Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Billy Joel and Elton John

Last Thursday night, I went to the first of two concerts that Billy Joel & Elton John did this month at Wrigley Field in Chicago. As primarily a Sox fan, it was only my third trip to Wrigley, but easily the most memorable. The field provided the perfect backdrop to a fantastic concert—certainly one of the best I have ever attended!

I'd heard people say in the past that Elton and Billy are getting up in years and don't sing as well as they used to, but I didn't find that to be the case at all. Sure, I could hardly understand a word that Elton sang, but I think his lack of enunciation is a stylistic concern, not an aging problem. Both of them sounded strong, spectacularly on-pitch, and their piano playing was just incredible. In a world when live performances on television are often not even in tune (I'm talking about you, So You Think You Can Dance), it's incredible to attend a concert featuring two musicians as talented as these two.

The show was kind of epic, and well worth the price of nosebleed seats! First, Elton and Billy sang and played together, alternating between some of their biggest hits, then Elton did a full set, Billy did a full set, and they closed the show playing together. I only have a few complaints about the set list: Elton didn't play "Something About the Way You Look Tonight" and Billy didn't do "For the Longest Time." "For the Longest Time" is maybe one of my favourite songs in the entire world, and one of his extremely popular ones, so I was surprised that he didn't include it.

I forgave him, though, because his performance of "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" was completely unexpected in the most awesome way. For that classic, the piano was lowered back under the stage and Billy performed with just the microphone and his band. The energy was incredible, and he even pulled off a few mic tricks! I think it was my favourite solo performance of the show, followed closely by Elton's "Tiny Dancer."

There were some other great moments from their solo sets: Elton's "Crocodile Rock" and "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" and Billy's "Only the Good Die Young" and "She's Always a Woman to Me," to name a few. However, the best moments of the show were the songs that they performed together, including "Your Song" (which opened the show), "Candle in the Wind," "Uptown Girl," and "Piano Man," the concert's fitting finale.

I knew it would be a fantastic experience, but I don't think I anticipated how incredible it would feel to be part of a crowd of 40,000 people, singing along to some of the best songs of the past thirty years.

As far as where this concert ranks among all that I've attended, I think it's a very, very close second. Seeing Céline Dion last December was a moment that was so many years in the making, and she didn't disappoint at all. I'm not sure anything will ever top that. But in terms of production value, I think Billy & Elton was a slightly better show. Céline's show was performed in the round, which meant she could really pack the United Centre, but it was a little distancing at times. Even though my seats were just as bad at Billy & Elton, I never felt as far from the stage as I really was, and something about enjoying their music outdoors on a beautiful summer night was just so magical.

Billy & Elton packed Wrigley Field again tonight, and I happened to be in Wrigleyville/Boystown for a theatre performance this evening. I took the red line home and as I waited for the train at Addison, just half a block from the stadium, Billy was closing his set with "Only the Good Die Young." People on the platform were singing along and two guys standing near me were saying that even though it wasn't their favourite type of music, Billy and Elton really have made some classic songs. Absolutely, I wanted to turn around and say, but I know better than to talk to strange people on the El.

Special thanks to my mom for funding our evening at the concert! I couldn't have gone if she hadn't paid, and I was happy to share the experience with her.