Elton John & Billy Joel Come ‘Face 2 Face’ with the St. Pete Times Forum

Having grown up listening to the classic rock and roll music of Elton John and Billy Joel, I was thrilled to learn my mother had bought my sister and me tickets to their concert as a Christmas present last year. The two would be appearing at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 5th as part of their “Face 2 Face” tour, a new twist on your average concert.


Rather than having one performer warm up the crowd for the other, both stars took the stage, rising from underneath it to the roar of an excited audience, sitting at pianos that faced each other.


The concert, which started at 7:30 p.m. and lasted until almost 11 p.m., offered the audience a rare chance to watch as both performers played each other’s songs, accompanying one other on the piano while harmonizing along with other hits they’d made through the years.


Most of the audience was made up of middle aged and older folks although there were some twenty and thirty-somethings scattered throughout the crowd. In the section we sat in, my sister and I were easily the youngest people there. Nevertheless people of all ages came to enjoy the performance.


For the first half hour or so, John and Joel alternated song styles, for instance, they’d both sing one of John’s songs, followed by one of Joel’s. It was a rare treat to hear both of them sing “My Life,” an old Joel classic, and to see them harmonize “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” written by John.


After about an hour of duets, the lights went out and the audience was plunged into total darkness, aside from the thousands of camera flashes spotted throughout the arena.


When the lights came back on, we could see John perched at his piano, ready to rock and roll, wearing a black jacket with bright pink and green flowers and the words “Music Power” stitched onto the back across his shoulder blades.


John entertained the audience for about an hour, playing hit after hit, inviting the crowd to sing along to the songs they knew. Between almost every number, John stood up, bowed at the waist and thanked the audience for their applause.


After each song, people in the rows around me tried to guess which song he’d sing next, and no matter which song followed, they grew more and more excited, singing along with every last word.


Soon it was Joel’s turn to take the stage, and the lights were dimmed once again as John took his bow, collected a bouquet of roses from someone in the audience and left the stage. The section behind me started chanting “Billy! Billy! Billy!” as the crowd prepared itself for Joel’s energetic show.


Joel, although about the same age as John, filled the room with so much excitement and enthusiasm it was like he was a twenty-year-old again performing for the first time. He talked to the audience like we were all friends, and introduced every member of his band in between songs, making sure everyone in the building was having the time of their lives.


“I have the greatest job in the world,” Joel told the audience, saying how lucky he was to have not only a job in these tough economic times, but a job that he’s always loved to do.


As Joel sings in one of his songs, “I am the entertainer.” That was one of the main differences that I noticed between John and Joel as the night went on: John seemed more serious about his music, thanking the audience over and over and playing his heart out.


Joel, on the other hand, kept audience members tapping their feet, singing at the top of their lungs and dancing in their chairs. Barely able to contain his excitement, Joel even jumped to his feet to dance at his piano for some songs. He involved the audience in his songs, even making his piano rotate so no one in the crowd would have his back to them.


After about an hour, Joel exited the stage, taking a bow and thanking the audience repeatedly. The stage once again went dark as audience members yelled for more.


For the last half hour of the show, John and Joel took the stage once again in their face to face pianos, taking turns singing each other’s music and providing piano and harmony for their best hits. John re-emerged, this time wearing a black jacket with bright orange, pink and green palm trees and “Island Girl,” one of his songs, written across his back in big bold letters.


At one point, John asked if there were any birthdays in the crowd, and he and Joel treated the audience to “Birthday,” a song by The Beatles, following it up with “Back in the U.S.S. R.,” another Beatles hit. They then finished off the show by singing John’s classic, “Norma Jean,” and Joel’s debut hit, “Piano Man.”


By the end of the show, Joel seemed exhausted, losing his breath for parts of “Piano Man,” missing cues and going blank on a line of “Benny and the Jets,” all of which John smoothly covered up, leaving only the true blue fans in the room with a hint that something had gone awry.


Both John and Joel had trouble reaching some of the notes they once were able to hit, and encouraged the audience to sing the tough spots for them. In John’s “Crocodile Rock,” he had the audience fill in the “la la la la la’s” and when we knew Joel was tired from playing the harmonica and singing, we gladly chimed in with the chorus to “Piano Man.”


All in all, it was a great night and the energy in the room was palpable as audience members kept humming and singing the songs we’d just heard as we walked down the steps and out of the Forum. This concert was terrific and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic rock and roll or anyone who just wants to have a great time.


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