When fans ask Billy Joel and Elton John to “sing us a song, you’re the piano men” — to paraphrase one of Joel’s biggest hits — they can rest assured the duo has songs aplenty.
The two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ “Face To Face” tour, an ongoing enterprise since 1994, offers up nearly three-and-a-half hours of nothing but hits, and, as John notes, “we could play for another three-and-a-half hours with the catalogs we each have. There’s a lot of great stuff there.”
And, Joel adds, it’s music they can freshen by performing them together.
“I get to play his songs, he gets to do mine,” Joel, 60, says. “Some of the guys in his band play with me, some of mine play with him. It’s a lot of fun to do something that’s different, where you’re not The Guy up there. When we do this, we’re each one of The Guys.”
John, 62, concurs that the joint shows are “great fun. They’re a piece of cake. It’s a grin-fest, I call it. There’s always something funny that happens every night.”
The “Face To Face” combination remains a hot property, even in hard economic times and top ticket prices of $180. Joel’s booking agent, Dennis Arfa of Artists Group International, recently told Billboard magazine that the tour has “basically sold every seat that’s on sale,” with an itinerary that ranges from smaller, secondary markets to stadium shows in Boston, Chicago (two Wrigley Field dates) and Philadelphia (a pair at Citizens Bank Park).
The format of the concerts has not changed much over time. Joel and John start the night together, trading off hits — in this case “Your Song,” “Just The Way You Are,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” and “My Life.” They then play separate sets with their own bands, joining forces again at the end of the night for an encore of more hits as well as covers (including the Beatles’ “White Album” and “Birthday”) before closing with “Piano Man.”
“It’s pretty much a greatest hits tour by both artists,” Joel explains, though he notes that doesn’t leave room for the “deep tracks” from either of their catalogs.
“You’re always trying to strike a balance between what the audience would like to hear, what we want to play and what actually balances out to make a good show,” he says. “It’s kind of hard to strike a balance sometimes.”
Joel and John will continue working on their own in between legs of the “Face To Face” tour, which includes runs in July and November. Last month John closed a five-year, 242-show run of his “The Red Piano” show at the Caesars Palace Coliseum in Las Vegas, and he’s currently working on an album with Leon Russell that will be produced by T-Bone Burnett.
Joel, meanwhile, hasn’t released an album of new pop songs since 1993’s “River of Dreams,” preferring instead to focus on classical music. He did write a new song, “All My Life,” to commemorate his first wedding anniversary with his third wife, Katie Lee, in 2007, but maintains that “I don’t feel compelled to write in song form anymore. These days I just think of myself as a composer.
“But, look, I still love rock ‘n’ roll. I still love pop music. I haven’t divorced myself from the material I wrote before. That’s why I’m out here on the road playing this stuff. I still believe in it.”
John, however, is confident we haven’t heard the last of his
so much from the city that they miss out on a lot of the art, music, and culture that flourishes in Detroit,” she said.
“This little scene brought a lot of positive attention to the city, and it deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated for it.” friend as a songwriter.
“He just seems to have a mental block about writing songs,” John says, “but he’ll get that back. He seems to think, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but, you know, he’s not a rock ‘n’ roll artist. He’s a great songwriter, and great songwriters always write songs. There’ll be songs coming from Billy Joel’s piano again.”
Billy Joel and Elton John perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21 at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $54.40, $100 and $180. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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