The time to scratch that itch for real came about this week when I finally cashed in the birthright of millions of my neighbors and saw the man perform a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden. There was something more satisfying to having "won" our tickets by bidding on them at a PTA auction for our son's school; it felt good to contribute but as it turned out, the seats were donated from the "band friends & family" pool and so we learned as we entered we had excellent seats in the lower bowl, very close to the stage.
Until now I'd only seen him riding his bike around Huntington and getting ice cream with Christie Brinkley at Baskin Robbins while they were still secretly dating 40 years ago.
Billy is front and center with a grand piano on a rotating platform. His seven-member band of course is top-notch; we'd seen Mark Rivera (sax, tambornie, vocals etc) lead the "Breakfast w/ the Beatles" band before. The guitar player, Mike DelGuidice, was an excellent singer who did some Zeppelin snippets (Kashmir, Rock n Roll).
We got a kick out of all the dressed-up Long Island Moms in attendance.
Just like the outstanding SONGS IN THE ATTIC, recorded on the same stage 38 years before, he opened with a stirring "Miami 2017" and we were off.
Billy was in good spirits and good voice, mentioning he'd just turned 69 ("I used to like that number."). My brother, who used to work at the Garden tells a story of watching Billy rehearse a show as part of his Elton John tour years back only to get so drunk during the course of the day he couldn't go on that night, but Billy is apparently clean and sober now and whatever he was drinking came out of a mug. He dedicated "Don't Ask Me Why" to a little girl in the audience I guess was a granddaughter seated near us. The first half of the show was what he called "fielder's choice," letting the crowd choose which of two songs off various albums they would perform. I won with "Vienna" (over "Just the Way You Are," thank the lord, and with "Zanzibar," (over "Stilletto"), but lost big time with "She's Got A Way" (over "Everybody Loves You Now"). I cheered for "Root Beer Rag" over "The Entertainer" but the latter was performed and turned out to be one of the better selections on the night.
It's Fleet Week here, and so as "Goodnight Saigon" starts a dozen uniformed sailors come out on stage and sing the chorus arm in arm. It was cheesy but the audience loved it and learned the True Meaning of Memorial Day. That's as political as Billy dares to be. I would have liked him to rip Trump a new one and challenge his fans in a new verse or two of "We Didn't Start the Fire" but Billy hasn't bothered. Twenty-five years without a new pop album!
I mentioned this to my friend Edward who in no time had penned a clever suggestion:
Give it a shot, Billy. If I can change, you can change!Mike Pence, Manafort, kneeling players ruin the sportSean Spicer, Kelly Ann, the truth about crowd sizeHealth care, got no plan, gotta do a Muslim ban!Fox News, Hannity, parrot all my liesRonny Jackson says "Great shape!" Mueller, find the pee-pee tapeUS Nazis, they're so fine, Putin is a friend of mineFuck our allies from the West, Mexico don't send the best!Sheriff Joe gets a pardon! DAUGHTER GIVES ME SUCH A HARD-ON!We didn't start the fire!Obama lit it! O, Fake News, admit it!We didn't start the fire!There was no collusion! It was a spies intrusion!
The hard bargain of the Billy Joel MSG phenomenon played out as he totally went "back wall" with "Stop in Nevada" off PIANO MAN and folks went flying to the men's room and hardly any remaining audience members even applauded. I thought, do you need to hear "New York State of Mind" again? Me, I got up and peed for "Italian Restaurant" -- another chestnut beaten into banality for me by way too many classic-rock radio spins.
I enjoyed the three-sax chorus in "Movin' Out" and the brass was activated again for "Half A Mile Away," which Joel described as a "fukuka" song the band had never before performed live. I could barely believe that was true; in my Southside Johnny-influenced youth that was one of my favorites. "I Go To Extremes" on the other hand came out after I'd already decided Billy Joel was the uncoolest guy ever and would never listen to him again on purpose, but everyone including me enjoyed that one quite a bit.
After a while I feel into a spell thinking how much of Billy's Winning Streak material was just ripped off stylistically from others, performing the one he ripped off from the Cars ("Sometimes A Fantasy") and the one nicked from Graceland-era Paul Simon ("Middle of the Night"). Billy to his credit never considered being "derivative" a criticism. I guess we all have a idea of what Billy Joel ought to be (for me the post-singer-songwriter, pre-superstar TURNSTILES is the ideal) but he is what he is. There was just no way to stop him from playing Side A of his Greatest Hits at the encore.
He is The Entertainer.
Don't Ask Me WhyVienna
She's Got a Way
(Followed by 'Kashmir' (Led Zeppelin) snippet)
Stop in Nevada
New York State of Mind
Half a Mile Away
She's Always a Woman
I Go to Extremes
Sometimes a Fantasy
The River of Dreams
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
We Didn't Start the Fire
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
(with "Rock and Roll" (Led Zeppelin) snippet)