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Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden, December 20th, 2021, Reviewed

“Thanks for coming tonight, you had to wait a year and a half… what a pain in the ass. I really appreciate you coming here tonight. It’s dicey out there. A little scary…” Billy Joel was looking every inch his 72 years, his right eye was swollen so much it was almost closed, he has lost 50 pounds in weight but he looked better bigger, and when he walked he limped, when he stuck on his guitar to strum the chords to “We Didn’t Start The Fire” he was static and when he roared through “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” he twirled the mic stand with abandon but didn’t even attempt to dance, his voice was a little rusty but his piano playing was on point.

Yet of all the concerts Billy has ever performed (last night was the 75th of the Madison Square Garden Residency since January 2014 – once a month with a break of 21 months due to the pandemic) last night was the only act of defiance for him and for us. Omicron is racing through the city, office blocks are still empty, masks are mandatory, vaccines and booster are essential, and the vibe this December went from the beginning of the end to the end of the beginning; less his own “Vienna” waits for you (the fourth song of the evening) and more goodnight Vienna. New York City needs to weather the pandemic and sooner rather than later, and just when it seemed to be happening, we get a super-contagious variation and if it had been deadlier (it settles on the chest not the lungs) we’d be looking at mass graves.

Into this winter of our discontent, Billy and we roll the dice and there we were yesterday. This is my third Christmas with the First Joel, and the first since December 2019 -“What can I do? I’m a blue Jew on Christmas” he crooned in the Elvis Presley meets da Bing he uses from time to time (one year he appeared on Elvis’s birthday and did a great imitation, “thankyouverymuch”, in Elvis’s trademark between the songs, then pretended to search the crowd for the King of rock). He has dumped the song contests -no longer giving the audience the opportunity to choose between two songs through applause and it isn’t missed. In 2019 we got 24 songs, yesterday we got 29 songs. Including some Christmas ones as usual, the best being a fine “White Christmas” and a spontaneous “Frosty The Snowman,” the latter introduced with a “Let’s see how much we can fuck this up”. Perhaps the best of the Christmas songs was a straight up, no chaser “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” whose story of families torn apart due to war fits right into our December, the “if the fates allow” like a threat.

Joel’s best trick at MSG is to have a looseness that allows him to do anything he chooses, the song choices were a little obscure, and after the fourth time he noted that this was not a hit, he pondered aloud who put together the setlist, then reminisced about watching a two and half hour Led Zeppelin blues concert at the same venue while finally realizing he wasn’t getting the hits. He segued into a clearly improvised mid Zep set of “Good Times Bad Times”, “Dazed and Confused” and “Kashmir” with saxophonist Mark Rivera singing a pretty darn good Robert Plant.

Naturally, Billy’s hits are the point and while he doles em out slowly and in between you have to wonder why he stuck us with “She’s Right On Time” (“I guess we won’t be doing that one anymore”) and the best rock moment “Sleeping With the Television On”. The single best moment was Billy’s solo on piano “And So It Goes” -that may be the best song he has written and includes his best couplet, written to a much younger lover, “And so it goes, and so will you soon I suppose” -which along with “I’ve been a fool for lesser things” are part of my lexicon (we get zero from An Innocent Man).

From the last third of the concert to the last encore we get the hits and while I have a problem, I dislike both “Songs From An Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man,” his reward for the greatest hits is the same as every time he plays em -an enraptured audience. Of the hits the bossa nova “Don’t Ask Me Why” was bliss.

These are strange, disturbing times. Who knows how it ends? But Billy and I will be gone soon I suppose, so enjoy him while you can.

Grade: B+

2 Comments

  1. Cathy Dupuis on December 21, 2021 at 9:12 am

    You, Iman my friend will never be gone! You will live forever ❤️

    • admin on December 21, 2021 at 9:13 am

      sorry but you are the one with ever lasting youth -IL

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