Elton John World News: Billy upstages Elton in Chicago?

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That's how Billboard saw it this week

Monday 21 April 2003 @ 5:58 - GMT

We are grateful to Matt Carmichael at Billboard.com for a thorough report on the Elton and Billy Joel Chicago show in Rosemont, Illinois on April 12, 2003. We reproduce in full the report of April 17, 2003:

The Billy Joel and Elton John Face to Face tour, which has been on an on-again, off-again jaunt since the idea hatched in 1994, is supposed to be a summit of equals -- two profiles on the Mt. Rushmore of modern day piano gods.

But by the time Joel had finished the opener of his portion of the evening, it was clear that the scales were tilting toward the Long Islander.

The show opened with Joel and John at opposing grand pianos, traipsing through each other's catalogs and cherry-picking the hits. Tackling the task of breathing life into a 30-year-old slate of songs is one few acts can live up to, and John and Joel had mixed results as the three-and-a-half hour show wore on.

After three songs together, Joel retreated and John took over for a 12-song set filled with hits as well as two cuts which he joked were "written in this century," from his 2001 album, Songs From the West Coast.

A show earlier in the week in Chicago, and some recent dates on the tour, had been canceled due to health concerns by both artists, but if Joel was having voice problems, they weren't audible. John's vocals were thin and raspy in places, especially on songs when he's more exposed such as Someone Saved My Life Tonight.

His stage performance was likewise subdued on this night, except for a lot of between-song bows and some high-fiving of some of the $195 ticket holders on the main floor. Instead, the usually emotive John spent most of the time behind his piano in a blue jacket and eerie red sunglasses.

Whatever illness has been following him didn't touch his hands and his deft touches on the keys. His (sometimes overly) exuberant band kept the musical energy high even if the overall performance wasn't up to par. His extended piano solos during Rocket Man showed off the skills that have made him a master, and he closed the set out strongly with fan-favorites Tiny Dancer, Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting, and Crocodile Rock. The table was well set for his counter part on the other side of the stage.

Joel kicked off his 10-song solo segment with one of the best showcases of his talents-- the multi-faceted Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. He wiggled on his stool and mugged as his right hand danced down the keys to the steady left, spinning the saga of the fizzled lives of the prom king and queen with the musings from a lonely table in New York's Little Italy.

Joel's set was animated, high-energy, and not really burdened with as many ballads as John's was. Joel stayed mostly with rockers such as Movin' Out, It's Still Rock'n'Roll to Me, and Only the Good Die Young. He changed things up for some of the slower numbers, leaving the piano and taking center stage for Innocent Man, and adding a Rhapsody in Blue intro to New York State of Mind.

Early in his set Joel turned to the seats behind him and apologized for mostly showing them his back. The piano, he pointed out, is not like a guitar and doesn't allow him too much movement. For what the tickets cost, Joel joked, "We should both be in your houses doing your windows."

He was conscious of giving the audience their money's worth and spent a lot of time shaking hands, signing autographs, peppering My Kind of Town, and other Chicago references throughout the set, and engaging in all kinds of acrobatics with mic stands and the piano stool.

At one point, he noticed an Elvis impersonator in the crowd, directed a spotlight to him and had a little back and forth with him as the band (featuring long-time collaborators Liberty DiVito on drums and Mark Rivera on sax) launched into the King's Don't Be Cruel.

Sir Elton then returned to the stage and the two built on Joel's momentum as they performed together again for the final segment of the show.

John (now in a dark jogging suit with red trim) and Joel were much more active during this part of the set, clowning around with various bras and flowers thrown on stage. Joel strode across his piano, jumped to John's, and sprawled saucily across it as John rocked through The Bitch Is Back, and John clowned around behind Joel, donning a bra tossed on stage and taking a yellow rose between his teeth. John added his trademark piano work to Joel's songs as they swapped verses on My Life, and really showed off his own style, interweaving with Joel's melodies in one of the highlights of the night.

As they blew through blistering versions of Hard Day's Night and Great Balls of Fire, the momentum continued to build leading up to the obligatory finale of Joel's Piano Man, which had the sold out crowd swaying back and forth in time to the harmonica. On a night when Joel's energy was the clear, driving force, it was fitting to have his signature song as the finale.

Full songlist from Rosemont, near Chicago, April 12, 2003:

  1. Your Song - Billy/Elton
  2. Just the Way You Are
  3. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
  4. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding - Elton
  5. Someone Saved My Life Tonight
  6. Philadelphia Freedom
  7. Wasteland
  8. I Want Love
  9. Rocket Man
  10. I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
  11. Take Me to the Pilot
  12. Tiny Dancer
  13. Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
  14. Crocodile Rock
  15. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant - Billy
  16. Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
  17. Angry Young Man
  18. Allentown
  19. Innocent Man
  20. River of Dreams
  21. Extremes
  22. New York State of Mind
  23. It's Still Rock'n'Roll to Me
  24. Only the Good Die Young
  25. My Life - Billy/Elton
  26. The Bitch Is Back
  27. You May Be Right
  28. Benny and the Jets
  29. Hard Day's Night
  30. Great Balls of Fire
  31. Piano Man - Encore

Red denotes change of stage artists

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