The closest thing the live music industry might have to a stimulus package, Elton John and Billy Joel's Face 2 Face tour kicked off on March 1 to a packed house in Jacksonville, Fla. This latest incarnation of the pair's tour operates under a simple business model: maximize reward, minimize risk.
Since its 1994 inception, John and Joel's co-headlining tour has been as critic-proof as AC/DC lyrics and a reasonable backup option for the United States Mint, which probably explains its current revival -- one that John indicated could continue on and off for two years. It's a customarily full-bore nostalgia trip that'll likely move tickets as fast as it does oversized souvenir sunglasses.
Joel acknowledged as much during his solo set, thanking the crowd after a spin through "Allentown." "Speaking of unemployment," Joel said, "we're just happy you're keeping us in business. We're happy to have a job."
Like previous outings -- the most recent of which came in 2003 -- the 33-song opening night was a 200-proof memory lane trip, with the youngest song hailing from 1993. The festivities were delivered with all-but-perfected professionalism. The duo offered a practiced but still grin-inducing cackle at the "old man sitting next to me" part of "Piano Man" -- with only a light dusting of what Joel called "album tracks": "Honesty" and "Zanzibar" for Joel, "Burn Down the Mission" for John.
Sure, there were opening-night bumps to get over ("We are both virgins tonight," cracked John early on). This year's model opened softly, with a mellow, afternoon-stroll set that included "Your Song," "Honesty" and "My Life," the latter sounding dated. John's voice was in fine form throughout, but his set seemed to take a while to find its legs due to an early delivery of sprawling, extended epics like the lengthy, synthy "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and "Madman Across the Water." But "Tiny Dancer" soared and "Rocket Man" benefited from a tricky, groovy new ending that suggested that he made a reasonably safe landing near New Orleans.
For the second act, Joel, still technically retired from writing pop music, dished up an abbreviated version of his most recent solo trek, fully indulging his own old-school-showman tendencies in a remarkable display of gamesmanship: a swiveling Elvis-style performance of "It's Still Rock N' Roll To Me," some highly accomplished mic-stand throwing and the employment of a crack horn section, featuring veteran percussion/sax all-star Crystal Taliefero.
But really, all you need to know here is in the setlist. Face 2 Face will do what it's supposed to: make $175 tickets seem like a decent investment, as long as they lead to three-plus hours of lush escapism and memory-triggering. Songs pour from fingers, choruses rise up from crowds without any apparent effort, lighters get swayed (as the crowd hails from a demographic that remembers their role as concert necessity) and the full forget-about-life package is offered by the most seasoned of professionals. There's not much surprise to be found in this show, but it'll more than get folks feeling alright.
Here is Elton John and Billy Joel's set list:
Elton John/Billy Joel:
"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"
"Ode To Joy" -> "My Life"
"Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"
"Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"
"Burn Down the Mission"
"Madman Across the Water"
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"I'm Still Standing"
"Prelude/Angry Young Man"
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"She's Always A Woman"
"Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"
"I Go To Extremes"
"River of Dreams"
"We Didn't Start the Fire"
"Be Bop A Lula" -> "It's Still Rock N' Roll To Me"
"Only the Good Die Young"
Elton John/Billy Joel:
"The Bitch Is Back"
"You May Be Right"
"Bennie and the Jets"
"Birthday" -> "Back in the USSR"
"Candle in the Wind"
- Track Review