Billy Joel’s concert last night at New York’s Madison Square Garden showcased a band that has gotten so comfortable in their stretch of shows at MSG that they seem to be playing the Garden like a club band with a steady nightly gig at a local bar. The band’s relaxed comfort level was very apparent when Billy Joel seemed very at ease challenging his band mates to play cover songs that one would never of expected to be performed at a Billy Joel concert. Long time Billy Joel fans are keenly aware that Billy Joel has covered Elton John and The Beatles often in his career. For years he has performed a great version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” He has even released a live version of the song. He performed it last night, but that was not the surprise.
The first of three big surprises was after he introduced his drummer as being from New Jersey. Billy Joel began playing the chords to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.“ They made it through the song”s first verse and then it kind of fell apart. However, after hearing the good old Bruceee chants, Billy Joel joked about the reaction as the rest of the band started to play the intro to the classic Springsteen song “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” This time Billy Joel and the band played the entire song. It was outstanding and really fun to listen too. The two artists share a very similar fan base and so the crowd really got into it.
As great as the Springsteen covers were, it soon got even more interesting. Billy Joel seemed to be having such a good time playing covers he shouted over to his guitarist to play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Tommy Byrnes seemed stunned at first from Joel’s request. Billy Joel repeated his request for the Led Zeppelin song to Tommy Byrnes once again. Tommy Byrnes being an old school musician had no problem tearing into the riff. I don’t know for sure, but this did not seemed rehearsed. This was like an old school bar band attempting to do a tune they normally do not do. (No, I’m not comparing them to a bar band, these are some of the best musicians in the business, I’m just stating that the behavior was reminiscent of what goes on in the clubs with bar bands. A few of the guys in the band including Billy Joel all got their started playing in Long Island clubs)
Back to Led Zeppelin. Billy Joel’s drummer had a little trouble with the timing as the band struggled a bit to find the right groove. The audience could see Michale DelGuidice waving his arms in time to the drummer to get the groove right. Eventually they hit it and the very talented Michael DelGuidice did a killer vocal on the song. Billy Joel and his band playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” was a moment to remember.
All these cover songs occurred close to the start of the show about six songs into the set. After playing the covers, Billy Joel said to the audience maybe we will do one of ours. He introduced the next couple of songs as the New York section of the show. With that, the band did a stunning version of the great big band style song “Big Man On Mulberry Street,” from The Bridge album. Of course after announcing it as part of the New York section we all knew what was coming next. After “Big Man On Mulberry Street,” the band dived deep into a stirring version of “New York State of Mind.” The song also featured a blistering sax solo from long time band member and brilliant musician Mark Rivera. The saxophonist has been with Billy Joel since 1982, longer than any other current member in the band
Over the past few years Billy Joel has often gone to songs on The Nylon Curtain that he seems to think are pretty much unknown. At least that’s the way he introduces them. Yet any longtime Billy Joel fan pretty much knows every tune from every album inside and out. Still, its nice to hear the tracks that were not the big hits. The Nylon Curtain is probably Billy Joel’s most underrated album. When the record was first released, I recall Billy Joel saying that it was his Sgt. Pepper. Of course, he were saying it tongue in cheek, but he was making a point. The Nylon Curtain was Billy Joel paying his respects to The Beatles. A band that he had had said so many times were responsible for him becoming a musician. He knows it was a great record and he probably has always felt that it didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Although, The Nylon Curtain did sell two million records. A few years back I heard Elton John in concert speak the same way about his Songs From The West Coast album which was another one of the great records by a big time artist that never got its due recognition.
Billy Joel played four songs from The Nylon Curtain last night. The second song of the night was a great version of “Pressure,” which had originally been the album’s lead off single back in 1982. After playing what he called the New York section he announced it was time to go to a different State. With that, Billy Joel and the band launched into The Nylon Curtain’s second single entitled “Allentown.” Billy Joel then turned to one of the two songs from The Nylon Curtain album he had introduced as not being well-known. And what was one of the night’s most touching moments when Billy Joel introduced renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman to the crowd. Itzhak Perlman joined Billy Joel for a wonderful version of The Nylon Curtain’s closing track “Where’s The Orchestra.” Billy Joel than introduced the next song “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” as a song that Perlman had played on the record, but was never credited for it.
After the two great performances with Itzhak Perlman, Billy Joel performed the Glass Houses album’s single “Don’t Ask Me Why.” He then returned one more time to The Nylon Curtain album with the very Beatlesque and awesome rocking tune entitled “A Room Of Our Own.” This was the second of the two songs he introduced as being not well known.
The night of covers continued with the next performance. This one was the best cover of the night. A rollicking and emotional version of The Eagles big hit “Take It Easy,” brought many in the audience to their feet. Billy Joel and his band mates showed off their vocal talents on this one. The band sang beautiful harmonies together in tribute to what made us all fall in love with The Eagles in the first place. With the very talented Michael DelGuidice in the band along with multi instrumentalist and vocalist Crystal Taliefero, the harmonies on every performances became such a joy to listen too.
Speaking of Michael DelGuidice, the Long Islander shined immeasurably throughout the night’s performances. This is one talented man. Many Long Islanders know him as the lead singer of the Billy Joel cover band Big Shot. However, his role in these performances at MSG rally defines his vocals talents. No where was this more measured than in his stunning performance of Giacomo Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” Hat’s off to Billy Joel for letting Michael DelGuidice shine so brightly. Long Island rock and roll night club history is littered with so many brilliant and talented musicians who have played night clubs their entire lives with no fame. Its nice to see some of them like Michael DelGuidice and Tommy Byrnes achieving it with Billy Joel .
After Michael DelGuidice performance, Billy Joel and his band turned to all the big hits for the rest of the night. Billy Joel is as Long Island and New York as it gets. This was a New York show and Billy Joel knows all of us quite well. He knows what needs to be played. He knew many of us were looking for the rare tracks and cover versions, and at the same time playing these rarities seemed to entertain himself and his band mates. He delivered the big ones from albums like The Stranger, River of Dreams, Turnstiles and 52nd Street. Now it was time to take it home big time.
Billy Joel closed out his main set with two of his biggest and most loved songs of his career. First up was The Stranger’s album’s classic tale “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” I have heard that song thousands of times since 1977 and I never get tired of hearing it. I think I speak for just about every other person in the audience who felt the same way about that one. While “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” may very well be Billy Joel’s most popular songs among Billy Joel fans, there is one that is so much bigger on among all music fans. We all know what that one is. From the opening jazz riff, fans knew instantly what was next. Just before he began to play “Piano Man,” Billy Joel took a breath and sighed, which pretty much said it all about how he feels about the song. Nonetheless, it’s very apparent that the man could never get away doing a show without it. All in all, it stood as a great closing number to the shows main set.
Billy Joel and his band came back and performed five songs for the show’s encore. He stood standing center stage with guitar in hand and performed a rocking version of “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” This was the song that found Billy Joel an entire new audience and generation of fans in the late 1980s.
Billy Joel continued the encore set standing center stage with the songs “Uptown Girl,” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me.” After the performance of that classic Glass Houses single, Billy Joel returned to the piano for his great 52nd Street album opener “Big Shot.” Billy Joel than closed out the night with one more song form Glass Houses. The night’s final performance was a killer version of “You May Be Right,” which also featured a middle section in which the band played their second Led Zeppelin song of night in the performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” sung by Michael DelGuidice.
Its easy to see why Billy Joel continues to sell out these MSG shows. His music stands as the soundtrack to so many lives reaching across generations. There are not many musical artists that have that type of staying power or whose music crosses so many generations of fans. That was very obvious last night. The age of the audience ranged from young teens to people in their 60s and 70s all dancing together, singing together and enjoying the moment in harmony. Its nice to all get along, at least for a few hours. Thanks Billy.
This article was dedicated to Joey D!