Saturday, February 21, 2009

Billy Joel - February 11, 2006

On a snow filled winter’s night I was going to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, one of the jewels of New York City. As the clouds thickened and the threat of snow loomed ominously in the background, I was meeting my good friend, Alicia, and we were going to see Billy Joel, snow be damned!

Billy Joel was in the midst of an extensive tour, supporting his box set, My Lives. Over the course of three months he had a dozen shows scheduled at the Garden, and six more in nearby Hartford, Connecticut. The evening promised to be nothing but hits, as there was no new album in many years. Every song performed would be a classic.

The house lights dropped, the crowd roared, and the opening piano twill of Angry Young Man filled the arena. I got instant chills, as this was one of my favorite Joel songs. Billy’s voice was in top form, and he came to entertain. Filled with energy and passion, there was going to be a masterful performance at the world’s most famous arena.

Joel introduced the night after the opening song, laughing about how there was just a little snow outside and that wasn’t going to stop us from having a great time. The crowd roared their approval as he segued into My Life.

Hit after hit were performed. The Entertainer, Miami 2017, New York State of Mind, Say Goodbye To Hollywood, Allentown, Big Shot, You May Be Right, and many others filled the arena while many a sing-along could be heard.

Seated in front of my friend and I, were a row of young women, somewhere in their early 20s. By the second song of the night, we noticed they were holding hands and hugging. Alicia looked at me and asked if I thought they might be lesbians. Heck, anything was possible, but I didn’t know for sure. These women were young and very attractive, so who knew?

Well, by the time The Entertainer was played, we received confirmation. The girls in front of us were pretty lit at that point, and two of them started to make out. They were literally one seat in front of me; so of course, I had to enjoy the sideshow before I could go back to what Billy was doing.

In all of my years and all of my concerts, this is the most bizarre, off-stage moment I’ve ever witnessed – a row of lesbians, drinking, caressing, and kissing each other at a Billy Joel concert. Their night would end shortly before the encores when one of the girls vomited all over herself and she and her (girl) friend had to excuse themselves. The rest of the gang followed and that would be their exodus of the night.

Billy, obviously oblivious to what was happening in the 300s behind him, continued to tear it up on stage. Keeping the Faith sounded so incredible it was almost as if I was hearing it for the first time.

The magic of Billy Joel is his ability to be true and real with the crowd. He told stories of aging, his divorce, his bout with alcoholism, and how he was no longer drinking. He was a true New Yorker, just telling it like it is.

During Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, he sang, “a bottle of red, a bottle of white, I won’t be having either one tonight,” a humorous play at his recent problems. That was what brought him on the road in the first place, he needed to get away and travel. It served him well, because it was the best performance I ever saw out of him, and that includes the millennium concert I attended.

Piano Man, of course, was the highlight of the evening. In a swaying circle, the entire Garden were on their feet, singing every word at the top of their lungs, with Billy playing the piano, but allowing us do most of the singing. An amazing way to end an amazing, eventful, evening.

Going home was another story. The train ride to the station in Jersey was packed, but not a bad commute. However, stepping out of the train and into the snow filled late night/early morning was a little concerning. There had to be almost a foot of snow on the ground and no plows had bothered to come through. If they did, the snow filled the road again before they could finish.

What would normally take under 30 minutes, ended up taking over two hours. Fortunately for Alicia, she lived in Hoboken, so she was able to take the path home. I sat and fought the snow, and the snow almost won. At one point I was stuck on a hill, the car not going up, and there was no traction to be had. Suddenly, a salt truck came by at just the right moment, and I jumped behind him, getting my tires into his salted grooves and continued my long ride home.

I was glad to have gone out without letting the weather deter me; seeing that particular performance was an experience worth the hassles. The hits, the passion, and the love and respect he gave the crowd made all the other nonsense worth it. If you told me Billy was coming back for the next big blizzard, I would definitely be there for the show. And don’t forget to call the lesbians.

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