I’m always going to see classical concerts, so last night, I unexpected myself with a trip to see Elton John and Billy Joel at San Jose’s HP Pavilion. I’ve never thought of myself as a fan of Elton’s music, and I barely know who Billy Joel is, so I didn’t have high hopes.
It was awesome.
Elton and Billy each made an entrance to theme music, like this was pro-wrestling or something.
Elton was in tails with his name appliqued in pink on the lapels, Billy in a black suit.
They started with a piano duet, and then Elton’s band appeared on hydraulic stage risers. They all have long hair. They all had wind machines to keep it moving. When Billy started to sing, his band appeared out of holes in the stage. Not so much with the hair and the wind machines, there, but still – quite an entrance.
There were no lights on people who weren’t doing anything.
There were 10,000 people in the audience. Only about 50 of us were close enough to see a keyboard – but not to worry. There was a massive LED curtain screen above the stage so that everybody else could see close-ups of singers, keyboards and anything else that might be going on.
I’m not saying that we should throw the baby out with the bath water and encourage Jean-Yves Thibaudet to straddle his piano stool and salute the balcony with one hand while he clumsily knocks out a mediocre and derivative pseudo-blues piano solo with the other, but seriously – when did we become too cool for a bit of showmanship?
If we weren’t afraid of pissing off the snobbiest of our number, we could at least:
1) Revisit the informal shambles of the orchestra’s entrance and the rigid formality of the conductor’s walk on
2) Use creative lighting to guide the eye toward stuff that was actually happening on stage
3) Have the brass and percussion make a bit more of an entrance after the concerto with the help of all those hydraulic stage risers that otherwise sit inert and unimaginative for the entire show
4) Project a view of the piano keyboard on a screen for the benefit of all the people in the cheap seats and half the people in the expensive ones
5) Put a wind machine in front of Gustavo Dudamel. Not just on stage, but during season announcements too.
The Elton/Billy gravy train takes 12 trucks and a crew of 150 people to tour, but most of these suggestions would be relatively inexpensive, using stuff that already exists in big classical venues and could be implemented without undue impact on the way people play. Really, the only reason not to is because we think we’re too classy to put on a show. How’s that all hopey no changey stuff workin’ out for ya so far?