Dé hAoine, Iúil 17, 2009
Elton John and Billy Joel from Waveland Avenue.
I have some metal friends who may still be unable to admit to themselves that Elton John kicks ass, and that's a shame. The way the man puts his warm, empathetic voice to use really is magical, to the point that even Bernie Taupin's most absurd lyrics come out sounding like a healing lullaby to the tragedies of human life. Yes Elton, space is a terrible place to raise a kid. Won't the parents ever stop climbing the corporate ladder and think about what they're doing to Junior?
But then again it is no secret that John is an absolute whore, so for the past few years he's been touring with 'the human gin & tonic hangover', Billy Joel. With the exception of 'Piano Man' and 'Pressure', Joel is known for the sort of hack work that Elton avoided until he hit middle age. He is also yet another father figure in my life that I scorn to the point of hating my own masculinity, but more on that later. John and Joel came to Chicago last night, and of course they played at Wriggly field, home of the entire white population of Cook County.
The concert was scheduled to start at seven. I met Liz at the Addison El station about twenty after six and we had dinner at Taco Bell. (Yeah that's right. What?) It was a great atmosphere, the streets were full of pseudo-tanned suburbanites drinking champagne in the parking lots and hustlers trading bibles for cigarettes. When we made eventually made our way around to Waveland (Where the rooftop stands our) it really was postcard romantic. All the beautiful young people grilling, drinking beer, enjoying the hard work their parents did for their pristine real estate. The night was as soft and mild as a woman who believed your story about working for Vanity Fair. "This, darling, I will remember." "Oh yeah. Fucking Billy Joel man!" There was a flourish at about 7:20 and the show began with, what? Elton John is the opener?
John and Joel "dualed pianos" for awhile. Elton opened with "You're Song" as per tradition and Joel followed with "Just the Way You Are" the classic love song for his long-divorced wife. John countered with "Levon" one of his weaker old-school jams before Joel came back with the dishwater "My Life."
Elton had the stage to himself for the next hour and change and kept it seventies. "Yellow Brick road" (Should have stayed on the Farm, should of listened to my mom.) "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" and, oddly, the eleven minute, Kubrick invoking "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." It's an epic tune and all, but popular mainly with Elton fans and not really known to the general public anymore. I don't know whether to be thrilled or disappointed that EJ whored out to the baby boomers this hard. It's not if he doesn't he hasn't had any hits in the past twenty years. "Songs From the West Coast" has several good songs on it. Why not play "This Train Don't Stop..."? Or something from the Lion King, Fuck it.
Then again, I was off to the porta-potties as soon as he played something that I didn't recognize. The bastard started playing "Tiny Dancer" just as I was stepping out and I had to run back the length of a block to rejoin the crowd and find Liz. I eventually saw her with only three or four other people between us, and she waved at me to go to her, but Elton was already halfway through the second verse and I didn't have the time to jostle anymore, so I waved back and finished singing the song with perfect strangers. You're a big girl darling.
After that it was "Philadelphia Freedom" (meh.) a couple other tunes and than "Crocodile Rock" for the pseudo-finish. (Sing along! Yay!)
Billy Joel opened his stand-alone set with "Angry Young Man" and "Moving Out" (manmanmanamn. Oh Bill, you're so saucy.) After pathetically trying to keep it real with the supposedly impoverished Great Lakes audience, (It's not true that New Yorkers view everything to the west as monotonous desert. They can tell the difference between Chicago and LA just fine. They just don't know the difference between Chicago and Akron.) his band busted out into "Allentown", the absolute worst excuse of an ode to white blue-collar poverty ever written.
After this it was a few more pieces of trilling trite nonsense until the moment I had been dreading finally came. When I was ten years old I was riding in the car with my mother when "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me" came on the radio. I said that it sucked and this made my Mom start giggling and saying I should have more respect for it. I asked her what she meant. She grinned and sneered and snorted and, eventually, she told me that I had been, I had been conceived, to this song, to Billy Joel. I exist because my mother, she was seduced, by Billy Joel. I stood in the crowd last night, doing all I could to hold back the Taco Bell vomit and the tears, I turned to see my girlfriend dancing ecstatically to this song,this fleshly prayer of my blasphemous physical being, and the girlfriend, she likes it too. She probably has it on the her ipod somewhere, blissfully unaware of how many times I've wished myself dead to deny Billy Joel the satisfaction. I hope you were really drunk mom.
After this came "We Didn't Start The Fire" a song that is both Joel's most shameless piece of work and the ultimate demonstration of Baby Boomers' historically ignorant sense of self-importance. The crowd loved it of course. Liz loved it of course. Bouncing up and down and exhorting me to join her. I should have broken up with her right then. Or maybe it would be better if I killed her tonight. Joel closed with the mercifully tolerable "Only the good Die Young" and it was on to the encores.
Elton started things with "I guess that's why They Call it the Blues" and Joel followed with "You May Be Right." "After this came "The Bitch is Back" and, at last "Bennie and the Jets" from EJ. Liz once again wanted to cuddle while we sang along together, and didn't have the slightest clue why I was being cold and unsubtly angry towards her. She took to grinding against the "Billy Cub" mascot who had joined the crowd for the climax of the show shilling for tips and rocking a glow stick. I think it was a humorous attempt to make me jealous. Give yourself to the rats for all I care you filthy evil Joel-whore.
Still, "Bennie and the Jets" is a beautiful experience when played in front of a hundred thousand receptive ears, and would have made the perfect closer to Slton John's night. But he decided to show his famous sanctimonious side and close with "Candle in the Wind" instead. Which is fine I guess. One could easily make the case that it's his best song. It shows how the sisterly love that gay men feel for dead female celebrities is perfectly sincere and often quite moving. Still it's a rather grim song to end the night on. I mean it is summer and all and we would like to have some fun.
Finally of course there was Joel's "Piano Man", which is far more transcendent then it has any right to be but never mind. I was at piece again after half an hour of agony. Liz came up behind me to wrap her arms around my waist and I accepted her and we sang along. "They're sharing a drink we call loneliness, but it's better than drinking alone!!" She asked me if I was going home with her and I said no. She asked why and I said I'd explain to her some other time. "Piano Man" is great but not great enough to forgive Billy or Liz or mom or any woman.