Saturday, September 5, 2009

Billy Joel - October 8, 1993

The first time I ever saw Billy Joel perform live, he had a cold that would cut the concert short and ruin my image of him as a live performer. I was used to seeing marathon concerts the likes of AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen. Shortened concerts were foreign to me and didn’t do much to enhance the reputation of the entertainer. I still feel that way to this day. Performers who just go through the motions are not worthy of my money. This show would cost me $30, which compared with today’s ticket prices seems like a steal, but in 1993, $30 was a lot of money for a concert. Billy would redeem himself the next time I would see him, but on that October night, I was not happy with one of my favorite artists.

Joel was supporting what would turn out to be his last album of new studio material, River of Dreams. I don’t remember how we got the tickets, but I remember that we were going with my girlfriend (who later became my first wife), her sister (who never liked me, although I was never quite sure why), and Tony, her sister’s boyfriend (who later married her sister).

Driving into New York City, on our way to Madison Square Garden where the concert was being held, Tony mentioned that he heard Billy Joel was sick and he was worried that the show might be cancelled due to health concerns. The concert was still on, but we all wondered how much could a person with a cold or the flu give? Would he be able to deliver a great performance?

We got to the Garden garage and parked the car. The tension was in the air the whole ride over from New Jersey. While we were all being nice to one another, there was that uneasy feeling hanging over us. Nancy’s sister and I were like oil and water, and yet Nancy always wanted us to do things together. Well, it was her sister, I understand.

Tony was a great guy and I always liked him a lot. We even went to see AC/DC together years later. His girlfriend (and future wife) however… Unfortunately in life, sometimes there are people that you just can’t get along with no matter how hard you try. They give off a certain aura that clashes with others, in this case, hers clashed with mine. Constantly.

In support of a new album Billy Joel kicked off with No Man’s Land a hard rocker from River of Dreams, which was an album that I loved. Personally, I was a huge fan of anything the man put out, but River of Dreams was high on my list of great works at the time.

Billy apologized for not sounding as clear as he could and admitted that he did have a cold, but there was no way that he was going to cancel the show. This brought a roar from the crowd, but I was skeptical. How was he going to give us a good performance if he was sick?

Some great songs were played that night. Pressure, New York State of Mind, Angry Young Man, I Go To Extremes, and It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me, just to name a few. This was my first time seeing Billy Joel live and I was soaking in every moment. I had enjoyed Billy Joel since childhood, almost for as long as I loved Bob Seger. Seeing Billy Joel live was a milestone for me.

This was also my first time visiting Madison Square Garden. I had never been there for any event before, so having Billy Joel as my first Garden event was special. Seeing a childhood hero play in his hometown arena was nice. And while I didn’t have a chance to take it all in, I could tell that the Garden was special. Now, it is probably my favorite concert venue, because every time I go there, you can tell what a magical building it is.

Billy did cut the concert short that night (compared to the other times I’ve seen him). After 90 minutes, he came out to sing his final song of the night, Piano Man. This was an electrifying moment that sent chills all over my body. The entire audience stood up and swayed back and forth, most people with arms around one another, and we all sang. Every word to the entire song. We sang it loud and Billy played the piano and sang with us. I still smile thinking of that moment.

And then it was over. He said goodnight, received his applause, and was gone. While the concert itself was decent, I didn’t think it was superior. The length of time really bothered me, and I understood that he had a cold, but it still wasn’t sitting right with me. Springsteen was better. Jersey was better.

It would be more than 6 years before I would see Billy Joel again. On that night, he would make up for everything and give the performance of a lifetime, but on a chilled October evening in 1993, I left the Garden disappointed. And to make things worse, I still had to drive home with my future sister-in-law.

No Man’s Land
New York State of Mind
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
The River Of Dreams
Prelude/Angry Young Man
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
My Life
I Go To Extremes
An Innocent Man
The Downeaster Alexa
Goodnight Saigon
All About Soul
We Didn’t Start The Fire
It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
You May Be Right
Purple Haze
Only The Good Die Young
Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
Piano Man

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