For two guys in their sixties, Billy Joel and Elton John sure know how to put on a show. For nearly three and half hours, the two legends captivated a capacity Quickens Loan Arena Saturday night (even the seats behind the stage were full), working through their classic catalogs, in tandem and alone.
Seated at two opposing black grand pianos, the concert began with a four song mini-set featuring both Joel and John. “Your Song” started things off, with the two trading verses and piano licks while the crowd stood and sang along. After completing the first part of the program with the two together, Joel left the stage and John performed with his own band.
John was in fine form too, beginning with a lengthy jam through “Funeral for a Friend.” He was definitely the more loose one musically, regularly extending the ends of songs like “Rocket Man” or “Levon” into New Orleans-style blues/funk jams. Other hits followed, as the entire arena sang “Tiny Dancer,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock,” although portions of almost every song were slightly reworked to account for John’s aging voice. Still, at 62, John performed his set with the skill of a master professor, as if he was telling all the students of rock, This is how to have a storied career in music.
Joel’s solo set, on the other hand, had an entirely different feel than his tour partner’s. Where John kept his piano in the same position and rarely spoke to the crowd, Joel’s piano rotated throughout his entire set, and he was quick to share an anecdote or two between songs. It was a welcome change of pace and further cemented the two as singular but complimentary stars.
Joel’s set also featured highlights from his greatest hits, including the always powerful “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and crowd favorites like “River of Dreams” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” the latter having Joel leave his piano to play guitar. And where John’s voice does sound slightly aged, Joel’s hasn’t changed a bit, although his songs are much less complicated than his partner’s.
The two then reunited for a nine-song encore, again running through more of each other’s hits. Also sneaking into the set were covers of the Beatles “Birthday” and “Back in the U.S.S.R,” but it was the final two songs of the night that left a chilling mark. With both bands now gone, and just the two stars seated alone at their pianos, the pair performed beautifully stripped down versions of “Candle in the Wind” and “Piano Man,” reminding us that at their core, the two are just singer-songwriters who don’t need all the other instruments and effects to have a lasting impact. —Aaron Mendelsohn