Wednesday, May 6, 2009 - 1:33am
St. Paul - Elton John, Billy Joel most powerful when united
Elton John, Billy Joel most powerful when united
By Ross Raihala
Pop Music Critic
Updated: 05/06/2009 12:11:30 AM CDT
Tuesday night's Elton John and Billy Joel concert at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul began with sheer ear candy, not just for fans of the piano-pounding pair, but for anyone with an appreciation for finely crafted '70s pop music.
The 62-year-old John and Joel, who turns 60 on Saturday, opened the three-hour gig by playing four of their best-known tracks as duets. They offered stripped-down takes on their early-career hits "Your Song" and "Just the Way You Are" and full-band runs through "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" and "My Life." That they could afford to drop four massive songs in the first 15 minutes speaks to each artist's deep, rich catalog.
It also speaks to the fact that pairing these two classic-radio giants on one bill is practically a license to print money, even in these recessionary times. The sold-out crowd of 19,960 now stands as the X's third-biggest concert crowd, a mere 290 bodies fewer than the venue's runner-up performance, which just happened to be John and Joel's last joint X show in 2003. (Shania Twain holds the record at 20,554 for the hockey arena with a 2003 in-the-round concert that allowed more open seats.)
If only John and Joel spent more time on stage together. While they don't possess any spectacular chemistry — one doesn't get the sense they book joint vacations — the thrill of hearing two distinctive voices join forces is a primary draw of a tour like this.
Instead, Joel disappeared into the wings as John rolled out an 11-song set drawn almost entirely from his '70s heyday. Wearing yet another of his ridiculous wigs and a bedazzled jacket that he may have picked up at Wynonna Judd's last yard sale, John looked every bit the Elderly Pop Star. If anything, he came across as a bit too polished, with a performance that sometimes felt like autopilot. He even appeared to stifle a yawn in "I'm Still Standing."
Joel, on the other hand, now comes off more like a cranky high school principal a few months from retirement. He sipped from a coffee mug during his set and made angry hand signals, presumably to sound guys off stage.
But much like his last solo X visit two years ago, Joel also was charming and chatty between songs, cracking self-deprecating jokes, like when he introduced his awful 1989 hit "We Didn't Start the Fire" by saying "this next song doesn't mean anything." He even found time to slip in a brief, if mostly unfunky, take on Prince's "1999" in the middle of "River of Dreams."
To wrap up, the pair reunited for an extended encore just as dazzling as the intro, hitting classics like "Bennie and the Jets," "The b**** Is Back," "You May Be Right" and, uh, "Uptown Girl." After rousing runs through the Beatles' "Birthday" and "Back in the U.S.S.R.," they pulled out their final big guns of the evening, "Candle in the Wind" and "Piano Man." More like that next time, please.