Elton John and Billy Joel take a bow Thursday night at the Ford Center. (Photo by Steve Maupin/The Oklahoman)
Few performers have the credibility or the chops to begin their show with a bow, but Elton John and Billy Joel did just that Thursday night at the Ford Center.
The sell-out crowd roared with anticipation as the lights went down and a pair of shiny black grand pianos rose slowly from below the massive stage. Joel, 60, entered casually to the jaunty tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while Sir Elton, 62, mounted the steps to the British theme “Rule, Britannia!”
Meeting at center stage in front of their instruments, the dueling pianists paused to exchange a quick embrace and bend to the adoring audience. They opened the latest stop of their wildly successful and long-running “Face 2 Face” tour by easily swapping lyrics and gracefully harmonizing on four of their signature smashes: John’s “Your Song” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” and “My Life.”
Their faces may be more lined and their voices less supple with age, but the “Rocket Man” and the “Piano Man” still have skillfully fleet fingers, bountiful energy and enthusiasm and a bevy of peppy pop-rock hits to keep fans ecstatic for the nearly three-and-a-half-hour, virtually nonstop show.
The concert marked the first time the pair were “Face 2 Face” at the Ford Center since 2003, and Oklahoma fans had to wait an extra three months to see it. The show, originally set for November, was delayed after John was hospitalized with E. coli and the flu.
“We’re happy to be here — finally,” John told the crowd after starting his spotlight set
John launched his solo act with the glam-rock grandeur of “Funeral for a Friend” before segueing into a veritable hit parade of familiar favorites, from the ballads “Daniel” and “Tiny Dancer” to the anthems “Levon” and “Philadelphia Freedom.”
Though he rarely spoke to the crowd, John often addressed the eager masses with a rakish grin and satisfied nod as he tickled the ivories and belted his trademark songs. At the end of practically every number, as the audience rose to voice its approval, the flamboyant star leapt from his bench to triumphantly pump his fists and acknowledge the boisterous multitude. He then flicked out the tails of his shimmering black tuxedo jacket with a flourish and loosed his next hit on the fervent fans.
His expansive rendition of “Rocket Man” got the crowd chanting along with the “oh, no, no, nos,” while the raucous “Crocodile Rock” prompted the cheerfully dancing throng to provide the “la, la, la, la, la, las.” After pausing to sign autographs and clasp outstretched hands, the British star made way for his American counterpart.
Quietly taking the stage, Joel brought his own style of showmanship and string of smash singles. He didn’t stay quiet for long, racing through “Angry Young Man” before moving on to “Movin’ Out,” which showcased his band’s trio of canny saxophonists.
In between hits, Joel charmed the audience with self-deprecating, sometimes silly banter, which included randomly adopting a fake German accent and cracking that one of his albums was released in 1929.
“I’m Billy Joel’s dad. I know all his stuff, OK?” joked Joel, whose simple gray suit matched his hair and goatee.
“His stuff” included the still-relevant “Allentown,” the touching “She’s Always a Woman” and the shifting “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” He augmented the soulful “River of Dreams” with a zippy rendition of “Oklahoma!” that got the throng proudly singing and clapping along.
Joel left the piano and took up his guitar to blast through the speedy 20th century tribute “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and wowed the crowd with his hip-shaking moves and microphone stand-wielding stunts during “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “Only the Good Die Young.”
Essentially a greatest-hits show, “Face 2 Face” focuses on timeworn classic rock favorites that get the crowds crooning along but can all be heard on the radio on at least a weekly basis. It doesn’t leave much room for surprises, but both performers got in a deeper album cut with Joel’s jazzy “Zanzibar” and John’s moody “Madman Across the Water.”
For their encore, though, the pair reunited at their keys to again turn their trademark hits into spirited duets, starting with John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” and then Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” By the time they charged into “The B- – - – Is Back,” most of the fans were out of their seats and bouncing along, and the show revved into a full-blown arm-waving, booty-shaking celebration with “You May Be Right” and “Benny and the Jets.” John was well dressed for musical merrymaking in a black jacket adorned with a sequined scene of him riding a silvery flying saucer.
The stars dialed down the party atmosphere to close the show with dual renditions of their signature ballads: the Marilyn Monroe tribute “Candle in the Wind” held the crowd transfixed until time to give a standing O, while the all-too-apropos “Piano Man,” featuring Joel on keys, vocals and harmonica, got the fans wailing along with abandon and completely taking over one refrain.
By the time the dynamic showmen came together one last time at center stage, they had clearly earned their bows.