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Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden, Friday, May 27th, 2016, Reviewed


If you love Billy Joel, on the nostalgia circuit he stands head and shoulders above everyone else. From Elton John to Paul McCartney, they all take a back seat to Joel’s fresh as a spring day takes on songs he has sung for forty years plus. Yesterday, the 29th performance of his once a month residency at Madison Square Garden (and 75th MSG gig overall), he gave a  27 song, 135 minute salute to his catalog, to the troops, to summer, to us. I haven’t seen Billy since August 2014, and astoundingly, he has improved since then. Jettisoning an opening act, he was loose, funny, friendly and in  control. MSG was completely sold out, even behind the stage was gone, and the entire audience were in for a truly magnificent performance.

With an almost ridiculous ease, Billy kept the audience overjoyed for song after song after song from his huge catalog of hits. Also, a handful of covers or at least snippets with a secret theme, see if you can figure out what it was: “Summertime Blues”, “Theme From A Summer Place”, “The Boys Of Summer”, “Summer In The City… anyone, anyone?

There is something so assertive and positive about Joel’s performance, his only special effects terrific lighting, great LCD screens and a carousel for his piano so we all get to see him, Billy lead his band and his audience with well rehearsed patter and a looseness that frees him up to play it all as he chooses. He hits all the places you know he will, opener “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”, early “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, mid show “New York State of Mind”, and closing “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man”, before a six song encore. It was better than Bruce’s “The River” set earlier this year.

I’ve seen Billy maybe ten times, I saw him close down Shea Stadium, and four times during the 12 Nights At The Garden residency, and this was the best. No real reason, it wasn’t that he was so much better than usual, it is just that in the 18 months since I last caught him here, he has improved his pacing and improved on the place between ease and distractions.  Indeed, setlist wise he missed “The Longest Time” (though we did get “Keeping The Faith”) and his greatest achievement “And So It Goes”, and while a jungle beat wilding “The River Of Dreams” was the best I’ve ever heard it, nothing else was.

Billy is a real working class hero, a Long Island native he seems to have never left the hood, never let model wives and girlfriends, fame and mansions change the former pugilist, he still comes at us from the same place where we stand. He is a pleasure to watch because he gives the impression, we could all be in a bar together watching her, standing him a beer. He embraces his fame and his gifts without really letting them change him.

Billy still pounds the keyboards hard, more Jerry Lee Lewis than Liberace, though he’d prefer Ray Charles, his band can be a little too loud, though that’s really nitpicking, and he looked a little silly holding a guitar for “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me”, but that is really really nitpicking.The show was a delight from beginning to end, this is nostalgia for people who want their nostalgia by artistic pros.

Grade:  A

1 Comment

  1. Jack Phillips on May 31, 2016 at 10:06 am

    Billy really is New York royalty. I haven’t seen him in years but remember his 1984 show at The Forum in LA. He was climbing up the wires to the overhead speakers. I know that MSG is THE place to see him but I also wish he’d play a more intimate venue once in a while. I suppose the Café Carlyle is out of the question but I’d buy the video if he did a small show there.

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