Elton John and Billy Joel use oldies to make show a goody

July 22, 1994|By J. Doug Gill | J. Doug Gill,Special to The Sun

While their status as rock 'n' roll legends is unequaled, it's been a few years since Billy Joel and Elton John have made records that lived up to that reputation.

Therefore, when the duo teamed up to co-headline a multi-city stadium tour, it didn't sound like an exciting way to spend a summer evening.

After all, couplings of this sort are often no more than a blase showcase of "greatest hits" -- a promotional tool for selling CD boxed sets. While that may not be such a bad thing, it can make for a long night.

Well, on this unbearably humid Wednesday night, Mr. Joel and Mr. John proved to be the ultimate hucksters -- the slightly graying throng who packed RFK Stadium left the arena completely sold.

Why? Because both of these storied performers breathed new life into songs that shaped the music of the '70s and '80s -- in spite of such corny, dated moments as the collaborative "Piano Man" or the inane "Bennie & the Jets."

A beautiful rendition of Elton John's "Your Song" opened the show's first segment, with Mr. John and Mr. Joel meeting center stage for a quick acoustic set that also featured Mr. Joel's "Honesty" and a sparkling version of "Don't Let the Sun Go

Down on Me."

The pair have been alternating the opening-act slot since the tour kicked off. On this evening, it was Mr. John who drew the short straw.

Being the first to hit the stage with a full band, Mr. John tore off a solid version of "Philadelphia Freedom" and followed it nicely with the reflective "Take Me to the Pilot." The punch and fade pacing made for a nice contrast.

For the balance of Mr. John's set, he stayed with chart-toppers such as "Levon," "Rocket Man" and "Love Lies Bleeding."

After a minimal delay, Mr. Joel nestled into the headliner role. And, like Mr. John before him, he trotted out the standards that made him a star.

While the stage antics aren't as frantic as they used to be, Mr. Joel managed to ignite his set with energy and sharp wit.

"Pressure" was delivered with marked intensity. "Ballad of Billy the Kid" and "My Life" were also set highlights.

For pure emotion, it was hard to top "Goodnight Saigon," a tale of the Vietnam War featuring a handful of local veterans singing backup. With the American flag waving high above the stage, the moment brought lumps to 55,000 throats.

Both artists are touring in support of recent recordings, which means that new songs such as "River of Dreams" and "The Lion King" were tossed into the mix. But when played alongside monumental tunes of days gone by, these newer numbers couldn't mingle in such lofty company.

Such nit-picking aside, this show was a total charmer.

"We're all in the mood for a melody," went the words to the final encore, and this pair of powerful piano men had us feeling spectacular.

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