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Live review: Elton John and Billy Joel

Saturday night’s alright for the piano men, who gave fans a three-hour show full of hits.


Partnerships between pop superstars usually deliver less than the sum of their talents. Nostalgia isn't always enough, but a surprising collaboration between Elton John and Billy Joel, who play nothing more than their best-known hits from the '70s and '80s, has been going strong since 1995.

That was enough to land the singer-pianists in front of a full house at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday as part of their latest "Face 2 Face" tour. If either of the headliners had any new material, it remained a secret during three full hours of music, including a short opening from the two and two separate sets followed by a big finish of Joel and John together.

John, in black tails, dived into "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" with his five-man band. He pounded the keys of his grand piano with real force, in what he described as his 40th year since making his U.S. debut in Los Angeles.

For a time in the '70s, John was <i>the </i>dominant pop superstar, a staggering cultural force whose impact went far beyond chart action and airplay. If that fame became increasingly focused on his sparkling outfits and less on his musical gifts, the original songs from that period have managed to live on in ways unknown to most of his contemporaries.

He invited fans to sing along to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (as they would have anyway). There were rousing crescendos and boogie-woogie side trips, a sound both flamboyant and grounded in human-scale emotion, from a stretched-out "Rocket Man" to a rocking "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)."

There was no mistaking Joel's genuine connections with fans. The lightest of his hits ("Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young") were still soft and awfully close to easy listening, but the audience cheered him all the more.

The man can bang those keys when allowing himself to unwind. "River of Dreams" erupted with anxious piano melodies, blending into the Beach Boys' "California Girls" and back again. "Zanzibar" was a jazzier tune with no obvious hooks, more Steely Dan in mood. He picked up an electric guitar for "We Didn't Start the Fire" and its rushed, rhyming litany of random cultural references ("JFK, blown away, what else do I have to say?").

At the end, the singers sat behind their pianos for a series of spirited duets, playing each other's songs with energy and affection, trading verses on John's "Bennie and the Jets" and Joel's "Piano Man." It looked like a musical partnership built to last.

-- Steve Appleford

Photo: Elton John and Billy Joel duet. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Comments () | Archives (4)

This was the third time I have seen Billy and Elton together, I have also seen them both on their own several times. They were, as always incredible!!! Great performance. I will see them every time they are remotely close to my home.

My wife and I and my sister and her husband were at the Face 2 Face concert on Saturday night and the audience loved the two performers. They didn't want them to stop playing and singing and we really got our money's worth. We didn't go there to hear new stuff, we were there as a tribute to their brilliant and unsurpassed past.

My family & I were at the full house concert last night at the Honda Center. What a blow away evening of all the hits we've loved and the magic just kept coming. They are such gifted performers and all of their back-up musicians are fabulous. Three and a half hours of non-stop entertainment. You can't beat it!! I could see them over and over!! Don't miss this concert.......they are aging very well!!!

WOW!!! A fabulous concert . . . but obviously the reviewer wasn't there for the first 40 minutes!! The concert started with BOTH Elton John and Billy Joel - where was this reviewer? Stuck in traffic? Come on, Mister Reviewer, get the facts straight!! AND I agree with the other comments - we went to hear the old songs, the greatest hits - they did not disappoint!!!


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