Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Billy Joel and Elton John Face 2 Face Concert in Seattle

Billy Joel and Elton John Face 2 Face Concert in Seattle
Let me begin by saying I have been a huge Billy Joel fan for nearly 25 years.

I attended this show at Key Arena on Saturday night.  My ticket was just over $100 and my seat was in the upper reaches of the stadium.  This is the best picture I got of the performers when I zoomed in:

Was it worth it?  Nearly.  Now, let me alienate a chunk of my readership here with this next statement: It definitely have been worth it if Elton John wasn't on the bill, and it was all Billy Joel.

The show opens with a half hour of Billy Joel and Elton John playing their own pianos, facing one another.  They alternate songs -- an Elton song, followed by a Billy song.  They sing each song together. After that first half hour, Billy Joel goes away, and his piano sinks into the stage (which is pretty cool) and Elton plays songs for an hour.  Then, Elton goes away, and Billy comes out for an hour.  After that, Elton comes back and they do another 45 minutes together.

I like Elton's work.  He's a great musician.  But I don't own any Elton John albums.  All the Elton songs I own are on various compilations.  So, while Crocodile Rock, Daniel, Tiny Dancer, and others are all great songs, I'm not a big enough fan to go out an buy them.

In contrast, I have all the Billy Joel albums.  In many cases I have the same album on both cassette and CD.

The problem is that most people probably had a significant preference for one artist over the other, and this hurts both of them.

After a pretty intense opening sequence, the show slows down for Billy Joel fans as we wait for an hour through the Elton John concert to get back to the performer we really wanted to see.  For the Elton John fans, they experience a great start, then another hour of Elton, then the show kind of stops for them as Billy Joel comes back out to perform, and they are left waiting for the conclusion.

The problem is that regardless of whom you're a fan of, the momentum of the show is going to hit a wall at some point.

But what about those who are just casual fans of both artists?  With ticket prices of $89, $108, and $181.50, I don't think casual fans are attending.

I'm not sure if the momentum issue was the reason behind my other observation or if it has more to do with the nature of Seattle fans.

When Jon and I saw Billy Joel in Vegas in 2006, it was an amazing show.  The whole show quickly turned into a sing-a-long for 12,000 people. The fans loved what they were hearing and even sang along with the more obscure songs.

In Seattle it was different. Is that the Seattle concert fan?  I'm not sure.  But for most of the show, nearly everyone actually stayed in their seats.  There was no great mob singing along to the classic tunes.  People for the most part observed the concert.

Is was a diverse crowd age wise.  The 50+ set was well represented, as was the 25- set.  And the rest of us in between, so that may have had something to do with it.  But it was definitely weird.

That's one of the reasons why that Vegas show, or the show I saw him at with Scott and Adam in 1989, was a better show.  Those shows were much more fun.  We were all a part of something. We found it exciting and could not contain our enthusiasm.  That wasn't the case at the Seattle show.

To be fair, it wasn't a Billy Joel crowd.  It was an Elton John crowd. When Billy made his initial entrance everyone cheered.  When Elton made his, the crowd erupted.  Probably 2/3 of the crowd was there to see Elton.

But they still stayed in their seats during the whole show. 

Unless a critical mass of people were going to just assume they could sing and stand and go nuts, no one was going to do it.  And I'll admit to bowing to the social pressure to be more reserved than I would have cared to.  But it was clear that sort of behavior would not have been welcomed by the patrons sitting near me.

Perhaps if they had separated the Elton John fans from the Billy Joel fans, it would have been a more exuberant crowd, like at a High School basketball game. We all could have been surrounded by our "own people," and the enthusiasm could have built. I can't really expect the Elton John fans to know the words to Allentown, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, and We Didn't Start the Fire.

Momentum, format, and Seattle-ness all impacted crowd behavior.

So how was the rest of the show?

Elton did a nice job with his songs. He doesn't really engage the crowd, though.  Friends on Facebook have said it looks like Elton is phoning it in, and I can see it.  The only time he talked to the audience was when he screwed up his song order.  A couple times, he "conducted" the audience.  Had I known his songs better, I could offer more insight, but all I can really say is it was a very capable performance.

Billy put on an enthusiastic show.  I'm not sure why he even has a piano stool.  He just keeps bouncing off of it.  He talked to the audience between songs, acknowledged the crowd, and told jokes.  He also made a point of introducing each of his band members after they were featured in a song.  He really seems humbled by the fervor of his fans.

He even slipped a few bars of "When the Saints Go Marching In" into a few songs, presumably because of the Superbowl.  I don't think Elton did anything like that, though if he did slip in something that calls to mind Manchester United, I would have no idea.

Billy puts on a great show, and he really seems to love what he does. He runs around with energy and enthusiasm that are fantastic to see.  Elton seem more technically minded.  I suppose you could say Elton is the Spock to Billy's Kirk.

The sound quality in the Arena wasn't great.  The mids and highs seemed muddled.  The instruments would blend together (not necessarily in a good way) and they would drown out the singers.

I do like the idea of these two great pianists working together, but a more tightly integrated show might have worked better.  Or better still would be to do a more intimate show for maybe 100 people and make it more of a discussion of the music.  We could hear Elton and Billy talk about their songs and piano-playing experiences.

Of course, there is no way I'd ever be able to get tickets to such an event so it's a a moot point.

Still, despite my kvetching, Face 2 Face was a very good show, and I'm glad I went.

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