What’s the next best thing to seeing Billy Joel and Elton John live? A Billy Joel and Elton John tribute band.
Face 2 Face: A Tribute to Billy Joel and Elton John stars Les Smith as Elton John and Elton Lammie as Billy Joel. The tribute act is performing at the Clyde Theatre on Jan. 11.
Keyed up over Elton John
While this marks Smith’s 20th year of performing as Elton John and eighth year of the Face 2 Face tribute band, his musical career started when he was five years old.
“When I was a kid, I was always portraying my heroes,” Smith said in an interview with Whatzup. “I was [influenced] by musicians and entertainers like Elton John when I was growing up, so I really got involved with music at a very early age.”
Smith’s family had a piano in their house, so that was the instrument he gravitated toward.
Growing up, he enjoyed listening to groups such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but once he listened to Elton John, he felt something more.
“That to me was a little more magical,” Smith said. “Then, I saw him and how he portrays himself and his flamboyant costumes, which was pretty cool.”
Years later, Smith started listening more intently and practicing his music, and subsequently began performing at family events.
“The tribute portion wasn’t in my head to start with, but I started doing little parties, and people started asking me about playing their functions and events,” Smith said. “Then, it went to playing at fairs and public functions, and the rest is history.”
The Piano men
When Billy Joel and Elton John formed their show Face to Face, Smith was intrigued, and thought it’d be exciting to find another impersonator to work with. He discovered Lammie and communicated his desire to recreate the famous duo on stage.
“We developed a friendship, so when we’re on the stage, we’re not alien to each other because we know each other well,” Smith said.
Smith and Lammie try to keep their shows fresh with different ideas and jokes and to stay on top of costume changes to continually create a new show for the audience. The pair encourages their audience to get involved by clapping and singing along during their shows.
“We do a very much crowd participation type of show,” Smith said.
Following each performance, Smith and Lammie critique the show, asking themselves what the strongest songs of the night were.
“We calculate by audience reaction what songs work well,” Smith said. “We try and play the top hits of the artists and top rated songs that were on the radio.”
“Rocketman” is Smith’s favorite song to perform. Due to the success of the Rocketman movie, Smith said people are very attentive to the song and sing along with it.
“Something has stirred in people after this movie,” Smith said. “We have a newer, younger audience, and everybody wants to hear ‘Rocketman.’ It’s not only fun to play, but it holds a lot of meaning for people.”
Smith said Elton John’s voice and the way he entertains people have changed with age, and he’s slowed down a bit. Smith tries to do a mix of his ’70s and ’80s era and emulate them as best as he can on stage.
Camaraderie with the crowd
One of Smith’s favorite aspects of this act is having the camaraderie with the audience.
“Another favorite part is the masquerade of it,” Smith said. “To dress up like Elton John, I wear glittery jackets, boas, glasses, and top hats. Elton John was fun on stage, so my favorite part is having fun and portraying that to the audience.”
After all the years of imitating Elton John, Smith has not had the pleasure of meeting him.
“It’s too bad because he’s a hero, but sometimes it’s kind of cool to be able to have that fantasy of the person,” Smith said. “He’s hard to get close to. I’ve attended many concerts and I’ve been in the third row and have made eye contact with him.”
Smith keeps the impersonating strictly to the stage. When dressed as a regular civilian, Smith said he does not resemble Elton John.
“I believe that you have to draw the line in your real life and your career life,” Smith said. “I believe it’s 50 percent acting and 50 percent musical capability. I put a lot of invested money into props, boas, coats, shoes, and glasses, so when I’m done up, it’s game on.”
With Elton John retiring in a year, Smith said the tribute act’s future is very promising.
“The future is very unlimited in terms of performing, traveling, and getting his music out there because I think there will be a lot of people that will miss him once he’s officially retired,” Smith said. “So I see us staying busy until we’re ready to retire, which could be never.”
Smith recalls playing around Fort Wayne, but the act has never performed in the city before.
“We love new places,” Smith said. “We try to get in a day before to experience what the town is like, rub elbows with the locals, and support the venue.”
They’re looking forward to bringing the music of Billy Joel and Elton John to Fort Wayne for their first time.
“It’ll be an exciting night, a fun night and a memorable occasion for everybody,” Smith said.
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March 27 • The Clyde