| ELTON JOHN NEWS ARCHIVE: February 2002
|The Dynamic Duo
Wednesday, February 13 2002
Written by Reggie Zippo.
Since 1994, the sporadic pairing of superstars Elton John and Billy Joel as the dynamic duo act of the Face To Face (F2F) stadium tours has grown to such legendary proportions that their performances, which are peppered with energetic antics and music to match, have been described as both refreshing and ground breaking, not to mention very profitable. Even though a top ticket price can reach upwards of $175 or greater, it is still quite a bargain for a three and a half hour concert of pure, raw, unstripped music, over 36 super hit songs, and a powerhouse of star quality not easily matched by any means. If truth be told, this joint venture has proven to be one of rock's most successful and memorable franchises.
Putting their best feet and fingers forward, Elton and Billy embarked on another edition of the F2F tour at the beginning of 2001. Instantly, tour dates all along the time line were sold out in succession before the ink even dried on the concert tickets. Perhaps it was Elton's off handed remark several months prior that he was going to quit touring, a notion that he quickly retracted the following day, or perhaps it was the old adage that timing is everything and the time was ripe for another go around with their dueling piano act. For whatever the reason, the public responded enthusiastically, which ensured both Elton and Billy a streak of good fortune, financially and emotionally. Thus began a string of concerts that injected their brand of showmanship into USA arenas that were filled to the brim with hungry fans from both camps.
In contrast to their 1998 formula of Billy performing a set then Elton emerging as the main attraction with the lion's share of allotted stage time, they kicked off the first 2001 concert at the Cox Arena, San Diego, California, on January 19. Beginning with three songs that were usually reserved for encores ("Your Song", "Just The Way You Are", and "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me"), the sweet sounds of the piano men wafted through the air as the duo presented their true talents to an ecstatic crowd. All of the usual hits from previous incarnations of the F2F tours were sung with great passion and Billy's personal interaction with the audience was in full force. One tends to think that his "antics" were all well scripted because Billy repeated the exact same comical comments and actions at future venues. It was also noted that there were a few technical problems and delays between and during sets, but that was understandable considering that this was the concert to work out all of the kinks. As for the finale, Elton offered "Candle In The Wind" and Billy sang his version of "Piano Man". Throughout the rest of January and all of February, the tour traveled up and down the western states of the USA before heading eastward to Colorado.
By April 9, Elton and Billy found themselves in Denver when a small catastrophe occurred. Billy decided to show off a bit more flare when he began to dance enthusiastically with his microphone stand while he sang "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me". Since he did not need to play the piano during this number, Billy decided that he was going to do a little light foot work with the stand, but something went wrong and it hit him square in the eye. Within minutes, a noticeable swelling started to close his eye shut and there was an obvious discomforting look on Billy's face, but he stood fast and continued to perform. For the remainder of the program, Billy kept an ice bag on his eye to keep the swelling to a minimum. Out of deep concern for his friend's welfare, Elton cut several songs from his set list to shorten the concert so that Billy could allow paramedics to attend to his injury. People tend to learn from their own mistakes, but not Billy. By the next performance on April 12 in Kansas City, Missouri, he was seen again dancing around with that same microphone stand. Boys will be boys no doubt.
April 17 found the piano men camped out on stage at the New Orleans Arena, where it was noted that Elton seemed a bit reserved while Billy was extremely animated and interacted a lot more with the front row fans than at previous shows. At one point, Billy chose a woman out of the audience and brought her up on stage. He gave her two long kisses before sending her swooning back to her seat. He would repeat this same scenario at other shows as well. Conservative Elton bowed to an eccentric Billy, but Elton was not without his share of comical moments. During this particular concert, a male doll with an apparent erection was tossed up on stage. Without dropping a beat, Elton quickly scooped up the doll and proceeded to show it off to all of the band member before placing it as a trophy on top of his piano. The rest of the evening went on in the same manner. While it was noted in the press that Elton was the true victor in performance, Billy was voted as the clear winner in the entertainment category. His close camaraderie with the audience was undoubtedly a huge factor, but Elton John fans would beg to differ that Elton is the true winner in both categories.
The tour spent the rest of April in Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta, Louisville, and Greensboro. After a stint in Montreal, Canada on May 3, the boys came back into the USA for a tremendous show in Syracuse, New York on May 5, but tragedy was looming close at hand for one of the band members.
On May 7, while performing at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, Davey Johnstone received the most heart breaking and devastating news that a father could ever receive. His 9 year old son, Oliver, was playing in a tent near the family swimming pool in California when all of a sudden the tent and Oliver fell into the pool. Sadly, Oliver perished. Davey quickly left on a plane bound for his home while the concert proceeded as planned that evening, but his presence was missed. It was announced to the audience what had happened, but Elton, Billy, and the other band members decided to continue without Davey for the time being. John Jorgenson, formally of the Elton John Band, quickly volunteered to step in as lead guitarist for the remaining shows in May. John was noted as playing extremely well and mimicked Davey's style and technique with great precision. Although it was a very sad event that brought John back into the fold, it was a warm familiar feeling to see him on stage with Elton again.
By May 16, the 2001 tour wrapped up at The Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elton and Billy went their separate ways, but not before raking in $59 million from the 31 concert engagements. Elton and his band started to promote the upcoming release of "Songs From the West Coast", while Billy planned several autumn solo concerts to promote his classical "Master Class" series. Another tragic event, however, would bring the two piano men back together again for one night in New York City. As a result of the horrendous attack on The World Trade Center, New Yorkers banded together to bring superstars from around the world to perform at Madison Square Garden as a benefit and tribute to the victims of the September 11 attack. This concert was held on Saturday, October 20, and included such superstars as Paul McCartney, The Who, Mick Jaggar, David Bowie, and James Taylor, to name but a few. Elton and Billy both performed separately, but were brought together to duet on Elton's "Your Song". With the 2002 F2F schedule close at hand, Elton and Billy undoubtedly used this opportunity to discretely promote the upcoming tour, while at the same time giving tribute to the many lives lost to that terrible event at the WTC. Even if that is not the case, thousands of fans responded when the tickets for the F2F shows finally went on sale.
In a repeat show of support and thirst for Elton and Billy, fans quickly gobbled up the F2F concert tickets in record time. Many fans had to be turned away because the venues were selling out faster than ever now. Perhaps it was their October appearance at Madison Square Garden that set off this ticket buying frenzy, or maybe it was because Elton was gaining a resurgence in popularity due to the fact that his new album was garnering rave reviews, or perhaps it was a combination of both events. Whatever the reason, the public was clamoring in droves to see the two icons of rock fame perform their favorite hit songs. To compensate, more tour dates for same cities were quickly added. Some arenas scheduled 4 and 5 nights of the dueling piano men, but that didn't solve the problem as those dates were quickly sold out as well. It was a clear indication that Elton and Billy are as well loved in the USA as they are in the rest of the world. If not, then more so.
As in past concerts, the beginning of the first 2002 show on January 13 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC, started with the two signature black pianos emerging from a platform below the stage. As "Yankee Doodle Dandy" played from the amplifiers placed around the stadium, Billy entered from stage right. Elton appeared from the opposite side as "God Save The Queen" was blared to the excited audience. The two men quickly went into their usual routines and the set list was much of the same from the previous year, but Elton did add 3 songs from his new album ("I Want Love", "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore", and "Ballad Of The Boy In The Red Shoes"). It seemed as though there were more Billy fans in the audience than Elton fans for this first show, but Elton was undaunted. He tickled the ivories, which pounded the fan's hearts with such force of feeling and conviction that he was sure to have converted a lot of Billy fans that evening. Throughout the show, Elton changed his costumes (suits) 3 times, while Billy remained dressed in the same black outfit. Davey Johnstone was back in the band again and everything seemed to fall right into place without a hitch. After that first show, the tour traveled to Penn State University for a January 16 concert that repeated the same previous performance, but Elton and Billy soon found their way back to Washington for 2 more sold out events on January 18 and 20.
From Washington, the tour packed up the buses, vans, and trucks to make their way to Boston for 4 sold out concerts on January 22, 24, 29, and 31. A fifth show was scheduled for February 2, but for some unknown reason it was rescheduled for April 3. After Boston, the pair dipped into Connecticut to perform 4 evenings at the Hartford Civic Center. It was noted that both Elton and Billy were fighting minor flu symptoms at this concert and their girth was discussed among Internet fans, but everyone marveled at how much better Elton was than Billy. Quite a number of fans were appalled and disappointed when Billy decided to swear excessively whenever he talked. He wasn't upset or anything of that nature, but for some reason Billy decided that the use of foul language was acceptable. It was clearly not! Also during one of the Hartford shows, a bra was thrown up on stage and Elton became cutely embarrassed by the whole ordeal. Such is the life of the rock star on the road. The press noted that the Hartford receipts easily amounted to more than $7 million and that Elton and Billy set a record by selling the most number of tickets for a single event in Connecticut's history. It was the quickest and biggest sell out to date. More F2F concerts in Hartford could have easily been added, but the tour had other commitment dates to uphold.
The tour is currently setting record sell out dates in many cities in the eastern portion of the USA with more stops in Philadelphia, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, New York, Uniondale, and Rutherford. Beginning in the middle of April, however, Elton will embark on the second leg of his world wide tour to continue promoting his new album. Many fans will not get the opportunity to see Elton and Billy perform together this time around, but there is always the hope that the beginning of 2003 will see them FACE TO FACE once again!
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|Elton Performs At The NBA All Star Basketball Game
Tuesday, February 12 2002
Written by Reggie Zippo.
On February 10, 2002, at approximately 5:30 PM EST, Elton John participated in the opening ceremonies and the half time show of the NBA All Star Basketball game held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For the opening ceremonies, in which the coaches and players for both opposing teams were introduced to the ticket holders and the television viewing audience, Elton sang "Philadelphia Freedom". Along with his signature black piano, Elton sat alone on a red, white, and blue star shaped platform in the middle of the basketball court. Wearing a black suit with matching sequins, Elton began to sing with all his heart. At the time, it seemed to those who were watching the telecast that Elton was doing a Karaoke version of "Philadelphia Freedom".
There were no apparent band members anywhere to be seen on or near the court and the imbalance of the music and Elton's vocals led to speculation that he was actually singing to a prerecorded music bed. Much to everyone's surprise, however, an eventual camera shot revealed that the band was indeed present. On the second level bleacher tier at the far end of the court were Davey, Nigel, Bob, Guy, and John, all cramped together like sardines in a tin can. There may have been additional musicians present, but the camera centered only on those 5 members.
There is no recollection in the history of Elton's career when he has had to perform with his band so far away from his discerning eye. No doubt it must have been a difficult setting for everyone involved. Even so, Elton and the band played beautifully together and were in perfect synch throughout the performance. Elton even seemed quite pleased with himself while he sang. At one point, it was humorous to see that children were allowed to play on the hand railings directly behind the band. One can only imagine what went on through their minds when the band glanced back to spy those little monkeys hanging from the hand rails and close enough to reach out and touch or grab hold of anyone's clothing or equipment (electrical or otherwise). Nevertheless, it did not affect their playing power in the least. After this set, the house lights came on and Elton quickly left the court to make way for the All Star game to begin.
An hour later, the half time break was announced and Elton again found himself alone on the basketball court with his band above in the distance. "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" was the logical choice to begin this half time show, considering that it is the current single release that Elton is promoting, but it did seem that a more up tempo number would have been better suited for the type of crowd in the arena that evening. Not to worry, though. "I'm Still Standing" got everyone's adrenaline pumping again. The audience did seem a bit reserved while Elton sang, but they were very appreciative with loud cheers and clapping at the beginning and end of each song. Immediately after "I'm Still Standing", Elton repeated his quick departure for the second half of the game. He was not scheduled to perform a fourth song, but three were well enough to satisfy Elton fans in the USA and for those who were savvy enough to watch the simulcast on the Internet!
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