Billy Joel celebrated the New Year in grand style this year: he played a 24-song, 150-minute set predominantly made up of his seemingly endless array of hit singles, but also a few deep-cuts. In front of a 20,000 near-capacity crowd Joel also wished to commemorate or, at least, cap off a hugely successful 2015: he married again, his wife had a child. He also maintains an in-demand residency at Madison Square Garden. Joel quipped: “I ain’t in no big hurry for next year.” Billy Joel was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Amazingly, Joel’s set featured tracks from a precise total of 11 studio albums – from his sophomore album Piano Man (1973) to River of Dreams (1993). However, Joel placed certain emphasis on four LPs, all from the late ’70s save for one: Turnstiles (1976), The Stranger (1977),52nd Street (1978), and Glass Houses (1980). Several covers, too, were showcased: a Led Zeppelin trifecta, including “Rock and Roll”; The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”; ZZ Top’s “Tush”; and Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne”. On the whole, though, Joel unleashed a veritable hit parade that was appreciated by both young and old alike; and Joel eschewed ostentation in favor of strict musicianship; it’s safe to presume that David LaChapelle wasn’t consulted.
As to highlights, two bona fide gems from Turnstiles — non-singles — most certainly won the night: “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” and, of course, “New York State of Mind”. “Miami 2017” was quite incisively re-imaged as a loud rocker in the vein of McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”, but with flashing lights and a dual electric guitar onslaught, no pyrotechnics; “Miami 2017” has attained greater historical resonance since 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. Joel’s rendition of “New York State of Mind” was utterly matchless; it was a prime example of his simple, poignant lyricism combined with a slow, purposeful Beatlesque melody.
Joel invited three special guests to the concert. To do the countdown, Joel brought out radio provocateur Howard Stern and TV’s Jimmy Kimmel. Stern opined that it was not particularly warm in New York, and as a comic bit Stern kissed Joel at midnight. Earlier, Joel arranged for actor Kevin James to introduce “Miami 2017”. James feebly played the intro before Joel masterfully accomplished the feat. Singer Gavin DeGraw joined Joel on the latter’s “You May Be Right”.
Regarding Joel’s hit singles, the romantic “She’s Always a Woman”, from The Stranger, was most impressive, as was the Four Seasons homage “Uptown Girl”, from An Innocent Man (1983), during which Joel strutted on stage with his microphone stand. The consummate “Only the Good Die Young”, also from The Stranger, was unforgettable. But it was undoubtedly jazz-rock numbers “Zanzibar”, from 52nd Street, and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, from The Stranger, that proved to be unsung heroes. On “Zanzibar”, Carl Fischer’s trumpet solo was exquisite, welcoming; on “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, Mark Rivera’s saxophone work was all but peerless. The Springsteen-like, Reagan-era critique “Allentown”, from The Nylon Curtain (1982), was nicely performed.
Some fairly important songs were sadly missed, but that’s par for the course: “Just the Way You Are”, “An Innocent Man”, “Vienna”, “Angry Young Man”, “She’s Got a Way”, “Tell Her About It”, “Big Man on Mulberry Street”. Also, Joel scratched “Souvenir”, from Streetlife Serenade (1974) and “Keeping the Faith”, from An Innocent Man, from the set. “Big Shot” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” probably could have been swapped out for other material.
Billy Joel unlocked the door to his hit factory in South Florida. His songs tonight happened to be as classic as they were dated; that is, they were both timeless and historical. One of the finest concerts this year.
01. My Life
03. This is the Time
04. The Longest Time
05. The Entertainer
07. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
08. Say Goodbye to Hollywood
09. Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway)
10. New York State of Mind
12. Sometimes a Fantasy
13 .Don’t Ask Me Why
14. She’s Always a Woman
15. Auld Lang Syne
16. The River of Dreams
17. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
18. We Didn’t Start the Fire
19. Uptown Girl
20. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
21. Big Shot
22. You May Be Right / Rock and Roll
23. Only the Good Die Young
24. Piano Man