Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden: Still a lot of love and devotion
Billy Joel plans to play monthly shows at Madison Square Garden for as long as the public is interested. Follow his first year of this groundbreaking music-industry experiment by looking at his shows through a variety of viewpoints -- from critics, musicians, celebrities and fans. This month, it's Newsday TV critic Verne Gay.
Me, I was just another face at Zanzibar -- or at the Garden, Friday, along with a lot of other Brenda and Eddies, all filled with sadness . . . and euphoria.
Strike the "sadness." All euphoria. When Billy Joel announced this "residency," the line "as long as the public is interested" was either a modest throwaway, or escape hatch: Bail when the public bails. But bailing may not be an option -- or as the star dryly (ruefully?) indicated to a sellout crowd, he has been in show business for 50 years and may be doing this for another 50.
There's still plenty of love and devotion out there -- an unquantifiable amount Friday night, so the only question is how engaged Joel is. That appears to be a nonissue too. With excellent support -- veteran band members such as Tommy Byrnes on guitar, saxophonist Mark Rivera, Carl Fischer on trumpet, vocalist Crystal Taliefero -- he pounds out a show high on energy but also filled with riffs, detours and grace notes that play like an endlessly happy loop in your head, and have for four decades.
There was even a devotional aspect to the show: "Goodnight Saigon," with members of the FDNY on stage, singing along with 20,000 other supplicants ("And we would all go down together . . .")
Or "New York State of Mind," which Joel opened with a few bars from "Rhapsody in Blue."
Or "Allentown": "Met our mothers in the USO . . . " The words are so deeply familiar yet Joel still conveyed that aching sense of loss and decay.
He's used this residency to dust off some neglected gems. But other than a few bars from (what sounded like) his orchestral suite, "Elegy: The Great Peconic," which played over loudspeakers as the lights dimmed, there was no "obscure" Joel. This was an all-standards night, from lesser ones ("Zanzibar," "Summer, Highland Falls") to songs that are probably being covered on that newly discovered Earthlike planet as we speak ("Piano Man.")
What was left for Joel and fans was to discover something new and fresh. That happened as well, particularly with a rousing "The River of Dreams" that was stopped midpoint for a cover of "A Hard Day's Night." The other Beatles interlude was "When I'm Sixty-Four," which Joel (who turns 65 May 9) said he was singing for the last time.
And, if you thought this audience would be composed of hyper-adrenalized pre-geriatrics, you may be right (these tickets are expensive).
But you may be wrong, too. Many were in their 20s and 30s, a testament to the fact that the songs and the guy who wrote them are meta-generational. There are millions hearing "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" for the first time. This residency is looking permanent.