BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | Valentine’s Day with Billy Joel guaranteed the performance of some of his best known wedding songs. Although Joel may be best remembered for “Just the Way You Are” and similar love songs, he is also a rocker. That he did at his 88th monthly and 134th lifetime show at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 14.
Introducing songs early in the show, Joel reflected on how each number was or was not in line with Valentine’s Day sentimentality. The underlying message was that the set list was not necessarily designed to align with a love theme, and that some of his lyrics pointed in the opposite direction. Some songs were for holding hands, while others, including the hard-rocking covers of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” were more for fist-pumping in the air.
Joel has not recorded a hit song in 30 years, yet his catalog is so robust with popular songs that he entertained nonstop for nearly three hours. Among his chart-topping (Top 10) songs that he performed were “My Life,” “You May Be Right,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Just the Way You Are,” “Uptown Girl,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “The River of Dreams,” among his numerous classic rockers. In addition to his familiar tunes, Joel and his band frequently wove snippets of other artists’ songs that paralleled his anecdotes and songs.
Some of these interludes were for comical effect. Referring to his advanced age, for instance, he announced, “You know, at this point, I ain’t no Mick Jagger.” The band launched into the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” Joel sang the lyrics and imitated some of Jagger’s trademark stage moves.
At age 73, Joel remains in strong voice. To introduce “An Innocent Man,” he moved away from his piano bench and explained that he had to sing the song standing. He added that when he wrote it as a young man, he had not thought about how he would have to hit its high notes later in life. He not only scaled from the low notes in the verses to the high notes in the choruses, he also returned to his piano and followed by singing a snippet of Frankie Valli’s “Sherry,” repeating the jump from low tones to falsetto.
Song after song, story after story, sitting at a revolving piano or standing and spinning his microphone stand, Joel entertained. Supported by a band of tight, professional musicians, he brought his vintage songs to new life. Some arrangements sounded very close to the recorded versions, and others were enhanced by extended guitar and horn breaks. At key points, his musicians moved forward to center stage to punctuate the bridges in his songs. Bright lights and video accompaniment likewise accented the spectacle.
For years, Joel has said in interviews that he is no longer interested in writing and recording new songs. Nevertheless, he continues to thrive on live performances. While his fans might be eager to hear new compositions, his New York fans are more than satisfied with his retrospective residency once each month at Madison Square Garden.
- Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
- My Life (introduced with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy)
- Everybody Loves You Now (with a snippet of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s My Funny Valentine)
- Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
- An Innocent Man (introduced with the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up)
- Zanzibar (introduced with the Four Seasons’ Sherry)
- Don’t Ask Me Why (introduced with Warren Zevon’s Lawyers, Guns and Money)
- Just the Way You Are
- Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin cover, sung by Mike DelGuidice)
- The Entertainer
- She’s Got a Way
- Sunshine of Your Love (Cream cover)
- New York State of Mind
- The Downeaster Alexa
- She’s Always a Woman
- Sometimes a Fantasy
- Only the Good Die Young
- The River of Dreams (with an interlude of Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High sung by Crystal Taliefero)
- Nessun dorma (Giacomo Puccini cover, sung a cappella by Mike DelGuidice)
- Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
- Piano Man
- We Didn’t Start the Fire
- Uptown Girl
- It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
- Big Shot
- You May Be Right (with an interlude of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll sung by Mike DelGuidice)
For more of Everynight Charley Crespo’s coverage of the city’s music scene, check out The Manhattan Beat.