Billy Joel Begins Madison Square Garden Residency
Shortly before 9 p.m., the piano man and his band came out to thunderous applause and launched into “Miami 2017,” a song Joel wrote in the early 1970s about post-apocalyptic New York City. His performance put him in the record books as the fourth franchise of the famed venue, along with the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty.
Throughout the evening, Joel seemed to touch on at least one song from most of his studio albums. The only notable omission was 1989’s Storm Front.
While he didn’t hold back on the classics like “New York State of Mind” and “Allentown,” Joel also performed the lesser played tracks “The Entertainer” and “Zanzibar” that included a sultry trumpet solo by Carl Fischer.
Joel performed the a capella “The Longest Time,” and after he finished said: “It sounds better in a men’s room.” And when he introduced “Everybody Loves You Now,” as a song from his first album, Cold Spring Harbor, he told the audience: “I doubt you have it. I don’t have it.”
Throughout the night, the 64-year old maintained a strong stage presence and his voice never seemed to waver. For most of the night, though, he remained seated at his baby grand piano; on previous tours, Joel would play guitar and organ, and run around the stage. He did manage to leave the piano during the encore to perform “You May Be Right,” opting to work the microphone stand.
Before beginning some of his songs, Joel favored a throat spray. At one point he joked: “I saw Madonna do this once, but it didn’t help her much.”
After loud applause, Joel played it down and launched into “Summer Highland Falls.”
Early in the show, he acknowledged the first night of the franchise shows and his long career.
“I have no idea how long this is going to go,” he told the crowd. “2014 is my 50th year in show business. What was I thinking?”
He also poked fun at himself when he saw his face on the video screen, remarking that he never imagined he would look like his father.
“I thought I was going to look like Cary Grant,” he joked to the crowd.
For the last song of the set, he channeled Derek and the Dominos by playing the piano coda from “Layla,” before launching into “Piano Man.” He altered the lyric toward the end to reflect the evening by saying: “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Monday night,” to enthusiastic cheers.
Perhaps the evening’s most poignant performance was the spirited version of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” that had the entire arena singing along, and even waving during the line, “Here we are waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye.”
By the last of four encores, “Only the Good Die Young,” audience members seemed fulfilled, raving about the show as they left. For many of them, this clearly wasn’t the first time they’d seen the performer, and during the franchise run, it probably won’t be the last.
The Grammy Award winner announced in December that he would perform at Madison Square Garden every month for as long as New Yorkers demand. He’s set to perform sold-out shows until September with more being added later in the year. His May 9 show commemorates his 65th birthday.