Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Concert Review: Billy Joel - August 7, 2014

Perhaps you’ve heard that Billy Joel is serving as the resident house band for Madison Square Garden and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Perhaps you’ve also heard that every show he’s done at Madison Square Garden since taking up this residency has been sold out. Perhaps you’ve heard that every show for 2015 is already sold out and these are some of the hottest tickets to come by. All of those statements are true, which makes me feel blessed that I had the opportunity to see him during one of these monumental performances.

Last summer was a very interesting period in my life. I left a decent, secure job for a substantial pay raise, and then promptly left that job after 6 weeks due to horrendous quality of life. That decision found me unemployed for the first time in years. I went from a substantial raise to a substantial pay cut in a matter of weeks and scrambled to find decent employment. I went as far as applying for work at UPS and Target. Hey, I’m not too proud. Whatever it takes to put bread on the table. Unfortunately for me, the jobs were not answering the call. By the time August rolled around, I had been out of work for two months and was desperate and concerned. I needed to find work soon or my financial life was going to be destroyed.

About two weeks before the concert, I decided to go online to see what tickets for our Billy Joel concert were being sold for on the secondary market. After some quick research, I realized that I could easily get more than $500 for our pair of tickets. At a time when my income was zero, that was almost a no brainer. I had to sell those tickets. After a long conversation with my wife however, I was talked out of that idea. She helped me understand my panic and explained to me that everything was going to be okay, so we might as well enjoy the concert. I was still a little scared, but our talk was enough for me to agree to see the show.

It was a warm August night in the city and I felt great. I had been spending most of my summer stuck in the house, counting coins, and feverishly searching for a job. Being able to get out for a night of old school rock and roll was an absolute joy to me. And we had really great seats not too far from the left of the stage. They were definitely the best seats I ever had to see Billy Joel live.

As we settled in and waited for the opening act to take the stage, I noticed how packed The Garden was. I knew it was a sold out show, but it was also a show that no one wanted to miss. Before the opening talent of Gavin DeGraw even came onstage, every seat in Madison Square Garden was filled. It was near impossible to spot an empty one. That’s how hot these tickets were.

Prior to our arrival, I had no idea that Billy Joel had an opening act. So it was a pleasant surprise to see Gavin DeGraw take the stage before Billy Joel. I did not know much about Gavin DeGraw. I never really listened to any of his music for whatever reason. However, watching him live, I realized that the man is quite a talent. I was very impressed by his opening set. And although I haven’t run out to buy his music, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to see him in concert again.

After the warm up act left the stage, and the packed house grew restless, the lights went out and it was time for the main event. I felt the wave of euphoria wash over me as Billy Joel walked onto the stage, sat at the piano, and hit the opening notes of “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)”. A roar of approval was given and we were off and running. Before I was a Dave Matthews Band fan, before I was a Pearl Jam fan, and long before I was a KISS fan, I was a Billy Joel fan. He was the second rocker I fell in love with after Bob Seger. Throughout junior high school I listened to him endlessly and he was definitely my first favorite artist. Seeing him perform on that summer night in New York City was a real special treat for me and during that opening song, I was exceptionally pleased that we had not sold the tickets.

As was common practice for his residency run at Madison Square Garden, Billy Joel was playing the hits and the deep cuts. He was also allowing the audience opportunities to pick the songs they wanted to hear. The first opportunity came on the fourth song of the evening. Billy said that by way of audience applause he would perform one of two songs. The first choice was “Summer Highland Falls” which got a roaring ovation. It appeared that was going to win before the next choice was even announced. Then “Vienna” was laid out as the second option. The roar was even louder and I screamed as loud as I could. I wanted to hear that song live. Thankfully, “Vienna” won the first audience choice.

“Vienna” is one of my all time favorite Billy Joel songs and it also has a lot of deep personal meaning in my own life. During a dark time in my life, I listened to that song a lot. It taught me about slowing down, enjoying what I had in life, and it helped me to realize there is so much more ahead. It was just the reminder I needed at that time in my life as well.

Deep cuts were plentiful including “The Stranger,” “All For Lena,” and “Sometimes A Fantasy.” The latter two songs were both played due to a virtual tie in audience applause. That made me extremely grateful as “Sometimes A Fantasy” is my second favorite Billy Joel song. Hearing that and “Vienna” on the same night was a dream come true.

The last audience vote was so lopsided, it was comical. Billy announced the first choice of “Where’s The Orchestra” and almost nobody clapped. “Okay…” was his response. “I guess we’ll just play the other song.” He mentioned that he may have to take “Where’s The Orchestra” out of the setlist after that reaction, which got a great laugh. The other song, “And So It Goes” was then performed.

Throughout the night Joel talked about how he had the greatest job in the world being the house band for Madison Square Garden. He had no intentions of stopping and loved only having to work one night a month. As long as the tickets kept selling, he would continue to perform. Currently, all of his performances for 2015 are sold out and I have a feeling that 2016 dates will be announced soon.

Even in his mid-sixties, Billy Joel still gives incredible, high energy performances. His voice sounds great, his sense of humor is still intact, and he still connects with his audience. His performance that night was near flawless, proving that he is still a force to be reckoned with in the live setting.

My only complaint for the evening was his decision to perform the AC/DC classic, “Highway To Hell.” While I love the song, and have no problems with Joel doing a cover song, it was how the song was performed that bothered me. Billy brought someone up on stage to sing the song while he performed it on guitar. And while I do not know who the person brought up on stage was, I know that he did not know the lyrics and just flubbed his way through it. It was like seeing a bad, drunken, karaoke performance at the local gin mill. It was just awful. Thankfully there were still plenty of hits to come.

The main set closed out with “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man,” the huge crowd pleasers. The roar of approval was near deafening and everyone was up on their feet dancing and singing along. And although the main set was finished, Joel wasn’t even close to done.

The encore consisted of five huge hits starting with “Uptown Girl.” For whatever reason, Christie Brinkley was in the front row that evening and the house cameras found her during “Uptown Girl.” Joel even moved to the front of the stage and sang a couple of lines to her. It was a fun moment for all. “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me,” “Big Shot,” You May Be Right” and “Only The Good Die Young” closed out the night in perfect fashion. Four huge, hard rocking hits to end the evening. Fantastic!

That summer night could have been the best performance I ever saw out of Billy Joel, rivaling his New Year’s Eve performance from many years earlier. At the end of the night, overwhelmed and overjoyed, I thanked my wife for talking me into keeping our tickets. I still had some tough times ahead, but for that one night, I completely forgot all of my worries and enjoyed a grand night of exceptional rock and roll.

Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)
The Entertainer
The Downeaster Alexa
The Stranger
New York State Of Mind
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
All For Lena
Sometimes A Fantasy
And So It Goes
My Life
She’s Always A Woman
Don’t Ask Me Why
We DIdn’t Start The Fire
Highway To Hell
The River Of Dreams
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Piano Man
Uptown Girl
It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me
Big Shot
You May Be Right
Only The Good Die Young

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