NEW YORK — THE theory that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts was proven recently at the unveiling of the massive Billy Joel/Elton John stadium tour, now crisscrossing America. Both artists are not exactly underexposed: The two have recently concluded their own solo tours, playing to millions of fans in support of their ``River of Dreams'' and ``The One'' albums, respectively. But seeing these two pop icons, who have each been at the peak of the pop pantheon for approximately two decades, play together is something that fans can't resist. It was a brilliant marketing idea (apparently Joel's) that is producing bountiful rewards. In the New York area alone the duo played five sold-out shows, to a total of approximately 300,000 fans, at Giants Stadium.
There is a genuine thrill in seeing these two piano men on the same stage, and it is milked for all it is worth. Huge representations of American and British themes line either side of the vast stage, and the pair hugely embrace each other before sitting down to play, facing each other on two grand pianos. The show began with the pair dueting on John's ``Your Song'' and Joel's ``Honesty,'' after which Joel strolled offstage.
John and his band then performed their own set, which concentrated on vintage hits, although he did perform two songs from the latest album and his current hit from ``The Lion King,'' ``Can You Feel the Love Tonight.'' (If each of these two hit machines performed all of their charted songs, the evening would never have ended. As it was, it lasted more than 3-1/2 hours.) John also sang, to wild appreciation, Joel's ``New York State of Mind.'' During the set, Joel came back on, and the pair dueted on ``That's Why They Call It the Blues.''
John, who personified flamboyant rock during much of the 1970s, seems to be more subdued. Although his piano playing is still filled with broad flourishes, his current performance style seems positively stodgy, the only drama being provided by Ray Cooper's mesmerizing theatrics on percussion.
Joel, on the other hand, still relishes his onstage antics. He seemed to be in a particularly feisty mood, ranting about how the music press seems to have forgotten that he and John worked their way up from humble beginnings. Performing a more rock-oriented set, he ran from one end of the stage to the other (not a short hike), threw his microphone stand around, and even did a handstand on his piano. Besides his own material, he sang John's ``Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'' with a gruff power that reinvigorated the song.
But the real highlight of the evening, and what the people were waiting for, was the final set, when the pair played together on a series of both their songs.
For encores, they ripped through a rousing set of rock classics (``Hard Day's Night,'' ``Lucille''), and finished with John's ``Candle in the Wind'' and Joel's ``Piano Man.'' Through these numbers, as throughout the show, the affection and respect that these two men have for each other and their music was palpable. It seemed to charge up both performers, creating a crash of musical titans that will not soon be forgotten.