuberantly leapt to their feet with the first of several standing ovations. To make sure there were not any hard feelings though, the next song (Joel’s “My Life”) was also rewarded with a standing ovation. Tit for tat as they say.
After a short set together Billy Joel left the stage to Elton John to continue alone. For the next hour or so, John ran through a barrage of his hits. It was nice that he started with songs from “Madman Across the Water” (one of his earlier albums and John stated that it was still his favourite) as it allowed us to see a more instrumental and bluesy side of him. He can still move those plump fingers up and down the keyboard. More flamboyant in his tails and sunglasses matching his shirt, John still loves to ham it up and perform. Though less mobile he still puts plenty of energy into his performances. Though everything was well done “Tiny Dancer” and “Daniel” stood out for me.
Next up was the more understated Billy Joel. This was my first time seeing him live (whereas I have seen Elton John at least a half dozen times) and even though I am not the biggest fan of his music I thought he was great.
Joel, surprisingly to me, is quite the clown. Between each song he would banter and joke with the crowd. I had never seen that side of him and he did it well. With all the chatter he made you feel like you were in a piano bar rather than the cavernous Bell Centre. He and his band were tight and played expertly.
Then they finished the show together onstage running through a few more of their songs, a couple of Beatles’ songs and then finished it up fittingly with “Candle in the Wind” and “Piano Man”. The crowd stood up and sang all the way through (and at one point alone) on “Piano Man”. It was our way of thanking this two veterans for a wonderful evening of great rock music.
Billy Joel and Elton John:
“Just the Way You Are”
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
“Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding”
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
“Burn Down the Mission”
“Madman Across the Water”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
“I’m Still Standing”
“Prelude / Angry Young Man”
“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”
“Don’t Ask Me Why”
“She’s Always a Woman”
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”
“River of Dreams”
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”
“It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”
“Only the Good Die Young”
Billy Joel and Elton John:
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
“The Bitch is Back”
“You May Be Right”
“Bennie and the Jets”
“Birthday” / “Back in the USSR” (the Beatles)
“Candle in the Wind”