Sunday, July 10, 2016

Billy Joel has them ‘feeling alright’ in Philly
                                                                                                                                                                                       (Photo provided)
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer dazzles crowd of 40,000 at Citizens Bank Park



PHILADELPHIA – “It’s a pretty good crowd for Saturday … ”

So sang Billy Joel in Philadelphia on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park during his signature song, “Piano Man.” And just as he sang those words, the large video screens that graced the stage showed images of the crowd of more than 40,000.

A pretty good crowd, indeed. But for Billy Joel and Philadelphia, that’s par for the course. The town has been one of his favorite stops for decades. If Billy plays, they will come. Always. And those that did on this warm July night certainly got what they came to see and hear. Joel’s two and a half hour set was loaded with the songs that have made him one of America’s most cherished artists. And whether it was with an edgier pop/rock number or a timeless ballad, he always brought the right touch to the ivories.

Joel opened the show with the epic “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway).” The sound of his piano alone was piercing and the images of New York City shown on the large video screens only enhanced the power of the song.  A zingy rendition of “My Life” – peppered with a section of Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” – followed. 

“Good evening, Philadelphia!” said Joel. “It’s good to be back in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’ I’ve been coming here since day one.” He then joked that, “I don’t have anything new,” referencing the fact that he has not released an album of new pop material since 1993. That didn’t seem to matter to his fans, as a gorgeous rendition of “Just The Way You Are,”  featuring some tasteful sax work from Mark Rivera, was met with a roar. Joel’s good humor surfaced again following the romantic number, which speaks of a life-long commitment, when he quipped, “And then we got divorced.”

The string of favorites continued with “The Entertainer,” “New York State of Mind” and “Angry Young Man,” which Joel had not performed live in seven years and during which he dazzled on the piano. Throughout the show, Joel kept a fly-swatter on stage and frequently took playful swings at swarming bugs. “We’ve got some mighty fine insects up here,” he said with a smile. “But don’t worry. I’m armed.”

Joel’s body of work is as diverse as it is good. Soft and moving numbers such as “And So It Goes” and “She’s Always A Woman” were among the show’s highlights, while “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)” displayed his gift for pop/rock. Joel also connected well with the crowd. He asked if anyone in the audience was from the nearby Lehigh Valley before launching into “Allentown” and, as is his Philadelphia tradition,  he placed the dark “Captain Jack” in the middle of the set. Early in his career, Philly’s WMMR-FM was the first radio station in the nation to play the track, which Joel has not forgotten.

“We only do that song in this town anymore,” he said. “You’re sick and twisted people. But we like it.”

Joel also introduced “Sometimes A Fantasy” by revealing that the song was inspired by a girl from Philadelphia that he “had a thing for” back in the seventies. Later, however, he turned more serious:

“I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a horrible week it was in our nation,” he said. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot the TV. But we’ll get through this ….

“We just have to keep the faith.”

He then performed his 1984 hit, “Keeping The Faith.”

There was also a extended, soulful and jammy performance of “River of Dreams,” which briefly segued into a few verses of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”  And at 67, Joel remained in fine voice throughout the performance. In fact, his vocals only got stronger as the show progressed and songs such as “I Go To Extremes” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” were delivered with zest. The set ended with “Piano Man” and the encore section of the show was lengthy: “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me,” “Big Shot,” “You May Be Right” – featuring a few fiery verses of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” – and “Only The Good Die Young.”

Billy Joel is indeed a musical treasure. Whether it’s with his mastery of the ivories, his always on-target vocals, or his gift for storytelling as a songwriter, he remains a remarkable entertainer. At this show, he acknowledged that Philadelphia had always showed him much love over the past four decades and he expressed his thanks for that. The audience, in turn, cheered even louder, as if to thank him right back.

It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday.

And it was a pretty horrible week in this country.

But the piano man did it again. He had them, as the song goes, forgetting about life for a while.  He had them feeling alright.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on The River. Reach him at   

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard of this author before,but I am impressed with the way he wrote this article. I have seen Billy Joel in concert a few times over the years and have always been awed by his show. Great article for a great musician!