Billy Joel At Madison Square Garden, Wednesday, December 20th, 2017, Reviewed
You can’t go home again. Last year’s Billy Joel Christmas performance at Madison Square Garden (here) was among the best I saw all decade, last night’s Christmas performance, both part of his ongoing residency, moving into its fifth year, was far from the best.
I went with a friend of mine who had never seen Joel before, and another friend who has seen him plenty of times: the former thought he was great, the latter thought it was a huge disappointment, so, yes, if it was your first time, you might disagree vigorously with my opinion, if not, well there was a lot to be upset about… There was something rote about the performance, the interpolation of Christmas songs was forced and random, the “choose” a song, where Joel offers two songs off an album and we decide through applause was relentless. Joel felt removed from the action, what used to be sincere interaction became schtick and cliché. The playing was fine, last night’s “New York State Of Mind” was among the best I’ve ever had, and if you are going to have a featured artist then by all means have Steve Miller performing “The Joker” on electric guitar with Joel pounding it out right next to him,
Even so, the show was missing something. Mid-show in Christmas 2016 he performed a run of songs, “New York State Of Mind” to “The Longest Time” to “Keeping The Faith,” both rare for his live shows, and superb. Last night he followed “New York State Of Mind” with “Moving Out,” and “My Life,” business as usual. Not bad, but not an earthquake either.
Billy got it wrong from the beginning:
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Prelude/Angry Young Man
She’s Right on Time
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
A Matter of Trust
She’s Got a Way
The problem is, those two songs in the middle of the run. “A Matter Of Trust” and “She’s Got A Way,” He stalled the start with a couple of minor songs. With Billy, we know the last two songs and we know, more or less, the encore. A lot of it is written in stone, it’s what the audience want and he is the entertainer, but it is where he sets them, and what he misses. The set got derailed twice.
Also, he didn’t seem into it so much. Sure, Billy can rise to the occasion: when you are getting paid something in the nature of two million bucks for a night’s work, you better rise to the occasion, but that doesn’t mean he’s having fun. Much like the Christmas music he popped in every song or so, he seemed to working in a musical vacuum, the motions were good but they were motions that seemed to fall out of the Billy Joel New York experience, perfunctory.
In a word: it was a bore.
Sure, I am judging Billy by his own, unique standard. But judged by that standard, this was a disappointment.