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Review: Billy Joel delivers masterful 100th lifetime concert at MSG (Includes first-hand account)

This achievement is quite the milestone, since it is the most sold-out performances by any artist in a single arena, in a 40-year time span. It was also his 54th consecutive sold-out show as part of his monthly residency at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss,” was his surprise musical guest.

As he took the hallowed Madison Square Garden stage for the 100th time, Joel saluted the New York audience, who rewarded him with a lengthy standing ovation. He kicked off his set with “Big Shot,” which featured a stunning horn section, and after a brief version of “Ode to Joy” by Beethoven, it was followed by “My Life,” where blue and fuchsia dimmed from the stage. Joel earned yet another standing ovation, and veteran radio personality Jim Kerr assisted in the presentation of the banner raising for his “100th career show,” which was raised all the way up to the rafters. Joining Joel on stage were several people who have been with him for over four decades, including his production manager, tour manager, agent and set designer, as well as his wife, Alexis Roderick, and two-year-old daughter Della Rose.

“Good evening New York City. Welcome to Madison Square Garden,” Joel said, prior to noting that his first sold-out show was in 1978. He thanked everybody for coming to the show, and acknowledged that it has “been a great gig.” He subsequently added that this has “surpassed his wildest dreams.”

Joel continued his show with “The Entertainer,” where musical director, David Rosenthal, displayed his tremendous talent on keyboards and synths. He then gave the audience a choice whether they wanted to hear him sing the popular hit “Just the Way You Are” or “Vienna,” and similar to previous times at Madison Square Garden, “Vienna” won by a landslide. Joel noted that he has worked with the finest musicians, and shared that his live band’s current line-up is the “best band” he has ever worked with.

He gave the crowd another multiple choice, where they polled them if they wanted to hear “Leningrad” or “The Downeaster Alexa,” and of course, the latter won. It was a beautiful rendition, and Joel noted that the “lobster industry is dead on Long Island.” He also admitted that he is “very proud of this song,” since it was his attempt of writing a “folk song,” and he succeeded with it thanks to “The Downeaster Alexa.”

Joel also treated the sold-out venue to “Half A Mile Away,” which is a tune that he doesn’t perform often live. It included a horn section, where the addition of saxophone player John Scarpulla and Ozzie Melendez on trombone was an added bonus. Mike DelGuidice delivered on harmonies, where it felt like Joel was harmonizing with himself. “That was very disco,” Joel admitted, and he went on to play a piano verse of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

It was followed by “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” with Mark Rivera and Crystal Taliefero nailing the saxophone, both of which happen to be the musicians with the longest tenure in his band. Joel also complimented drummer Chuck Burgi (from New Jersey), and went on to dedicate “Don’t Ask Me Why” to his daughter, Della Rose, especially since it’s her favorite song. He also introduced bassist Andrew Cichon from Adelaide, Australia.

He took the audience on a trip down memory lane to The Bridge album, released in 1986, with the gentle ballad “This is the Time.”

They continued with “Allentown,” which featured an American flag gracing the giant televised screen. Joel introduced lead guitarist Tommy Byrnes from South Shore, Long Island.

After sporting on sunglasses, he delivered “New York State of Mind,” with Rivera’s killer sax solos, which ended with a sax verse of “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. It was followed by “Zanzibar,” where Joel allowed his band to shine, and they did. He introduced Carl Fisher on the trumpet. He noted that “Sometimes a Fantasy” was banned from radio stations for being too risque at the time, but tonight at Madison Square Garden, it was pure ear candy, thanks to the exquisite keyboard playing of Rosenthal.

Another highlight was when he played “She’s Always a Woman” from The Stranger album, with a starry backdrop. Joel invited his surprise musical guest and label-mate, Bruce Springsteen on stage who joined him for two songs: “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” where he sat on Joel’s piano for a good portion of the song; moreover, “The Boss” strapped on the electric guitar for “Born to Run,” which he sang as a duet with Joel, as the venue’s house lights were fully lit. “Congrats on your 100th show,” Springsteen told Joel.

Joel picked up the pace with the upbeat “Only the Good Die Young,” and Taliefero showed her remarkable talent on percussion and her soulful, expressive background vocals on “The River of Dreams.”

Rhythm guitar player and background vocalist Mike DelGuidice delivered a dynamic version of “Nessun Dorma,” with Joel on piano, that was powerful, ebullient and resonant, which earned them a standing ovation.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer closed with two powerhouse songs, “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” and his signature tune “Piano Man,” which was the national anthem tonight at Madison Square Garden. He returned for a four-song encore, which included a history lesson from Joel with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” as he played the guitar, “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “You May Be Right,” all of which were the perfect way to close his 100th lifetime show at this iconic venue.

Latin pop singer-songwriter Toly Rod, who was present in the audience, remarked, “Billy Joel was unbelievable. His 100th career show at Madison Square Garden was very impressive, and it’s a testament to the longevity of his career. His live band sounded perfect. He has one of the best bands I have ever heard in my life.”

The Verdict

Overall, Billy Joel was fantastic at his 100th career lifetime show at Madison Square Garden. It was comprised of fans of all ages, and they celebrated one of the greatest singer-songwriters and musicians that New York and the world has ever known. His entire band was exceptional in their own right. Joel proved that his music is timeless, and it will stand the test of time. His landmark 100th show at the “World’s Most Famous Arena” garnered five out of five stars.

To learn more about Billy Joel and his touring schedule, check out his official website.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 21,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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