Okay, let me admit this right off the bat: I happen to like Billy Joel (his older stuff). And, since it’s been 24 years since I last saw him perform (the 1982 Glass Houses tour), I figured it was about time.
That’s not to say that I regret anything. As far as I’m concerned, I stopped seeing him at just the right time. He’s only put out one decent album since we last met (The Nylon Curtain), and I’ve heard that his shows have become somewhat hit-or-miss. But, since I had it on good advice that earlier shows in his 12-night (non-consecutive) monolithic run at Madison Square Garden had showcased a man resembling the Billy Joel of old, I figured that it might be worth a trip down memory lane.
With this run, Joel set an MSG record for most nights played at the arena during a single tour (although methinks Springsteen could go into the 20s if he really wanted to). Every one of the dozen shows was sold out, and the last night of the run marked the 48th time that Joel has done his thing in the home of the Knicks.
Hate him or love him, Billy Joel belongs in a class with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, and KISS. Like those disparate performers, he gives you your money’s worth. Joel still has the swagger and charm to capture 19,000 people in a huge arena and make it seem like he’s playing a local tavern (bad analogy, I know). But, in a day and age where 90 minutes for a headlining act seems standard, it’s nice to know that THE entertainer (and yes, he did play that one) isn’t afraid to offer more than his share of classic moments:
THE CELEBRATORY MOMENT: After opening with “Prelude/Angry Young Man”, and “My Life”, Joel invited a local DJ on stage to announce the historical “12th night moment.” At the end of the DJs oratory, balloons were released from the ceiling.
Normally, this is a good thing, but there was a problem: Joel was recording the show (as he did the prior 11 shows at the Garden) for a CD, and fans started to pop the balloons. Joel apologized to his sound man, and made cracks about the background noise sounding like popcorn popping. He even went so far as to pound out “Pop Goes the Weasel” on his piano between songs to try and get the crowd to pop the balloons at the appropriate time (he did that at least three times during the set).
THE POIGNANT/TEAR-JERKER MOMENT: Halfway through the set, Joel broke out into “Goodnight Saigon”. As the band worked the song, several people quietly lined up at the back of the stage in the shadows. When the chorus of “We would all go down together” started, the back of the stage shone bright to reveal several members of the various US Armed Forces—some in full dress, others in combat fatigues—all singing along with the chorus. The entire crowd stood and applauded throughout the rest of the song. And when the song ended, one gent embraced Joel at center stage as the fans started chanting “U…S…A.!!!!” repeatedly.
THE BEST SONG OF THE NIGHT, PART I (NON-JOEL CATEGORY): Joel introduced a guitar tech roadie by the nickname of “Chainsaw”, who came out in black t-shirt, shorts and sneakers, and proceeded to do a fairly decent imitation of the late Bon Scott as the band (with Joel on guitar) tore into AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”.
THE SPINAL TAP MOMENT: During “Highway To Hell”, many in the older segment of the crowd (in their 40s and 50s), relinquished their yuppie facades and got down with the tune. I must admit, I almost peed my pants watching several women try to give the “Devil’s Horns” sign, but instead unknowingly give the Hawaiian “Aloha!” hand-signal. (Ladies, for future reference, it’s index finger and pinky, not thumb and pinky.)
THE BEST SONG(S) OF THE NIGHT, PART II (JOEL CATEGORY): You couldn’t go wrong with the piano workout opener of “Prelude (Angry Young Man)”, but there were others. Things that Joel rarely played sounded fresh and crisp (“Laura”, “All For Leyna”, “Zanzibar”, and “Stiletto” qualify), and of the biggies, by far, the best was “Movin’ Out”. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” was an audience sing-along, while “Piano Man” wrapped things up in a nice, tidy package.
BEST LINE OF THE NIGHT BY JOEL: (And I quote) “You know, every song I write is true in some way, except for this next song - it’s total bullshit.’’ He then played “Honesty”. Classic.