Written by Joe McCausland
Growing up during the 70’s and 80’s in Rockaway Beach, Queens, Billy Joel’s songs were everywhere. They were in constant rotation in pizzerias and on car radios, as well as selections on those mini juke boxes in diner booths that every kid flipped through. In 1980, the Glass Houses album smashed into my life like a brick thrown through a plate glass window. I bought that album on vinyl and I became a fan for life at the age of 11: songs like “You May Be Right”, “Sometimes a Fantasy”, “Still Rock and Roll to Me”, and my all-time favourite, “All For Leyna”, made it an instant classic. Flash forward decades later: I put on my 20th Century Cycles t-shirt (Billy’s motorcycle shop in Oyster Bay, New York) and got my singing voice prepared to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden on April 8th, 2022. Even though it’s about my tenth time seeing the Piano Man play live, he’s just as entertaining as ever.
The Garden was packed to the rafters, as always when Billy’s name is on the marquee. The site of the packed stadium was surreal: everyone emerging from the past two years to arrive here for this communal experience of sonic proportions, to “forget about life for a while”. The night started with “Storm Front”, “My Life (Anthony’s Song)” and “Pressure” – Billy’s voice is in tip top shape. It was live, it was Billy. Sure, maybe Mike DelGuidice may fill out some high end/falsetto stuff, but the rest is all the “Piano Man”! Billy joked that during “Innocent Man” all he was concerned about was if he could hit that high note each time it came around. Billy wished his high school music teacher Chuck Arnold a happy 90th birthday, and the entirety of the MSG crowd sang happy birthday to him.
Every three or four songs, Billy engaged the crowd with insights and humour. While the band is switching instruments and prepares for the next song, he entertains with stories of erroneous sheet music and the origins of songs. He mentioned the album Streetlife Serenade, and after the crowd applauded, he remarked: “C’mon, nobody bought that album!”. He then launched into its best track, “The Entertainer”. It’s like you’re sitting in his living room, but with a seating capacity of 20,000.
Billy tossed a song choice out to the crowd as is customary, and “She’s Got A Way” won out over “And So It Goes”. “Sometimes a Fantasy” and “Only the Good Die Young” were a great one-two punch as the crowd danced in the aisles, hoisted beers aloft, and sang along. I’m a huge fan of the classic sitcom The Honeymooners, so Billy’s channelling of Ed Norton’s (Art Carney) mannerisms while warming up on the piano was hilarious.
The encore was a killer five song rock and roll celebration that started with “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and ended with “You May Be Right”, with an interlude of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Billy did the “rope a dope ” with the mic stand and twirled it like a Jedi with a lightsabre; he was just having a blast like the rest of us. The interesting thing is there was no specific demographic: there were people in their 50’s like me, young girls in their teens singing “Uptown Girl”, and everyone in-between. Generations of Billy Joel fans were in attendance, a pretty good crowd for a Friday. Billy will keep selling out stadiums when almost nobody else can, and his residency at MSG (with several upcoming shows) is showing no signs of slowing down.
Joe McCausland is a rock vocalist, writer, and commercial property manager out of New York City. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org