Twenty months ago I sat at Madison Square Garden witnessing one of the best Billy Joel concerts I had ever attended. I wrote a review of the show here on the website. A lot of people have given him a hard time the because he hasn’t released a new album in thirty years (including this writer) Yet, the man still remains magical in concert. Billy Joel and the band were on fire last February at Madison Square Garden, just like they were last night. Little did we all know at the show almost two years ago what was actually brewing inside the Garden as well as everywhere else in NYC and around the world was a virus that would turn the world upside down like never before.
That show took place on February 20 2020. Nobody knew anything about Covid at the time. I remember getting really sick after that concert for about two weeks. It might have been Covid, who knows. I was in an enclosed building with close to twenty thousand people screaming their lungs out like mad. After it seemed like almost all twenty thousand people were still jammed together on the subways and Long Island Rail Road as a virus that we knew nothing about yet was probably already circulating all though us.
A lot has happened since that last Billy Joel concert in all our lives. So many lives lost, so many companies gone under, so many jobs and businesses that will never return, so many careers and families ripped apart. Yet this weekend, perseverance and resolve shined in so many ways as Billy Joel and his band of brilliant musicians returned to New York’s glorious Madison Square Garden along with twenty thousand other New Yorkers in celebration of the road back to who knows where…
Billy Joel opened his return engagement to MSG with his apocalyptic song “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” The song written way back in 1976 for his Turnstiles album as a piece of science fiction has indelibly become a song of truth. It first echoed in truth during 9/11 . Now it rings hauntingly true because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. There was no other song in the Billy Joel catalog more fitting to open the show with.
In his final February show before the pandemic, Billy Joel and his band played a tremendous amount of cover songs. This weeked Billy Joel kept the covers to a minimum except for the snippet of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll and the beautiful renditions of “Nessun Dorma” sung by guitarist and Long Island’s own Mike DelGudice. A man who went from fronting a Billy Joel tribute band called Big Shot to playing in Billy Joel’s actual band.
At seventy two years old, Billy Joel looked good having lost weight and seeming in high spirits. The pandemic has been tough on so many people including performing musicians who were not able to perform for a long time. It was tough enough for most musicians to make a living even before the pandemic. Even now, with most restaurants and clubs struggling to survive, the budget for live entertainment has been eliminated in many establishments.
After opening with “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” Billy Joel hit up the crowd with his opening song from The Stranger album entitled “Moving Out.” While Billy Joel has always credited the Beatles with being one of his inspirations, the music of Beethoven who Billy Joel has also mentioned as one of his musical loves started the song “My Life.” At that point in time Billy Joel shifted to one of his most loved songs of all in “New York State Of Mind,” which he dedicated to 9/11 Firefighter Neil Skow. With his New York City Firefighter helmet sitting on top of the piano it was an overwhelming moment for so many New Yorkers who lost live ones in the terrorists attacks on our great city.
For the remainder of the concert Billy Joel played his hits and albums cuts that for Billy Joel fans can no longer be considered deep album tracks because we have been listening to his albums for 30 to 50 years. This year is the 50th anniversary of his first album Cold Spring Harbor. Still, it’s nice to hear Billy Joel perform some of those songs that were not big hits. We loved the section of the concert where he played three in a row from Glass Houses including “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “All For Leyna,” and “Sometimes A Fantasy.” Glass Houses was a popular album last night as he closed out the show with the album’s big single “You May Be Right,” as the crowd went nuts singing those lyrics that seemed somewhat fitting for everyone after all we have been through.
If you has asked me last year if we would all be sitting together again this soon enjoying a Billy Joel concert in 2021 in New York City, I would have said absolutely not. It was only one year ago this week when I walked through a completely empty Times Square on Nov 3rd 2020 in the middle of a weekday afternoon wondering if things would ever be the same again. I filmed that walk and have placed it below for anyone interested in seeing what New York City was like one year ago. Last night, it was the same again as it was before the pandemic…. at least in the Garden for two hours and fifteen minutes.