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My date with musical greatness

May 15, 2009

I don’t typically go to concerts.

Tickets are crazy expensive.  The music is usually so ridiculously loud and distorted that it comes out sounding like you’re inside a jet engine.  Most bands sound like crap live, basically because they don’t have all the studio tricks (i.e. production techniques that make them sound better than they really are) in a live setting- or else they simply suck anyway…  not to mention all the drunk and/or stoned (or whatever…) bags of douche that comprise the crowds of most concerts.

So when I DO go to a concert, it’s got to have a very strong possibility of being one hell of a damn good show.

I have seen Rush numerous times, the most recent being last year’s Snakes and Arrows tour as it came through Riverport Amphitheater (a crazy-good venue, especially for being outdoors) just outside St. Louis.  They’re probably my favorite band ever, meaning that I don’t just like two or three songs of theirs and nothing else, and that I continue buying their music regardless of any… “new directions” in which they go or, quite frankly, how bad an album of theirs sucked (and they’ve had a couple that have…).  Not to mention they’re all three very talented musicians that I simply never get tired of seeing and hearing.  For me, it’s about the actual music.  I couldn’t care less about lyrics for the most part.  A song (or a performer, for that matter) has to blow my proverbial skirt up with their music for me to take notice.  Most music today sucks, so that’s a big reason why I always say music peaked for me around 1985.  Not that there hasn’t been SOME recent music I’ve liked, just not much.

Because most of it sucks.

However, even if I don’t care for a particular style of music, I still appreciate and respect good musicians, singers, and performers.  Garth Brooks, for example.  As a rule, I am vehemently against country music, for a number of reasons.  However, in 1996, Dawn and I had the occasion to see Garth Brooks at the Kiel Center (or whatever you kids call the hockey stadium nowadays) in St. Louis with Dawn’s sister and her husband.  What an amazing show that was.  He definitely was a performer, not just some yay-hoo up on stage acting like he’d rather be somewhere else or being drunk/drugged out of his mind or anything like that.  He addressed the crowd in such a way that made a 19,000-seat arena feel like an intimate club setting.  Again, not a fan of the country musics at all, but Garth Brooks was simply an amazing performer.  One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

Until last night.

Last night, Dawn and I went to St. Louis to the same Kiel Center to see Billy Joel and Elton John, much to the remotely good-natured ribbing of my brother Jeff, who possesses profound disdain for all things “mainstream”, especially music.  But that’s for another post.  Anyway, I’ve always been a HUGE fan of both artists, and to see them both at one [bodaciously expensive] show was something I wouldn’t dare pass up.  It did NOT disappoint.

I’ve pretty well established that I’m no reviewer/critic-type person, so out of respect to Brian Mackey, Nick Rogers, et al, I’m not going to attempt that.  I will simply say that it was easily the best concert I’ve ever attended, far and away, bar none.  Even better than the many Rush shows I’ve seen (sorry, Doug), and Rush puts on amazing concerts.

Near as I can tell, this was called the Billy Joel-Elton John Face to Face tour, since they started and ended the concert on grand pianos that were positioned on stage so that they were facing each other, or- wait for it- face to face.  From the moment it began until it ended some three and a half hours or more later, I had this overwhelming sense of being in the presence of musical greatness.  They opened with Elton’s “Your Song”, each taking a verse, and proceeded through four or five songs (alternating between a song of Elton’s and a song of Billy’s), and then Billy left the stage for Elton to perform solo for 90 minutes or so.  He played many of the songs for which he is known, including, among others, “Daniel”, “Rocket Man”, “I’m Still Standing”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Madman Across the Water”, and even “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”, which was outstanding.

Then he left the stage and Billy Joel came back out and went through a stack of his big hits- “Allentown”, “Uptown Girl”, “Don’t Ask Me Why”, “Zanzibar”, and even “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, among others.  The big difference I noticed between the two was that Elton John is a great performer, where Billy Joel is a great entertainer.  Not that Elton wasn’t entertaining, or that Billy didn’t give a great performance, but Billy was cracking jokes between songs, mugging during songs, and just did a great job of bringing the crowd onstage, at least figuratively.  He’d introduce a band member before each song, something that I thought was great, since when you play behind someone like Billy Joel or Elton John, you tend to be severely anonymous.  Both bands were comprised of extremely talented musicians.

After Billy’s set wrapped up, Elton came back out and the electricity in the arena absolutely red-lined.  They sang the Beatles’ “Birthday” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and bounced back and forth between Billy and Elton songs before rocking the place with “The Bitch Is Back” and “Bennie and the Jets”.

And then, it finally happened.

Billy put the harmonica holder thingie (pardon the technical jargon) around his neck and you just knew what was coming.  They launched into “Piano Man”, and it was everything I imagined it to be, times infinity squared.  Whether you like either musician (or their songs) or not- even you, Jeff- being one of nearly 20,000 people swaying in unison and singing “Piano Man”- especially a capella on the last verse- was quite possibly the most amazing musical experience in which I’ve ever participated.  The goosebumps are returning even as I type this.

I wish I would have [been a dork and] made a list of all the songs that were played, as there were far more than the ones I listed, but I simply can’t remember all of them, especially when during the show each was played.  There were a couple I wish they would have done, but obviously they could still be playing if they were to do everything people wanted to hear.  Which would be fine with me.  It was an outstanding show, one which a true music lover like myself would be extremely fortunate to have seen.

Long after the [brutally expensive] t-shirt I bought fades and disintegrates into cotton dust, I will forever possess the memories and the knowledge that, regardless of whether you classify them as “pop”, “rock”, or otherwise, I had the fortune of seeing two musical icons- legends- together in concert.

And there is almost nothing more satisfying than that.  It’s still rock and roll to me, indeed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2009 11:24 am

    Just to clarify a few things, for the record:

    1. My ribbing you is always good-natured. Nothing remote about it. Only the degree to which it’s infused with snark changes.

    2. Just because I think Elton John and Billy Joel suck balls (literally, in Elton’s case) doesn’t mean I have “profound disdain for all things mainstream.” I look at it as “liking a lot of different things” or “having an open mind.”

    3. I imagine that a 20,000-strong singalong *would* be tingle-inducing.

    Excellent work.

  2. May 15, 2009 11:58 am

    1. I know that. That was merely some creative license for the sake of effect.

    2. To-may-to, to-mah-to… I admit to being pretty closed-minded, especially when it comes to music you can’t hear on the radio, but I am working on that. Even so, you’ve never been a big proponent of “the mainstream”… 😉

    3. Indeed it was, and thank you.

  3. Marjorie permalink
    May 15, 2009 6:22 pm

    I LOOOVE Billy Joel, and Elton John is a classic icon, even if his tunes aren’t always on my lips. I’ll bet that was great to see/hear/experience, etc. I wouldn’t have minded seeing it myself.

    Billy Joel is an absolute poet. In “Piano Man,” the old man says, “It’s sad, and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” That, faithful readers, is poetry and a clever turn of a phrase.

  4. Kristen permalink
    May 17, 2009 12:12 pm

    A couple of years ago,during one of our annual “girls weekends” in Vegas (using ther term “girls” VERY loosely as the girls were my 90 year old mother, my sister Renee and me)we were lucky enough to get “FREE” tickets to the same concert at the MGM Grand. It is amazing how much $$ you have to spend gambeling to get all that great free stuff!! But, here is the kicker. The offer was for 2 tix which Renee dutifully reserved in advance. Mom had decided the “kids” would have more fun without her, so Renee and I went to the special room for Diamond Card holders at the Rio to pick up our tickets. While in line, we heard other people asking for 3,4 or more tickets and we thought that wasn’t quite fair for them to get more than two when we didn’t….so….when we got up to the lady checking the names and she said “Two?” I spoke up and said “Renee, didn’t you call back and tell her it was three, not two?” Renee gave me a deer in the headlights look and stammered “Y-Yes, I did!” So the lady says “OK, here ya go” and handed us three tix. We schlep mom in the wheelchair and instead of the nose-bleed section, 2nd rows from the top of the arena where we were supposed to be, we got to sit in the handicap area mid arena. It was the absolute highlight of our weekend – for ALL of us! To hear my 90 year old mother singing along with Billy Joel (not so much Elton) was a memory I will keep forever. And for weeks afterward, I would catch her humming/singing “I love you just the way you aaaarrrrrreeeee!” PRICELESS….. ;D

  5. May 17, 2009 2:57 pm

    Marjorie: Exactly.

    Kristen: That’s an awesome story!! I love it!

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