Ivory Master Storytellers

Of course the Elton John and Billy Joel tour “Face to Face” was fabulous.  Both musical icons each with thirty-plus-years of song writing and performance experience worldwide played with extraordinary expertise befitting well-earned acclaim.  The roar of the 18,000 plus crowd Tuesday night as they took to the BOK Center stage was the loudest and longest welcome, in this writer’s opinion, to date.

Elton John entered to the tune of “The British Grenadier” and Billy Joel to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” but this was not an “across the Atlantic contest” or some sort of battle of the keyboards.  Playing together then separately then together again, the contrasts of style complimented without conflict.  These stars were having fun in Tulsa on St. Patrick’s Day 2009.
First in solo, John encouraged the crowd to sing along and many did.  Sitting in media row, the prickly haired girl throwing her arms in the air as if the percussion section needed additional support (they didn’t) was a little distracting, but I figured she was a radio gal – old for her style and too far into her personal party to care what others around thought of her display.  Regardless, my thanks to show promoters as the location of media allowed better views of both the audience and performers than is usual. John mentioned his friend, Tulsan Leon Russell.  He played “Tiny Dancer” as he said, “for all the pretty girls in the room – especially those I can see up front.”  “I’m Still Standing,” “Rocket Man” and “Crocodile Rock” were huge with many in the audience jumping to their feet dancing.

The curved video screen graphics interspaced with live video was lively, bright and entertaining.  Granted, the pink flamingos got a little repetitive reflecting the 70s, but this was Elton John’s graphics – the showmanship undeniable.

Billy Joel is one of my favorite balladeers and his first selection of “Angry Young Man” with the line “Momma, if that’s moving up, then I’m moving out” is more of a personal theme song than I usually admit.

Reflecting universal concern with the economy, Joel said, “Thank you for keeping us in business.  We are happy to have a job.”  In fact, most working musicians I know feel that way as they spend great amounts of time in practice for no pay.  John Cale, when he first moved to the West Coast, was asked by a club owner on Hollywood Blvd. if he would change his name to JJ Cale because someone else was known locally as John Cale.  Tulsan Cale said, “You can call me anything you want if you hire us.”  That’s being happy to have a job.

Joel mentioned and I attended his last concert in Tulsa in the mid 80s.  On ORU’s Mabee Center stage that night, he was apparently well aware the venue was owned by a religious school.  He said then, “I know you all think we are doing drugs and all that up here, but we are not – we’re working.  Now, on the other hand, what we do on our own time is our business.”

Tuesday, Joel jammed at times with his band and improvised more than once on the fly with a bit of Irish (it was, after all, St. Patrick’s Day) and breaking “In the Middle of the Night” to play “Oklahoma” as the crowd cheered.  He also brought greetings from his friend, song writer and Oklahoma native Jimmy Webb.  Joel may also know or have heard of some other talents with Tulsa ties; Bob Wills, JJ Cale, Carl Radle, Eric Clapton, The Gap Band, Woody Guthrie, Pattie Page, Wanda Jackson, David Gates, David Teegarden, Hoyt Axton, Roy Clark, Hanson, Garth Brooks, and others.

I wished Tuesday night that every child struggling to learn or dreading that next piano lesson could have been in the audience.  The point – piano is as powerful an instrument and fundamentally pleasing to people today as it was in Frederic Chopin’s day (1810-1849) and as it will be in the future.  From the hands of these masters of the ivory; that great range and power came alive.

The “rap” on Tulsa is that many musicians are from here, but they have to leave to earn a living.  As a result, Tulsans don’t really appreciate how many talented locals are playing unheralded in local clubs.  That may be the true gift of the BOK Center – finally, a Tulsa venue large enough to bring the best musicians to town and grow general musical appreciation.

Elton John and Billy Joel are major players in the musical performance “Best of Class” category and it’s clear they were greatly appreciated in Tulsa.