Face 2 Face: Elton John & Billy Joel

bjej-ticketMelissa and I had a great time last night at Elton John and Billy Joel’s ‘Face 2 Face’ concert at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. As you would expect, the two guys put on a great show. I had seen Billy Joel before (twice, in fact), but this was my first time seeing Elton John.

The show starts with the two performing several songs together on facing grand pianos. It was a little bizarre to hear Billy Joel singing a verse of ‘Your Song’ and Elton John singing a verse of ‘Just the Way You Are’, but it works somehow.

On the third or fourth song, Elton John stopped abruptly during the instrumental introduction because his sustain pedal was stuck, making all his notes run together. Some roadies come out and messed with it but couldn’t fix it, then Billy Joel came over and started messing with it too, but also couldn’t fix it. After a few minutes Elton left the stage (looking a bit upset). Billy goofed off for a minute or two playing snippets of random songs, and then after a few minutes launched into his solo set. Elton’s piano dropped back beneath the stage, presumably to be repaired or swapped.

In typical Billy Joel style, he called it a ‘true rock and roll f***-up.’

Billy’s set included about an hour of his songs, mostly the hit singles but with one or two less-popular tracks thrown in. As with the two previous Billy Joel concerts I’ve been to, he did an excellent job. There were no real surprises for me; it was like an abridged version of the other Billy Joel concert’s I’ve been to. Then he left (around the time that most concerts have an intermission) and his piano dropped into the stage, and Elton’s piano rose back up. There was no intermission; the transition between the solo sets took maybe 2 or 3 minutes.

Elton returned to the stage with a rocking rendition of ‘Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)’, which is one of my favorites, and embarked upon a roughly hour-long set of his songs, apologizing after the first for the technical difficulties from earlier. Elton put on a very good show and, like Billy, performed mostly hit songs with a couple of lesser-known tracks thrown in. He did an absolutely amazing extended version of ‘Rocket Man’ that I really enjoyed. I was surprised that he didn’t do any of his later songs (like the tracks from ‘The Lion King’). ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ from 1975 was the newest song he did in his solo set, and ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’ from 1983 was the newest performed as a duet with Billy.

After Elton’s solo set, Billy returned to the stage and they picked up where they had left off at the beginning. I’m not sure how long the beginning and end duet sets are supposed to be, but they made sure we didn’t miss anything and (presumably) did the 1 or 2 songs they were supposed to do at the beginning at the end instead. The two final songs were ‘Candle in the Wind’ by Elton and ‘Piano Man’ by Billy, both performed as duets, and then they left the stage. There was no encore (there were no big hits left to do as an encore anyway), but that’s okay since the whole encore thing is pretty stupid and the concert went on for well over three hours—solid hours without any real breaks in the music.

Overall, it was an excellent show.

It was my first time at Nationals Park. This was the first concert held at the venue, which is the home field of the Washington Nationals baseball team (or, as I like to call it, the Montreal Expos Redux). I haven’t gone to any Nationals games because a) they’re just the Expos, and they’re just as good as the Expos were; b) I don’t particularly like baseball; c) I object to the use of taxpayer funds and eminent domain to build stadiums; and d) I really think they should have named the them the Washington Senators (after our old baseball teams) or Washington Wombats (because it’s a cool name). Regardless, it was a very nice park with good vendors, cupholders on the seats, and a big enough entrance to handle the full crowd. Not bad.

My complaint is a side effect of the fact that Nationals Park is a baseball park that got temporarily refitted into a concert venue . . . the acoustics were horrible. These kinds of venues were simply not designed to transmit music into the stands clearly. The sound quality in our seats was mediocre at-best, and marred by noticeable echoes and other distortions. There was some of this in the shows we’ve seen at the Verizon Center (former MCI Center) in DC, but I don’t remember it being nearly this bad.

I also was quite dissatisfied with the transportation options. For baseball games, you basically have three options for getting to the Park: take Metro, pay for expensive close-in parking, or park for free at RFK and take the free shuttle bus. This suite of options, by all accounts, works very well.

For last night’s concert, each of these three options had serious problems. Metro, in their infinite wisdom, chose the weekend of probably the biggest concert of the year to perform widespread track maintenance. While they claimed they were running extra trains for the concert, I certainly saw no evidence that they were doing anything other than the standard, low-volume weekend procedure with a lot of delays and single-tracking thrown in because of the maintenance. The expensive close-in parking was . . . expensive. $40 and up, as compared to the <$20 average price of all-day parking in DC. Nationals Park, in their infinite wisdom, simply did not offer the free RFK shuttle for the concert.

We opted for Metro, since it was (for the first time in memory) cheaper than the alternatives. Normally we would go to the Vienna station on the west end of the Orange Line, but the track maintenance was happening out at that end so we headed in a few stations to West Falls Church. Once we got into the station, we waited for well over 20 minutes for a train. They have overhead electronic signs that are supposed to tell you when trains are coming, and it helpfully informed us that a ‘—‘ line train with ‘-‘ cars and a destination of ‘Train’ was arriving in (blank) minutes. Nice. (You can see a picture of this in the gallery below).

Well, we did eventually get there . . . early in fact, but only because we left really, really early.

The trip home was no better. The line into the Navy Yard station (closest to the Park) was really just a giant throng of people who weren’t moving at all. Melissa and I had a secret plan to walk a mile to the Capitol South station, which would put us on the correct line (Orange) further out than people transferring to the line from the Green Line (from the giant line at Navy Yard). It actually worked very well (although a lot of other people had the same idea, but it was still a lot less than the Navy Yard people). Of course, Metro’s ‘extra trains’ were still running at 15-minute intervals just like the normally do on weekends . . . and, while the overhead signs did inform us about upcoming Blue and Orange Line trains, it also had another phantom ‘blank’ train on the list.

Anyway, we got on the train, got seats, got crushed by an incredible throng of people transferring on from the Green Line after a few stations. Some poor person grabbed on to the overhead grab handle and it snapped off in her hand. Then, when we finally got to our station, as we were riding the escalator up from the platform it just shut off and came very close to knocking us all over like bowling pins. All I want is quality, safety, planning, and efficiency. Please?

We finally got home around 1am, and went to sleep. It was a long day, but we overall had a great time.

I have some pictures, mostly from the before and after, but with a couple from the concert mixed in. Of course, they’re just camera-phone pictures and many of them were at night so don’t judge my photo quality too harshly!

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.