Billy Joel turned 65 years old on May 9. When you're as old as he is, you retire, have a party, collect your pension, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But when you're the sixth best-selling recording artist of all time, you just keep on working. The audience at the sold out US Airways Center knew when the first note was played on Joel's Steinway, the singer-songwriter really likes working. His dexterity on the ivories was apparent when he opened with "Miami 2017 (I've Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)," but when his band went into the keyboard heavy "Pressure," Joel remained seated while keyboardist Dave Rosenthal tickled the Kurzweil.
The Piano Man made it clear when the song ended that he wasn't the performer he was over 20 years ago when River of Dreams, his last album of original pop music, was released.
"I'm Billy Joel's dad. Billy couldn't make it tonight," he joked.
He talked like the eccentric grandfather at the family Christmas party. He cussed, regaled the audience with stories of touring with his friend Elton John (He sang "Your Song" until the line "I don't have much money" and exclaimed, "Bullshit! He's rich!"), and told dirty jokes as he sprayed his throat to moisten his vocal chords. When he sang on the deep cut "Vienna" that "you can get what you want or you can just get old," Joel might have done both.
He talked about some of his songs with tinges of regret and sarcasm. He introduced "The Ballad Of Billy The Kid" as his attempt to fulfill his desire to write a movie soundtrack, only to point out afterwards the lyrics are historically inaccurate and "complete bullshit." He ended a lovely rendition of the soft rock staple "She's Always A Woman" by shouting "and then we got divorced!" He often would start covering another song like Derek and the Dominos' "Layla" or "Take It Easy" by The Eagles, or just start playing "A Hard Day's Night" in the middle of "River of Dreams."
The performer didn't keep the limelight to himself. Horn player Carl Fisher played an impressive trumpet solo during "Zanzibar" from 52nd Street. Saxophone player Mark Rivera, who has played with Joel for 32 years, shined during the signature number "New York State of Mind." The real surprise came an hour into the set. Joel strapped on a guitar and let his roadie, an Arizona native known as Chainsaw, sing AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Though it was hard to make out, bassist Andy Cichon mouthed his approval of Chainsaw's performance to Joel as a muscle-shirt clad stagehand grabbed a cup of water and threw it into the audience.
The pianist wiped the sweat from his bald head as he told the story of Brenda and Eddie in "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant." It was clear Joel was getting weary, but remained the consummate performer despite the pained look on his face. He gyrated his hips like Elvis and tossing the mic stand during "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me." He sang "Big Shot" with a towel over his head, but not once did he loosen his tie, unbutton his shirt, or take off his suit jacket. Everyone in the audience knew "Piano Man" was next as soon as Joel strapped on his harmonica, but first had to wait for him to catch his breath.
He was rejuvenated when he came out for his encore, jokingly putting his hands over his eyes like a Chilean miner who hadn't seen daylight in weeks. Opener Gavin DeGraw joined the band for "You May Be Right" as Joel rocked back and forth on his piano, slapping his ass as he sang that he "may be crazy." He closed with "Only The Good Die Young." Nowadays, a 65-year-old is considered young, especially one who still knows how to put on a good show.
Last Night: Billy Joel with Gavin DeGraw at US Airways Center
Personal Bias: I believe my feelings on Joel are well documented.
The crowd: People of all ages, races, and nations speak Billy Joel. Overheard in the Crowd: "Are you Billy Joel's cousin?"-asked to me by a nice couple before the show. This was his seventh time seeing Joel and her first. This was my second.
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