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Review: Billy Joel rocks out Madison Square Garden with a little help from ZZ Top

On March 26, rock and roll icon Billy Joel headlined Madison Square Garden in New York, where he performed for a sold-out arena.

Billy Joel
Billy Joel. Photo Credit: Myrna Suarez
Billy Joel. Photo Credit: Myrna Suarez

On March 26, rock and roll icon Billy Joel headlined Madison Square Garden in New York, where he performed for a sold-out arena. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top was his special musical guest this evening.

Over the course of the evening, Joel introduced and spotlighted each band member for their distinct talents: Mark Rivera on saxophone, Crystal Taliefero on percussion and saxophone, Tommy Byrnes on the guitar, musical director David Rosenthal on the keyboard, Andy Cichon on the bass, Chuck Burgi on drums, and Mike DelGuidice on background vocals and rhythm guitar.

Joel began his show promptly at 8:20 p.m. and he kicked off his set with “Ode To Joy,” and immediately segued into “My Life,” and showed some attitude on “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).”

“Thank you, good evening, New York City,” Joel said. “How the hell are you?” he asked and introduced Chuck Burgi “from the great state of New Jersey.” “It’s good to be back in New York, we were on the West Coast.”

“Anyway, I have good news and I have bad news,” he said. “Let me give you the bad news first, I don’t have anything new to play tonight. Wait until you hear the good news… I don’t have to play anything new for you. This is basically the ‘Same Old Shit’ tour. The piano goes this way, the piano goes that way, and that’s it for the special effects. I’m not going to dive into the stage.”

After a brief conference with his band, he changed his set-list to include “Summer, Highland Falls.” “This is a song we don’t normally do. This is what they used to call an album track, which meant it wasn’t a hit single. It was from the ‘Turnstiles’ album back in 1976,” he said.

“Thank you, that was for all the manic depressants out there,” he said after the positive response from “Summer, Highland Falls.” “This is from an album that came out earlier than ‘Turnstiles’ from the ‘Streetlife Serenade’ album,” he said referring to “The Entertainer.”

Joel continued, “Nobody has that album, I don’t even have that album. Anyway, this was the one song they pulled as a single from that album. The music business wasn’t happy with me when I put this one out. The single before this one was ‘Piano Man,’ where the guy who is singing the song is bitching about the gig. This song is about bitching about the success he had because of the single.”

“Fire away, maestro,” he told David Rosenthal, and they delivered a rousing rendition of “The Entertainer.”

“They want me to sing this standing up like I’m Mick Jagger of something,” he said, and performed a few parts of The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” prior to belting out “An Innocent Man,” which he revealed was a song from 1983, in an expressive fashion.

“Yeah, I’m real innocent… take that to the bank,” he said jokingly, and continued with “Don’t Ask Me Why.”

A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Joel took his fans on a visual trip to “Vienna” thanks to the remarkable scenery on the giant video board. He noted that “Vienna” was an album cut that the fans made into a hit. It was followed by “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” which featured Mark Rivera on his exceptional sax solo.

 “Thank you very much,” Joel said, following the warm response from “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” prior to taking them back to 1977 with a song from “The Stranger” album.

“I almost didn’t put this on the album. I wasn’t sure about it and Linda Ronstadt talked me into it,” he said about “Just The Way You Are.” “Linda heard the song and told me that I had to put the song on the album. I had a crush on her too, so I said ‘okay.’ She was right and it turned out to be a hit,” he acknowledged.

Tommy Byrnes on guitar kicked off “Allentown,” prior to performing the powerhouse anthem “New York State of Mind,” which earned a huge standing ovation.

He described “The Downeaster Alexa” as the closest thing to a “folk song” that he has ever written, and rightfully so. His version of this song was glorious and resonant.

Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top

Joel invited his special musical guest, Billy Gibbons of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band ZZ Top on stage with him. “From a Billy to a Billy,” Gibbons said, and was handed an electric guitar and they rocked out to ZZ Top’s “La Grange” and “Tush,” where Mike DelGuidice assisted with the lead vocals. “Is everyone having a good time tonight,” Gibbons asked, and the answer was a resounding “yes.”

At that moment, Joel shard that his “fantasy came true” because he shared the stage with ZZ Top. “Sometimes a Fantasy” was a natural transition.

Joel picked up the pace with the up-tempo “Only the Good Die Young,” which was the typical singalong. “The River of Dreams” was an instrumental and vocal masterclass courtesy of Crystal Taliefero.

Speaking of Taliefero, she also sang Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep — Mountain High” with Joel on the piano.

DelGuidice displayed his powerhouse pipes in “Nessun Dorma,” and Joel concluded his set with his trademark hits “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man,” both of which earned a raucous response.

For his encore, Joel and the band returned to the MSG stage. He stood up from his piano and switched over the electric guitar and played his Grammy-nominated “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

It was followed by the upbeat and catchy “Uptown Girl,” as well as “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” After “Big Shot,” he closed with “You May Be Right,” which was juxtaposed as a medley with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” where Mike DelGuidice sang the lead vocals (who ironically also fronts the Billy Joel tribute band Big Shot).

“Seeing Billy Joel live at Madison Square Garden was not only a concert, but a masterclass in artistry,” Nick Tangorra said, musician and entertainer. “The energy of the crowd, combined with Joel’s incomparable talent on the piano, storytelling lyrics, incredible melodies and his ability to effortlessly switch between genres, left me in awe. It’s no wonder that the ‘Piano Man’ has been selling out shows for decades, he truly is one of the greats,” Tangorra added.

The Verdict

Overall, Billy Joel was once again superb at the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” and the inclusion of Billy Gibbons in his show was an added treat. He gave New Yorkers one memorable Sunday evening to remember. It is certain that his music will stand the test of time. His live show at The Garden garnered an A rating.

For more information on Billy Joel, his music and his tour dates, 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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