Billy Joel edges out Elton John in double-header

Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:56pm EDT
 
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By Erik Pedersen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - On the surface, it always has seemed like a natural pairing: two of the rock era's most successful acts -- piano-based or otherwise -- dispensing hit after hit after hit.

But look a little deeper and the contrasts between Elton John and Billy Joel far outweigh the similarities. And their latest Face 2 Face arena show Saturday at Anaheim's Honda Center again hammered home those differences, even as the packed house cheered the pop feast.

The most obvious is the performing styles. Both men still have a command of their instrument, but their manic stage days are behind them. And that's fine; John turned 62 last Wednesday, and Joel hits 60 in May.

But latter-day John is all about the music, mostly sitting stoically at his piano; Joel's still about the show, his eighty-eight on a rotator so that every in-the-round patron got a good look. John prefers a quiet dignity onstage, only occasionally addressing the audience; Joel is demonstrative, offering some rimshot-worthy shtick.

Basically, John plays to the crowd; Joel feeds off it. So while Sir Elton will never cede the catalog crown, in his stage battle with the kid from Long Island, the latter continues to win the Face 2 Faceoffs.

John's voice for years was one of the most distinctive in rock. He sounded fine Saturday and still can sing with power, but that instantly recognizable bite is gone. He was at his best during the many slow songs, when his pipes weren't forced to keep pace with the music; "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," for example, was a kitten compared to its beastly original.

So John's solo set was heavy with ballads, which certainly isn't a bad thing. Those irresistible sing-along choruses wrap around often moving verses on topics of joy or pain, cryptic or barefaced, while he piles on the marvelous melodies. Highlights included the mournful "Daniel" and a superbly elongated "Rocket Man."

Joel happily dispensed his hits and nonhits with aplomb and a winning joviality. He introduced "Zanzibar" by saying: "This is what they called an 'album cut,'" emphasizing the quote marks with his fingers. "I don't know if you remember 'albums.'"   Continued...

 
<p>Singer Billy Joel performs during the Rainforest Foundation Benefit Concert in New York, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Keith Bedford</p>