An Incredibly Personal Billy Joel Visitation
Music is incredibly personal. The artist who shares stories from moments in his life, turning emotions and experiences into words & notes, baring his soul to fans around the world for years and years. Or the fan who connects the artist’s music with moments in her life for years and years. Saturday night, June 2nd at Madison Square Garden seeing Billy Joel for the first time was one of those extraordinarily memorable moments bringing me back to a place and time I enjoyed revisiting.
Best I can recall (with the help of my sister, Michelle), it was the Winter of 1978 in Astoria, NY at my Nana’s apartment at 3044 32nd Street. My Uncle Bobby and Aunt Barbara lived with her and funny enough, my uncle resembled Billy Joel. 52nd Street was playing and Michelle mentioned to my uncle that she liked the album. When my Nana visited the following summer, she brought the album with her. We listened to 52nd Street (including my mother) hundreds of times. While this album was not my first experience with Billy’s music it has been etched in my mind for eternity. Notet: The fifth Joel album got its name from the address where it was recorded – A&R Recording Studios – 799 7th Avenue at 52nd Street. The album cover was taken outside the studio the summer of ’78.
In December of 2013, Billy Joel and Madison Square Garden announced the “first-ever music franchise at the world’s most famous arena” with his first performance on January 27, 2014 and monthly thereafter for “as long as there is demand”. Five years later, the 69-year-old music legend is still selling out his monthly performances at MSG. His charming personality, humor and wit throughout the show makes him very easy to like, giving the audience choices between songs, making fun of himself when he forgets lyrics or sings off key.
Joel opened the evening at 8:20P with Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) off his album Turnstiles which now, knowing the history of the song, was a phenomenal first choice. The title was written “from the point of view of an old man who moved to Florida in 2017 after New York was destroyed in an apocalypse. After Joel moved to Los Angeles in 1972, New York City fell on hard times. President Ford made it clear he would not bail out NYC. The Daily News’ sensationalized headline read: FORD to CITY: DROP DEAD. It is believed this headline cost him the election to Jimmy Carter in 1975. Joel returned the same year and composed the song thinking of the worst-case scenario – financial collapse, murder, looting” – Song Facts
You know those lights were bright on Broadway … That was so many years ago … Before we all lived here in Florida … Before the Mafia took over Mexico … There are not many who remember … They say a handful still survive … To tell the world about … The way the lights went out … And keep the memory alive … The song took on a new meaning after 9-11.
For two plus more hours, we got a chance to get to know Billy Joel. Enjoying his hit songs as well as more obscure choices and snippets of other high profile artists’ and stories along the way – Prince, The Beatles, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Puccini. I wondered if his setlist is somewhat regular – which I think could make the show get somewhat stale for him, especially. But it appears there is always something fresh added as I look back to past concerts and reviews.
In all, Billy played 31 songs – five of which were in the encore. Some of my personal favorite songs were Vienna, Movin’ Out, My Life, She’s Always a Woman, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, New York State of Mind with the NYC Skyline and streets of Manhattan on the screen and of course, Piano Man was fantastic, his last song before the encore.
We saw his ex-wife Christie Brinkley (on the screen) who was in the audience with the former couple’s daughters and received big cheers from the audience. Joel’s daughter Alexa Ray – with legs long as her hair and a phenomenal jazzy voice – singing Baby Grand with her dad. Note: Billy Joel and Ray Charles recorded this duet in 1982 and is one of his less familiar songs. Yes, Alexa Ray was named after Ray Charles.
Rolling Stones has a 100 Greatest Songwriter’s of All Time list and Billy Joel falls smack dab in the middle at #50 (Taylor Swift is #97 and Bob Dylan is #1) so pardon me if I need to research the story behind the songs. If time had permitted, I would have loved to do more detailed research because behind a song there is a story to tell.
If I had one complaint it was Big Shot (52nd Street). The timing seemed off and his voice a little rough but it was his 30th song of the evening and I only mention it because, I knew every word and couldn’t get the timing right to sing. Joel closed the evening with You May Be Right. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the exceptional music behind the man.
If you have not seen Billy Joel at MSG, or somewhere else, see him. It was an amazing night with my husband and our dear friends Jackie & Chuck who loved every moment of the evening as much as I did from an amazing meal at Becco (earnestly some of the best food I put in my mouth in a long time!) to the amazing music, excited and grateful crowd, two days of listening to great music to inspire the review of the legendary Entertainer, Billy Joel!
Thank you, Thomas Kilkenny! The seats were amazing!!