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Review: Billy Joel plays Madison Square Garden, remembers Tony Bennett

On July 24, Billy Joel played a show at Madison Square Garden as part of his monthly residency. He also took the time to remember the late Tony Bennett.

Billy Joel
Billy Joel. Photo Courtesy of Myrna Suarez
Billy Joel. Photo Courtesy of Myrna Suarez

On July 24, Billy Joel played a show at Madison Square Garden as part of his monthly residency. He also took the time to remember the late Tony Bennett.

Joel kicked off his set at 8:20 p.m. with “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway), where blue lights dimmed from the stage. He had the audience hopping along with him on the unapologetic “My Life.”

“Good evening, New York City,” Joel said. “Welcome to Madison Square Garden, we are the house band.”

“I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news,” Joel admitted. “The bad news is that we don’t have anything new to play, the good news is that you don’t have to sit through anything new. This is like a weekend crowd,” he exclaimed.

“This next song is from an album that came out in 1975, it’s called ‘Streetlife Serenade,’ and nobody has that album, don’t bullshit me, nobody bought that album. Anyway, this was the one single that they pulled off the album,” he said, and he immediately broke into “The Entertainer.” “It wasn’t that big of a hit anyway,” Joel said.

Joel went on to introduce his musical director David Rosenthal on the keyboard. He then took his audience on a trip down memory lane to 1977 with a smash single from his album “The Stranger.” “A lot of people bought that album, yes,” Joel exclaimed. “This song went high up the charts,” and he performed the ballad “Just the Way You Are.”

“Thank you very much… then we got divorced, so what the hell do I know,” he explained.

Joel also shared that the original sheet music for “Just the Way You Are” was wrong, and anytime he heard people performing it live on piano, he has to go up to the piano and show them the correct way of playing the song’s intro.

He continued with “Zanzibar” from his “52nd Street” album, and he noted that at the time, he had a “good group of musicians to play on that song.” Following this song, he introduced Carl Fisher on the trumpet.

Joel stood up for the next song. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’m not Mick Jagger,” he joked, and sang a snippet of “Start Me Up.” He segued into “An Innocent Man,” which he acknowledged is not an autobiographical song by any means. He noted that he was worried about hitting this song’s high notes, but he did them justice at The Garden.

In the doo-wop portion of the show, he sang a few verses from “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and continued with “The Longest Time,” where the crowd was snapping their fingers along with him, as blue lights graced the stage. “We are just warming up,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted to write a folk song,” he said, and noted that he did one for Long Island with “The Downeaster Alexa,” which he sang one bar lower, yet the crowd was with him every step of the way.

He also treated the audience to a more obscure song, “A Room of Our Own,”  an album track from “The Nylon Curtain,” and went on to perform the ballad “Vienna,” which featured neat imagery of Vienna on the video board screens.

Tony Bennett tribute

After “Movin’ Out,” Joel paid a moving tribute to Tony Bennett, who passed away a few days ago, with a soaring rendition of “New York State of Mind,” which was dedicated in his honor. “I was fortunate to do a duet with him on that song,” Joel said, and that duet went on to earn them a Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals” at the time.

Joel also incorporated “New York State of Mind” as a medley with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” where he was joined by his longtime saxophone player Mark Rivera.

Tony Bennett, seen here performing at the Library of Congress in 2014, bridged generations with his cheery brand of classic American crooning
Tony Bennett, seen here performing at the Library of Congress in 2014, bridged generations with his cheery brand of classic American crooning – Copyright AFP John MACDOUGALL

He shared that his song “Don’t Ask Me Why” is featured on his “Glass Houses” album from 1980, and it was written “after a trip to Spain.” He introduced Andy Cichon, his bass player from Adelaide, Australia.

After a trip to “Allentown,” Joel introduced Tommy Byrnes, his longtime lead guitar player, and continued with “Sometimes a Fantasy,” and the fan favorite “Only the Good Die Young.”

He went on to praise Crystal Taliefero for her prowess on saxophone, percussion, and “every instrument on the stage” following the medley of “The River of Dreams” and “River Deep, Mountain High,” where Taliefero sang some of the verses of the Ike & Turner standard.

Mike DelGuidice performed the lead vocals on “Nessun Dorma,” with Joel on the piano, which was well-received. Joel went on to introduce DelGuidice, who also hails from Long Island.

A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, closed with “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man,” where he acknowledged that “it’s a pretty good crowd for a Monday,” implying the sold-out audience last night at The Garden.

For his encore, Joel and the band returned to the stage, and he performed “We Didn’t Start the Fire” standing up. It was followed by the upbeat “Uptown Girl” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” He closed with “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right.”

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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