Music

Radio Free Mattopia: You won't fool the children of the revolution. (T-Rex)

Billy Joel and Elton John
Face 2 Face
9 April 2001
Pepsi Center
Denver, Colorado, USA

Billy Joel finally cured the itch last night and returned to Colorado for his first concert in seven years. It was also the first time his collaborative Face 2 Face tour with Elton John visited the Mile High City.

A lot has happened to Billy since his last Denver gig, during the River of Dreams tour in 1994. He even acknowledged being "pissed" about "Ex Number Two" (Christie Brinkley, whose cheating was unveiled following a helicopter accident near Telluride, Colo., that same year). In an attempt to heal the wounds, Billy broke into a rendition of Rocky Mountain High. He only knew a portion of the chorus and wasn't ashamed to hum the rest.

With this spirit of free-form performance Billy reacquainted himself with his fans, who in turn were generous with their enthusiasm.

However, the decidedly yuppie and not-so-youthful groups dominated the audience and they were quite reserved at the show's start. Pre-show chatter included the observation that these shows never start on time - and Luciano, keep in mind, was 20 minutes late for his show a couple weeks ago.

There seemed to have been some confusion, because Billy didn't come to play his new classical music all night - he, and Elton, came to play classic rock. It was astonishing to see the crowd fall back into the seats barely 10 measures into the opening duet of Your Song. And it was also awkward that the audience chose to sit through most of the first half, yet stand for an ovation at the end of each tune, as if each piece was a Broadway showstopper.

U2 were here just three nights before and played to a house that stood through the whole show, eagerly supporting Bono and the boys. That was also a decidedly more eclectic crowd. For Billy and Elton, unfortunately, spoiled cell phones and caved-in ashstrays outnumbered the Dr. Martens.

It wasn't until Elton ripped through I'm Still Standing that the baldies down in front got to their feet. Right, guys, dream on. You're still standing - but just barely. Give those seats to the fans that want to rock!

The apparently uninitiated made the mistake of asking people to sit just as Billy broke into Angry Young Man. The perfect opportunity for the rebuke: "Stand up!" If Billy and Elton can play the piano while standing, real fans can appreciate their enthusiasm and give it back by standing up, cheering, and singing along.

Aside from the older attendees who have not aged with the same vigor and stamina of Billy and Elton, it was a terrific show.

Following the opening duets of Your Song, Just the Way You Are, and Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Elton took over with his solo act. His set list was a curious selection of tunes that by-passed his most recent work altogether. However, he was in fine form, genial and polite, and was able to belt out the tunes with a still-strong voice. He even acknowledged having considerable fun traveling with Billy and promised more shows in the future.

Tiny Dancer, recently made famous (again) in the movie Almost Famous, was a crowd pleaser as were Funeral for a Friend, Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting, and Crocodile Rock. Elton's cover of Billy's Uptown Girl ("a bitch to sing," he remarked beforehand), Rocket Man, and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road also highlighted Sir Elton's remarkable command of performance.

As Elton steered away from the ballads and went for the rockers, the crowd stood more and Billy continued the tradition, holding the audience on its feet for a good portion of his set right through to the return of Elton for the show's concluding duets.

Billy's set turned the Pepsi Center into a garage, albeit a very large garage. There were a number of false starts while attempting to cover some other classic artists, including Cream, Elvis Presley, and Jimi Hendrix.

Billy thanked the crowd for paying the big bucks to see the show and seemed a bit sheepish about the ticket prices. "I'm going to pay how much to sit where?!" he empathized with those in the nosebleeds. He admitted at those rates he should throw in a lap dance for everybody.

As a reward, Billy played a set that pretty well covered everything from A to Z. The melancholy Lullabye was followed by an enthusiastic rendition of The River of Dreams. Billy also belted out Only the Good Die Young, We Didn't Start the Fire, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, It's Still Rock and Roll to Me, and Movin' Out (Anthony's Song). Returning the cover favor, Billy performed Elton's Take Me to the Pilot with his typical gusto.

Prior to New York State of Mind, Billy told the crowd about a new version in the works as a duet with Tony Bennett. During the sax solo, Mark Rivera slipped in a smooth reference to New York, New York. And the irony of being "high in the Rockies, under the evergreens" was not lost on Billy this time around.

Rambunctious and tireless would be the best way to describe Billy's performance and it was a thrill to see him up to the same ol' mischief. No member of the band was safe from a one-liner or a candid observation and his antics included spinning on his belly on the top of his piano, throwing the mike stand over the piano to a stagehand, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra impersonations, Godfather mugging, and numerous boxing moves.

Then again, Billy wasn't immune to some retribution. While Billy was having a hard time finding the right key on his guitar, Liberty DeVitto, Billy's long-time pal and drummer, yelled out, "Everybody play a f--kin' G!"

In the end, Billy found himself with an unexpected souvenir. He gave himself a shiner. Literally. While dancing with the mike stand. And it became one of those classic spontaneous moments that led to some genuine playfulness on behalf of both Billy and Elton. Even the previously reserved Elton had a hard time holding back a chuckle. During their duet of That's Why They Call It the Blues, he seized the opportunity to alter the lyrics to "Between you and me, I can honestly say, your eye can only get better."

Billy showed no signs of tiring, and actually seemed to get a kick out of having given himself a black eye. Even so, the show was polished off with duets of You May Be Right, My Life, Candle in the WInd, The Bitch is Back and, naturally, Piano Man. After that, Billy took the opportunity to high-five the crowd and even dived in for a couple hugs.

Nearly four hours after they started, they did indeed leave the crowd feeling all right.

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