Friday, March 28, 2003 | 8:38 a.m.
Album rock's odd couple are back at it.
For the fifth time since 1994, singer/songwriter/pianists Billy Joel and Elton John are on the road together, sharing the stage as co-headliners for their latest "Face to Face" tour.
The duo stops in Las Vegas for a pair of 8 p.m. shows tonight and Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Last year the two men were forced to postpone a series of live dates when Joel checked into a Connecticut rehabilitation center, reportedly to recover from alcohol abuse. The shows were eventually made up last fall.
In January Joel made headlines again when he was hospitalized after driving his Mercedes into a tree in Long Island, N.Y. He suffered minor injuries and no charges were filed, though police reports indicated Joel had been drinking before the accident.
Joel has not released a rock album since 1993's "River of Dreams," instead opting to concentrate on touring and composing classical music. In 2001 he released "Fantasies & Delusions," a collection of Joel-penned piano pieces performed by Richard Joo.
John released his latest album, "Songs From the West Coast," in 2001. Despite the disc's widespread positive acclaim, John has indicated a desire to retire from songwriting.
Who: Billy Joel and Elton John.
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Opening act: None.
Additional personnel: Billy Joel: Davey Johnstone (guitar, vocals), Guy Babylon (keyboard), Bob Birch (bass, vocals), Nigel Olsson (drums, vocals), John Mahon (percussion, vocals); Elton John: Tommy Byrnes (guitar, vocals), Libert Devitto (drums), Mark Rivera (saxophone, guitar, vocals), Crystal Taliefero (vocals, percussion), David Rosenthal (keyboard, vocals), Andy Cichon (bass).
Latest Billy Joel release: "Fantasies and Delusions" (Sony, 2001).
Album feedback: "As a restless rock & roller, and now as a composer, he restages the scarlet-hued 19th-century thrusts and taxing engagements of legendary Russian and German composers." (Rolling Stone, 2 1/2 stars); "It's a nice collection of pleasingly modest, melodic solo piano pieces, mainly sonatas, written by Joel and performed by Richard Joo. Joel succeeds because he kept his ambitions reasonable." (All Music Guide, 3 stars).
Latest Elton John release: "Songs From the West Coast." (Universal, 2001).
Album feedback: "John can't always send his music soaring the way it used to, but its spirit and ambition have finally come back home." (Rolling Stone, 4 stars); "This is the richest, best record he's released in a long time, an album where it feels like a hit single is secondary to the sheer pleasure of craft." (All Music Guide, 4 stars).
Essential Billy Joel releases: "The Stranger" (1977), "Glass Houses" (1980), "Greatest Hits Vols. 1 & 2" (1985); "The Bridge" (1986).
Essential Elton John releases: "Tumbleweed Connection" (1971); "Madman Across the Water" (1971); "Honky Chateau" (1972); "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973); "Great Hits" (1974); "Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy" (1975); "Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" (1986).
What to expect: The two headliners typically begin the show onstage together, trading vocals on some of their old favorites. John is then joined by his band for a set of his own, which is followed by a set from Joel and his backing band. The pair then reunite, along with a full ensemble, for the concert's final segment. Look for a slew of both men's greatest hits, along with a smattering of deeper album cuts.
Recent set list: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C., March 16: (Joel & John) "Your Song," "Just the Way You Are," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me;" (John) "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Wasteland," "I Want Love," "Rocket Man," "Take Me to the Pilot," "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues," "Tiny Dancer," "Crocodile Rock;" (Joel) "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," "Movin' Out," "Prelude/Angry Young Man," "Allentown," "An Innocent Man," "River of Dreams," "I Go to Extremes," "New York State of Mind," "It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me," "Only the Good Die Young;" (Joel & John) "My Life," "The Bitch is Back," "You May Be Right," "Bennie and the Jets," "Hard Day's Night," "Great Balls of Fire," "Piano Man." (from fansite turnstiles. org).
Tour feedback: "Hearing them sing and play keyboards with each other demonstrated how deft each is as a pianist. John proved himself the superior vocalist, rendering his parts in 'Just the Way You Are' and 'My Life' as if he had been singing them his entire career." (Houston Chronicle). "Mr. Joel may have turned in the more spirited set of the two ... but it was no match for Sir Elton's soulful singing, wicked piano work and storied songbook." (Dallas Morning News).
Known Las Vegas appearances: Billy Joel: April, 1987 (Thomas & Mack); Dec. 17, 1993 (Thomas & Mack); March 24, 1995 (MGM; with Elton John); March 25, 1995 (MGM, with Elton John); April 3, 1999 (The Joint); Feb. 17, 2001 (MGM, with Elton John); Feb. 18, 2001 (MGM, with Elton John); Elton John: Sept. 15, 1971 (unknown venue); Aug. 24, 1984 (Thomas & Mack); Sept. 10, 1994 (MGM); Feb. 14, 1998 (MGM); Feb. 14, 1998 (Studio 54); Dec. 30, 1999 (Thomas & Mack, with Tina Turner); Dec. 31, 1999 (Caesars).
Says John: "('Songs From the West Coast') is the last record I'll ever make. I'm fed up with it. I like playing to you guys, but I hate the record industry. I've made 40 albums, and it's about time for me to get out." (during a November 2001 concert in New Hampshire).