Friday, February 12, 2010

Best concert of our lives

Last spring we bought tickets to see Elton John and Billy Joel in their "Face 2 Face" tour, scheduled to come to Portland in November 2009. When November approached however, Elton John fell ill with e.coli and the concert was cancelled. The rescheduled concert occurred on Wednesday night, and I must say it was worth waiting for!

Both Elton and Billy are long-time favorites of mine. My very first boyfriend (another Catholic named Mike!) got me hooked on Elton John by giving me an album, and "Your Song" was our song.

My college roommate Debbie was a big Billy Joel fan and her enthusiasm was contagious. I have all of his albums (or CDs) and introduced Mike to Billy when we lived in Japan by making a mix tape (remember those days??). We also went to see Billy Joel in concert in Japan--we were in the back row down on the main floor, and being short, I couldn't really see much unless I stood on my chair--and the Japanese security guards kept coming over, telling me to get down. I also remember Billy jumping on his piano, pretending to be a sumo wrestler, and the crowd of Japanese girls screaming "BEE-REE! BEE-REE!"

Well, now it is 22 years later, and Billy was not jumping on any piano. In fact, he made several jokes about his age and actually being Billy Joel's father instead. But man, did he play it!!

It was a completely amazing concert. We were in the second row of the nosebleed seats, but they turned out to be fine because of the video monitor overhead, which gave us an excellent view. I kept thinking throughout that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event--they are both in their 60s now, and who knows how much longer they will tour together. However, I would jump at the chance to experience this concert again.

Before the concert started, we were peering at the stage in wonder, because it seemed to be completely empty, but high-tech looking somehow. When the concert began, two grand pianos rose up out of the stage, and Elton and Billy took their places. They proceeded to play a series of their hits, alternating the ones they had written but singing and playing together. Their band members appeared gradually to accompany them.

The piano playing was fantastic. They are both gifted musicians, and they seemed to have a blast playing together and off of each other. They each had their own back-up bands, full of talented musicians. I was particularly impressed with Billy Joel's, which included some phenomenal trumpet and saxophone players.

Then Billy left and Elton John and his band played for about an hour. He played a few obscure songs that I didn't know, but they were really the only unfamiliar songs in the whole concert. He is not very talkative in concert, but I thought Sir Elton seemed incredibly gracious, taking bows after each song, and often running past the people in the front row, shaking people's hands. (I don't think I've ever seen any performer do that!) He changed his suit, shirt, and glasses (beginning with pink, ending with red) and even with his rotten toupe, seemed more focused on his image and faded glamour. I realized how much I enjoy Elton John's music and determined to get some of his CDs out of the library.

Have you ever noticed that the higher level the seats, the less engaged people seem to be? On the floor, the diehard groupies are all dancing and singing. In the 200 level, you can see a handful of people dancing. At the 300 level, hardly anyone. I noticed that we happened to be seated with no one behind us (we were on the aisle, backing the entrance) and if I stood up and danced, I wouldn't annoy anyone. Should I or shouldn't I? I did! I stood up and danced all by myself! It took a great deal of guts for me to do it, and eventually Mike danced with me for some of the songs (and a few people in the row in front of us were eventually emboldened, too). Every upbeat song, I was on my feet dancing. It certainly made me enjoy the concert more that way. And why was I worried about annoying people? The younger people in our row exited repeatedly to get more outrageously expensive beers ($8.50/cup), and they didn't seem to be concerned that we had to keep letting them pass.

Then Billy came on the stage, and he continues to be quite the showman. He was a clear American contrast to Elton John--most of his band members were from New York or New Jersey (except for the lone female musician, from Gary, Indiana), and he gyrated, swore, and flung the microphone about during "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." He too shook hands and signed autographs.

Finally, the icon musicians came together again for the encore. They closed with "Piano Man."

The last major concert we saw in the Portland Rose Garden was over 5 years ago, when we saw Annie Lennox and Sting for my 40th birthday. Annie Lennox was fantastic, and Sting was disappointing. But this time, each performer astonished me with his brilliance and musical talent.
The first concert I ever saw was John Denver, in the Memorial Coliseum. He played for 3-1/2 hours, spoiling me forever. This was probably the only other concert we've been to that went on for 3-1/2 hours. Worth every penny!
Here are a few videos, of "My Life" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues," but they really don't do the show justice. Simply amazing!

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