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Key performance

Elton John and Billy Joel still can fill arenas after many of their contemporaries from the last 30 years have become Trivial Pursuit questions and punchlines.

Elton John and Billy Joel still can fill arenas after many of their contemporaries from the last 30 years have become Trivial Pursuit questions and punchlines.

At the Fargodome Saturday night, they showed why. With any luck, the roof has settled back onto the building by this morning.

In a three-hour show, together and separately, the English kid who grew up to be knighted and the New York piano man played sets heavy on their old hits, delighting a near-sellout crowd of 22,500.

They began together, Joel entering first dressed in a black suit and black shirt and John quickly following in a pink suit. They started with numbers that are among the most melodic hits of each -- John's "Your Song" and Joel's "Just the Way You Are," with each starting the other's song. Even though they have distinctively different vocal styles, their voices blend wonderfully; neither overpowers the other.

After those two numbers and a third, Joel left the stage, giving the next hour and a quarter to John. He stuck to his most familiar numbers and generally stayed behind the piano.

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But if John stuck closely to the sound that has been a radio staple, he wasn't slavishly faithful to the original arrangements. On some, like "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," his singing was passionate and heartfelt. Others, like "Philadelphia Freedom," were dressed up with bluesy intros.

A high point of his solo set was an extended version of "Rocket Man," which featured some delicately beautiful piano work that segued into blues. It brought the crowd to its feet and brought the lighters out.

John's voice betrayed a tiny bit of raspiness at first, and he no longer goes for the high notes on "Tiny Dancer." But the quality still is there.

When he finally left the stage, Joel came on a couple of minutes later and opened with "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," getting his solo set off to a rousing start.

Joel varied his songs more, often showcasing his backup musicians. He also was considerably chattier than John, thanking those in the higher seats and throwing in a couple of "you betchas" for the Fargo crowd.

He also came off the piano bench for a couple of numbers, including "An Innocent Man," which also showcased the vocal talent of backup musician Crystal Taliaferro, and "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," during which he did tricks with the microphone stand.

He also got fairly silly at points, like when he played the piano with his butt during "I Go to Extremes."

The concert ended strong after John once again came onstage, this time wearing a jacket that looked like something The Riddler would wear to Mardis Gras. The last act was highlighted by a deft piano duel during "Bennie and the Jets" and some almost-deft riverdancing on his piano by Joel during "The Bitch is Back."

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Pantera at (701) 241-5541

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