Thursday, June 04, 2009

Face 2 Face - Bell Centre 06/03/2009

I am an unabashed fan of piano pop, as I mentioned here. Billy Joel's 52nd Street album is my first musical memory - I credit it with my subconscious gravitation towards the piano. One of my favourite tracks on that album was always "Zanzibar," with its burning Freddie Hubbard solo; not that I knew that it was Freddie until many years later, but I assume it sowed the seeds of my later love for jazz. The original Face2Face tour, fourteen years ago, was my second arena show ever (my first was Neil Diamond at Maple Leaf Gardens). I've since seen Billy and Elton individually, but I haven't been to an arena show since Joel's Air Canada Centre show in 2000.

The sound was surprisingly stellar - aside from Joel's mic not being on for the first line of "Your Song," everything else was crisp and clear. In Elton's set, keyboardist Guy Babylon got his sonic due in his epic opening rendition of "Funeral for a Friend". I don't think people give Elton enough credit as a pianist - in "Burn Down the Mission" and throughout the night he showed his barrelhouse chops and still strong voice. "Madman Across the Water" was turned into a loose jam session, complete with a "Girl From Ipanema" quote from Elton. I saw a few people in my section leave - hopefully it was to fill the floor and not head for the exits after a couple of obscurities. "Rocket Man" keeps getting longer and longer, yet somehow more focused.

Billy's set was spot on, too. He's still in fine voice even though most of the songs have been lowered in key. "Angry Young Man" started a touch on the slower side but picked up and grooved all the way through. Joel, as always, kibbitzed with the audience: "I am not Billy Joel. I am René Angélil. Billy couldn't make it tonight - he's at home combing his hair." Carl Fischer burned up his solo spot in "Zanzibar" on both flugel and trumpet, with bassist Andy Cichon and drummer Chuck Burgi swinging surprisingly well. The break in "River of Dreams" featured James Brown-style stop-time ("hit me five times on the five chord!"). The backing vocals were superb and clear in both sets.

With both bands on stage, it didn't turn into sonic soup. Climaxing with piano trades on "Bennie and the Jets" (with quotes of "When I'm 64") and a Beatles medley of "Birthday/Back in the USSR," the bands left and let Joel and John to close the three-and-a-half hour show with "Candle in the Wind" and, of course, "Piano Man."

Set List
Billy Joel & Elton John, duo
Your Song
Billy & Elton w/ Mark Rivera
Just the Way You Are
Billy & Elton w/ Elton's band
Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Billy & Elton w/ Billy's band
My Life

Elton John's set
Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting
Burn Down the Mission
Madman Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
I'm Still Standing
Crocodile Rock

Billy Joel's set
Prelude/Angry Young Man
Movin' Out
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 'n' Roll to Me
Only the Good Die Young

Billy & Elton & both bands
I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues
Uptown Girl
The Bitch is Back
You May Be Right
Bennie and the Jets
Birthday/Back in the USSR

Billy & Elton, duo
Candle in the Wind
Piano Man

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