Billy Joel Performs The 50th Night Of His Madison Square Garden residency, Wednesday, March 28th, 2018
There is a thing about comfort levels for pop stars, sometimes it can work for you: sometimes your ease is Zen like, you can just lean back and let the evening enfold secure in the knowledge that you can snap it shut tight, or let it drift, as the mood takes you. Wednesday nights performance was the 50th of Billy Joel’s immensely successful Madison Square Garden residency, selling out at 20,000 seats a night for over four years. To my knowledge, he has missed (and subsequently made up) a total of two performances in all that time. Overall, Wednesday’s performance was the 96th time he has been at MSG. As Bob Dylan said to Elvis Costello when Elvis asked if he ever got nervous before a gig: “I wish”. Sometimes Billy is so content that he is complacent.
For me, this is the fifth time I have seen Billy during this residency and I, like him, take the venue and the evening entirely for granted, like going to Ramones show in the 70s, I assumed . The VP of the advertising agency I work for, Larry Schneiderman, who was at Woodstock and knows a thing or two about classic rock, was in the twelfth row with his wife and family and texted me “So far this is great”. I agreed, but not on a curve. Of the times I have seen Billy there this was the third best, after a top of class 2016 Christmas show, and a May spectacular where he did extremely funny Elvis Presley (“Thankyouveryuch” while looking up to the rafters to check if Elvis was there). However, the last time I saw him I was really disappointed. Another Christmas show, a year later, was a dog. 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.
Wednesday nights performance had a couple of things to recommend it, Mark Messier showing up to help Billy raise the banner celebrating the occasion was nice, Jim Breuer, the Goat Boy from SNL, sang “You Shook Me All Night Long,” usually a band member handles “Highway To Hell,”, so that was funny. Schneiderman put Billy among the greats, somewhere around Bruce Springsteen and Elton John levels. “He hasn’t released a new song since 1992,” he noted.
At this point in the residency we know what we’re getting: the heart of the matter is the opener “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” the end of the sets “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man”‘ then the encore – where he gets to stand and strut what is left of his stuff, five hits culminating in “Only The Good Die Young”. You know that in the body of the set you’ll get “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),”New York State Of Mind,” and “She’s Always A Woman”. The variations come with his fielders choice, the audience decides between two songs off the album by cheering. Too often it is the lesser of two evils, on Monday he offered “All About Soul” or “No Man’s Land” -the answer, neither, is obvious. “That was the only thing I didn’t like about the evening,” Larry said.
Still, if you haven’t seen Billy, the MSG residency has become a must see institution and he has his 57th performance already on sale. Billy is looking old, Larry noted that he was out of breathe all evening, catch him while you can.