“My whole family is down at Dave & Buster’s right now, but I’m just not really into it, so I figured I’d come get my watch fixed. It’s needed it for a while now.”
It was a Friday night in July, and the girl was stuck at her job at a mall kiosk. Sitting at the workbench fixing this customer’s watch, she just wished the woman would stop talking so she could concentrate. It always bugged her when customers felt the need to tell their life story while she was trying not to slice her hand open getting off the back of their watch.
“We were supposed to be at the Billy Joel and Elton John concert…,” the woman trailed off.
The girl’s ears perked up.
“Yeah, I heard it got canceled,” she said. Truthfully, she was a little happy when she heard that news — it had been killing her knowing that she wouldn’t be able to go. “I really wanted to get tickets, but I’ve spent so much on concerts already lately, and they were so expensive, I just couldn’t do it.
“They were,” the woman said, “but it’s Billy Joel. And Elton John.”
“I love Elton John. I would kill to go,” the girl said. She was actually enjoying this now, going back and forth with this woman about favorite songs.
They kept talking as the girl finished the watch repair and the woman paid for her watch.
“Enjoy your night,” the girl said as she handed the woman her receipt. “I know it won’t be as great as the concert, but…”
“I’ll try,” the woman said with a smile. “And I hope whenever they reschedule the show, you have a really great seat.”
When the first rescheduled date, in early December, came out, I debated getting tickets. And then Christmas happened, and after car payments and buying gifts, I still couldn’t bring myself to spend $100 on a concert ticket, as much as I was dying to go.
And then they postponed — again.
I don’t really believe in signs or fate or whatever, and I know how stupid this is going to sound, but I told myself that this was my sign — I needed to be at this show. I’d been given chance after chance, and I was a fool if I didn’t take this one. I swore to my parents that when the tour finally made it to Buffalo, whenever it was, I would be there. I had built this show up in my head to the point where I didn’t care how much the tickets cost, where I was in the arena, or if I had to go scalp seats the night of the show — I would be there, even if I had to sit in the last row of the farthest section, by myself.
Fortunately, I found tickets through a family friend about a week before the show — $100 a pop, on the side of the stage — and my mom decided she’d come with me. The seats were spectacular, and as the lights dimmed and the pianos rose from underneath the stage, I thought about that encounter at the mall eight months ago. I was actually there. Sitting in HSBC Arena. Seeing one of my all-time favorite musicians, and The Piano Man, The Entertainer.
And I kid you not, I teared up a little bit.
This is not 1975. Billy Joel, now over 60, does not have all his hair. Elton John, nearly 63 years old, cannot hit the high notes he could when he was 28.
And it doesn’t actually matter, because they put on a show that, in terms of musicianship and energy, rivals that of some of the best “young” bands out there.
They can both still play the hell out of a piano. John, now a muted version of his once glammy, Vegas-ready self (and that’s not an insult), has turned his already-wonderful songs into flowing masterpieces that sound like the album versions…but don’t. “Rocketman” became a 10-minute journey, while “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer” had sound that was uniquely live, yet still maintained the beauty they have on their respective albums.
Truthfully, Elton John is one of my favorite artists, young or old, period; he could sing me the alphabet, and I’d be happy. Still, he has managed to retain relevance and be a sought-after collaborator (VMA and Grammy performances, anyone?), and is, quite simply, (Captain) fantastic.
Joel seemed more comfortable on-stage, taking some time to joke with the crowd about their respective seats and the many cancellations. My mother and I have this theory that John, for all his loud outfits, is a rather quiet, shy guy. I don’t really know what to say about Joel’s solo set — I like Billy Joel, and I know and like his music, but I hadn’t really thought about what his set would be like, and I didn’t really have any expectations, so I can’t actually say whether they lived up to them or not. Once again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just that the main reason I wanted to go to this concert so badly was Elton John. I will say, however, that it was a pleasant surprise to see Joel get up from behind the piano for “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “It’s Still Rock ‘N Roll to Me,” and I really enjoyed just listening to him play.
And while the two still can hold their own on their own, the real treat of the show was getting to see them on stage together, duetting on each other’s songs. “Your Song” was the perfect opener, just as “Piano Man” was clearly the choice closing song, and hearing each lend their voices and put their own twists on the other’s hits definitely makes that $100 ticket price totally worth it — not to mention that you’re sort of getting three shows in one.
So, yeah, Elton couldn’t hit the highest notes in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and Billy Joel was making jokes that he was really Billy Joel’s dad. But if you think they’re washed up or has-beens or whatever — think again.
Oh yeah, I hope the woman from the mall enjoyed the show just as much.