So my buddy and I arrived at our seats in Key Arena (Seattle) at about 7:30pm. We had hurried to get there on time, but there was nothing happening at the scheduled show time. We were there to see Elton John and Billy Joel, yet there were no pianos on stage. At least that we could see from the top of the building as our seats were at the third row from the top.
You see, even if I could have spent three days to figure out how to get in touch with their managers, there would have been NO WAY that I was getting a press pass for this show. But these two guys are rock legends and I was willing to shell out the $120 it costs to see them both. I just had no idea that this would be my view…
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have thrown a baseball onto that stage because I was so far away. We were so high up that the drapes that normally block the top section off were rolled up and blocking our view of the big screen tv…which was near the roof!
Music notes was the theme of the show as sculptures of them hung over the stage and tons were embedded into the top of the stage. A 1/4 moon video screen hung above the stage with Lite-Brite looking graphics.
After about twenty minutes, the floor slid open in two spots and their pianos got elevated up to the stage, facing each other. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” began to play and a dressed in black and gray leisure suit Billy Joel made his way out, followed by some British song I didn’t know, in which the always flamboyant Elton John arrived in a black robe looking jacket with a dark pink shirt and matching glasses and a cross ear ring in his right ear only.
They began by switching off songs:
Until “My Life” these were slightly mellow songs and I wondered if I would have been bored if they weren’t both singing and playing, with only the original artists playing the songs. But it was very fresh to hear the other artist give their take on each song. During these four songs, the keyboard and percussion sets for each artist would be elevated or lowered at the back of the stage, depending on which artist had a song playing. After “My Life” Billy Joel left the stage to let Sir Elton jam out.
Elton’s set list:
- Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
- Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
- Madman Across the Water
- Tiny Dancer
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
- Rocket Man
- Philadelphia Freedom
- I’m Still Standing
- Crocodile Rock
The band started into “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” as Elton prowled the stage getting the likely sold-out crowd all riled up. John showed why he’s known for being a great piano player with a vicious, speedy power solo. His voice sounded okay, but in songs like “Levon” he really strained to try and hit the old high notes that he simply can’t touch anymore. I have to admit this was a little disappointing, but people and their bodies do age. Instead, he made up for it with his great piano playing.
Hearing those opening piano notes to “Tiny Dancer” brought about a warm feeling and the added slide guitar in this song was a nice touch. He then dedicated “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” to local boys Alice in Chains (Elton performed on their latest album). The Lite-Brite screen actually looked okay at that point with images of Gone With the Wind and Marilyn Monroe being displayed.
“Rocket Man” was by far his best number of the night. A creative aspect on the screen showed a younger Elton in the window of a floating rocket in space. His vocals were very reverb-heavy and this song turned into a ten minute southern boogie jam session, ending with a much-deserved standing ovation all over the room.
During “Crocodile Rock” he let the crowd do the singing on “La. La la la la la!” and it was a real riveting moment with people dancing in the aisles all the way up at the top of the building. The phrase “ELTON WOWS EM!” was displayed on the board and I have to agree. John then left the stage.
To begin his set, Billy Joel snuck onto the stage in the dark and when the lights came on, he began speed-playing the beginning of “Angry Young Man.”
Billy’s set list:
- Angry Young Man
- Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
- She’s Always a Woman
- Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
- Purple Haze (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
- River Of Dreams
- We Didn’t Start the Fire
- It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
- Only the Good Die Young
“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) ” had a brass section and Billy’s voice was just as crystal clear and fresh as it was thirty years ago. Where Elton rarely spoke and usually stayed in his chair, Billy was joking with the crowd after each song and introduced his whole band. And not to leave anyone left out, his piano often slowly rotated so he could face everyone in the room at times. He just seemed like more of a showman than Elton.
After “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” someone in the crowd yelled out Purple Haze! Billy looked back at his guitarist in a “do you know it?” kind of way. The guitarist nodded and launched into the song, with the rest of the band picking it up eventually. It was kind of funny when Billy forgot some of the lyrics a little later in the song, but it didn’t matter and the crowd ate it up.
His piano lowered back down into the stage for “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and he picked up a guitar to strum along with this band. An image of every single subject in this song (and there are a lot) quickly displayed on the screen on cue and at the words “England’s got a new queen,” an image of Elton John popped up on the screen. Billy then twirled his mic stand around like a high school majorette during “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and looked like he was having a blast on stage.
When Elton re-joined Billy on stage, he had changed the pink to white in clothing. They both had their full bands on stage performing now for each song and at this time I discovered that Billy had a teleprompter built into the top of his piano to either quickly display lyrics, notes or both to him. Yep, he’s getting kind of old I guess…
Their combined final set list:
- I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues
- Uptown Girl
- The Bitch is Back
- You May Be Right
- Bennie and the Jets
- Candle in the Wind
- Piano Man
Again, one of the best things all night was just watching the mostly-older crowd partying their butts off and they sure did during “You May Be Right.” One thing you have to consider is that neither of these guys has had a hit song in over twenty years. They could have played many newer, less familiar or popular songs, but they chose not to. Instead they made sure to stick to only their hits from the early days and they did it well by re-arranging them often and adding new elements. “Bennie and the Jets” was given an old-saloon style solo from Elton and then they both traded punctuating piano solos back and forth over and over.
For “Candle in the Wind” the whole stage emptied and it was just Elton and Billy left. This was the most intimate moment of the night and really delightful to sing along to. I had been waiting all night to hear both “Piano Man” and “Longest Time” but my wish ended up only getting granted with “Piano Man.” I’m sure “Longest Time” would have been tough to pull off anyhow. Even though they traded off lyrics, watching Billy Joel hit the harmonica while playing piano simultaneously capped off my night.
We bought tickets for this show nearly one year ago and it was supposed to happen in November originally but Elton had gotten sick. So this was by far the most money I have spent on one show and the longest I had to wait to see it and the furthest away I was from the stage. Normally I’m cranky if I can’t be closer to a stage, but in the end my adrenalin was sky high after this show from catching this performance of two legends I had always wanted to see in concert. Plus, they played for about three and a half hours, which is something you rarely get out of artists these days. It’s a dying fad, a performance like that. I think this probably cracked my top twenty in all-time favorite concerts, but not my top ten.
That’s a pretty prestigious list…