Concert Review: Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden
I'm train-blogging on my way home from the show. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I bought the tickets mostly out of nostalgia, since one of my first real dates with my wife was a Billy Joel concert in Philadelphia (December 18th, 1989, she reminded me tonight). Just over 15 years later, my expectations for the now 58-year old Joel were quite low. Then I saw a few setlists & realized that this was an oportunity to hear live performances of songs I'd never heard live before.
On that score, the show did not disapppoint. He sang Everybody Loves You Now, Stiletto, Zanzibar (with a truly kick-ass flugelhorn solo, followed immediately by an even more kick-ass trumpet solo - both by the same guy), Great Wall of China (dedicated to his ex-manager - if you don't know why, go check out the lyrics), All for Leyna, and She's Always a Woman in addition to the standard fare of Greatest Hits material.
As to the quality of the show, there's just no getting over the fact that the man is getting older. Some of the harder rock tunes fell a little flat (like Pressure, Big Man on Mulberry Street, which slowed down dramtically as it went on, and All For Leyna, which was a nice concert rarity, but required so much concentration from Joel that he never once looked up from the lyrics tele-prompter or even ventured a smile). Other songs, though, he pulled off quite nicely, including Big Shot, You May Be Right, It's Still Rock & Roll To Me, Angry Young Man and I Go to Extremes. He also sang all the high notes on Innocent Man himself, something he hasn't done in years (my wife pointed out that his new-found sobriety might have been the enabler there).
UPDATE: A listen to Billy Joel - 12 Gardens Live reveals another reason - see this blog post for more.
Being a piano player myself, my favorite part of the concert is watching Joel's hands on the keyboard, which I consider almost as educational as it is entertaining. Tonight's seats, third row just behind & to the left of the stage provided a great view (nice job, Jason!). I was surprised to see that he's changed his style of play significantly. He no longer bangs the living hell out of the piano like he used to. Now, it looks much more like the old cliche - "tickling the ivories.". There were far fewer piano riffs/solos than there had been in years past, but what he did play sounded great, even if it wasn't as dramatic as it used to be.
Also on a musical note (groan...), the band itself was a nice reunion. Rich Cannata and Tommy Byrne were back, so we got to hear all the original sax & guitar solos from the Turnstiles and Glass Houses days, not to mention some great horn section work by Cannata, Crystal Taliefero, and Mark Rivera on songs such as Keeping the Faith, Movin' Out, and Only the Good Die Young. A surprise to me was the absence of Liberty DeVitto who, according to someone sitting in our section, had a falling out with Joel over a book Liberty's writing that apparently goes into a little too much detail about Billy's days of drinking and drugs. My section-mate claims that Liberty wasn't even invited to Billy's latest wedding. As the man says, "melodrama's so much fun..."
Finally, there were those special concert moments that make the price of a ticket worthwhile. We had modern day commentary in the lyrics of Zanzibar:
Rose he knows he'll never make the Hall of Fame;
And the Yankees grab the headlines every time.
...and a nod to his recent dalliances in Scenes from an Italian Restaurant:
A bottle of white;
A bottle of red;
Perhaps a bottle of Ginger Ale instead.
...and even some political commentary from the crowd during the Piano Man finale:
Now Paul is a real estate novelist;
Who never had time for a wife.
And he's talking with Davy, who's still in the navy;
(crowd screams much louder than the rest of the verse:)AND PROBABLY WILL BE FOR LIFE
All in all, the show did not disappoint. It was as nostalgic as I hoped it would be, but not in that awkward, "wow, things have really gone downhill" way that I had feared. With a few exceptions, Billy Joel and his band sounded fantastic and put on a high energy, entertaining show. Yes, he shuffles around the stage instead of running, and stops for a swig of water between every song (and occasionally during someone else's solo). But no one else in the world can make that music sound that good, and on the whole, I'm glad he's still doing it. Bravo, Billy, and thanks for the memories.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Came looking for info on Billy Joel and only got a concert review? Check out the I Should Be Sleeping Billy Joel FAQ! Inspired by Googlers like you!)
UPDATE: I see from my server logs that over 500 of you have read this review. God Bless Google! In any case, welcome to my blog. If you like what you read, please feel free to leave a comment and/or look around a bit.
UPDATE #2: Readership on this post is approaching 2,000 users. Glad you stopped by! If you liked what you read, please feel free to look around. Billy Joel enthusiasts might appreciate my reviews of the My Lives box set (Disc 1, Disc 2, Disc 3, Disc 4) in particular. Or, just check out the main page and go from there. Enjoy, all!
UPDATE #3: Well over
3,500 7,500 pageviews now. Good lord, this thing's getting some mileage. Seriously, though - look around. Stay awhile. What's your hurry? You just got here...
posted by Brian at 12:31 AM