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Review: Billy Joel puts Madison Square Garden in a holiday state of mind (Includes first-hand account)

As soon as Joel took the stage, he was greeted with a warm standing ovation from the New York audience. He immediately broke into the infectious, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” which featured neat imagery of New York in the giant televised screen, as well as a killer drum ending from acclaimed drummer Chuck Burgi.

He continued with “Pressure” as purple and green lights dimmed from the hallowed Madison Square Garden stage. “Good evening, New York City,” Joel said. “Happy and Merry Christmas, and holiday season too,” he added.

After playing “O Come All Ye Faithful” on piano, featuring the glorious harmonies from his live band, he made the opening remarks. “Welcome to Madison Square Garden,” he exclaimed, prior to thanking the people for coming, especially since this was a make-up concert from June (which was rescheduled).

“I can’t do every song everyday,” he told the audience, so he made them pick between “Big Man on Mulberry Street” and “A Matter of Trust,” where the latter song choice won. Joel showcased his prowess on electric guitar on “A Matter of Trust,” as red and yellow lights dimmed from the stage. The crowd reaction was priceless.

He played “What Child Is This?” on piano, and continued with “She’s Got a Way,” yet another song choice winner over “Everybody Loves You Now,” and delivered a distinct solo rendition of the tune.

Joel played the church hymn “Gloria in excelsis Deo” on piano, and immediately broke into “Vienna,” which featured beautiful images of Vienna displaying on the televised screens. “Thank you very much,” Joel said, graciously, following the warm reception of “Vienna.”

Equally noteworthy was the upbeat “Zanzibar,” with the vibrant lights taking over the stage once again, thus transporting the audience to different realms. In particular, the trumpet solo by Carl Fischer was nothing short of astonishing.

After “The First Noel,” Joel took his capacity crowd on a journey on “The Downeaster Alexa” to 1989, which was sheer bliss: a true lyrical and sonical masterpiece, coupled with guitarist and vocalist Mike DelGuidice on the soaring harmonies towards the end.

It was followed by “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and a “Stop in Nevada,” where Joel brought his fans back to 1973, thanks to his mellow vocals. He subsequently introduced his special musical guest, Steve Miller, of the Steve Miller Band, who followed Joel’s tactics and asked the audience whether they want to hear “Living in the U.S.A.” or “The Joker,” where the latter choice won. “Ready to have some fun?” Miller asked, and the answer was a resounding “yes.” Miller’s performance resonated well with the crowd, which rewarded him with a standing ovation.

As blue lights dimmed from the stage, Joel took everybody on a trip to “Allentown,” where DelGuidice rocked the acoustic guitar, and his entire band delivered on backing vocals. Joel introduced his lead guitarist Tommy Byrnes from South Shore, Long Island.

They continued with the powerhouse songs of the night, namely “New York State of Mind,” with Mark Rivera on saxophone (where Joel showcased his neat falsetto as he nailed “Hudson River line”) as well as “Don’t Ask Me Why” (which the fans picked over ” Sleeping With the Television On”) and the vivacious “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” which was preceded by an instrumental of “Little Drummer Boy.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer picked up the pace with “Joy to the World” and the liberating “My Life,” where he introduced his gifted bass guitar player, Andy Cichon from Australia.

“White Christmas” had a nostalgic vibe to it, and “Sometimes a Family” was equally impressive. In the tender, piano-driven ballad “She’s Always a Woman,” Joel passed on the spotlight to young flutist Cindy Ruggles, who played the flute solo.

“The River of Dreams” feature an innovative backdrop on the televised screen, and it was incorporated as a medley with “Jingle Bell Rock.” He introduced percussionist Crystal Taliefero and praised her for her versatile instrumental talent.

Joel also recalled his first Madison Square Garden concert experience, back in 1953, where he sat in the nosebleeds and saw Gene Autry perform at the venue, where he sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and he shared that traumatic childhood experience of his with the fans.

One of the highlight moments of the night was Joel allowing his ever-talented band member, Mike DelGuidice, who also fronts the Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot, to sing an Italian opera with him, as he accompanied him on piano. DelGuidice belted out “Nessun Dorma,” in perfect pitch, displaying his incredible three octave range. It was a controlled, expressive and powerful performance, filled with raw emotions. “On vocals and guitar, Mike DelGuidice,” Joel said, proudly.

He closed his set with the perennial classics “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” with fuchsia lights dimming from the stage, and Piano Man,” prior to returning for encores that featured such tunes as “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Big Shot” and of course, “You May Be Right.”

The Verdict

Overall, Billy Joel was superb at Madison Square Garden, where he was able to play holiday songs and his classic hits with equal comfort and ease. His entire band rocked as a whole, and Joel still manages to put on one of the best live rock shows on Earth. The cameo from Steve Miller was an added treat. Joel’s live show at The Garden for December 20 garnered five out of five stars.

To learn more about Billy Joel, his music 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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