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Review: Billy Joel puts New York in a ‘Rock and Roll’ State of Mind (Includes first-hand account)

Joel kicked off his set surprising his fans playing the electric guitar on “A Matter of Trust,” as vibrant yellow lights dimmed from the stage. He immediately broke into “Pressure,” which featured a neat monochromatic psychedelic backdrop on the televised screen.

“Good evening New York City. Welcome to Madison Square Garden. This is show No. 67,” he said, prior to complimenting a group of fans that were celebrating their 100th career Billy Joel show at this venue. After inquiring what the No. 100 meant on their signs, he responded to them jokingly, “You must really like this shit.”

He took his fans on a trip down memory lane to 1978 when his Grammy award-winning 52nd Street album was released with “Zanzibar,” which featured Carl Fisher on trumpet, who is from South Shore, Long Island. He continued with “The Entertainer,” the sole single from his Streetlife Serenade album, which was sheer bliss, featuring musical director David Rosenthal on the keyboard and Tommy Byrnes on acoustic guitar.

With the help of modern technology and visually striking backdrops, he transported fans and listeners to “Vienna,” and it was followed by a few verses from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Michael DelGuidice on lead vocals. “I didn’t write that one,” he told the Madison Square Garden audience. “I wish I did,” he added.

He continued with “Don’t Ask Me Why,” which is his daughter, Della Rose’s, personal favorite song in his catalog. He introduced his talented band member Andrew Cichon on bass from Adelaide, Australia.

Longtime band member Mark Rivera showcased his prowess on piano with a resonant version of “New York State of Mind,” which features beautiful images of the Manhattan skyline on the screen. Joel went on to congratulate New Yorkers on their new bridge, the Kosciuszko Bridge.

After “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” he went on to perform “The Downeaster Alexa,” which is this journalist’s all-time favorite Billy Joel tune. He also paid homage to the late but great Joe Cocker singing “With a Little Help From My Friends” in his honor and expressed the fact that Cocker belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and rightfully so. Joel showcased his rich, raspy vocals on this song, with Crystal Taliefero and his male band members joining him on background vocals. It was quite the tribute for Cocker.

Equally remarkable was “Allentown” from his 1982 The Nylon Curtain album, which made the fans feel extra proud to be Americans thanks to the American flag that displayed on the televised screen. “Thank you,” he said and introduced Tommy Byrnes on lead guitar from South Shore, Long Island.

Prior to singing “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” he noted that Ronnie Spector and the E Street Band also had their own version with this song, and Mark Rivera once again delivered on saxophone.

He picked up the pace with “My Life,” and shared that “Sometimes a Fantasy” was not a fantasy and many people found it a little “risqué” at the time. This rendition ended with Tommy Byrnes nailing an electric guitar solo.

The entire band had a great deal of fun on the mid-tempo “Only The Good Die Young,” while Crystal Taliefero showcased her divine, versatile talent on “The River of Dreams.” DelGuidice blew the roof off the venue with a powerhouse version of “Nessun Dorma,” which was impeccable as she displayed his impeccable three-octave range on key.

Joel ended with two fan-favorite songs such as “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and his perennial anthem, “Piano Man.”

For his encore, he switched over to electric guitar and gave his fans a history lesson with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” while Mike DelGuidice nailed the co-lead vocals with him on “Uptown Girl,” as he also played the acoustic guitar. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right,” rounded out his impressive set.

The Verdict

Overall, Billy Joel triumphed at his 113th lifetime sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York. He and his band members gave Manhattan a night of rock and roll music to remember. He exuded a great deal of charm, quick wit and charisma. His tributes to Queen and Joe Cocker were added treats, and his band is a true force to be reckoned with as every single person is an extraordinary musician in their own right.

Whoever has yet to see Billy Joel in his monthly residency at the “World’s Most Famous Arena” is truly missing out since the “Piano Man” is the hottest ticket in town. Billy Joel’s live set garnered an A+ rating.

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

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 16,000 original articles over the past 15 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a five-time consecutive "Best of Long Island" winner, and in the past two years, 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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