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Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden: He's more contented than ever

Billy Joel performs at Madison Square Garden in

Billy Joel performs at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Brad Barket

Billy Joel plans to play monthly shows at Madison Square Garden for as long as the public is interested. Follow his first year of this groundbreaking music-industry experiment by looking at his shows through a variety of viewpoints -- from critics, musicians, celebrities and fans. This month, it's Newsday exploreLI reporter David J. Criblez.

Billy Joel has always been a large part of my life. "Glass Houses" was the first album I ever purchased at age 10 causing me to spend many hours singing "You May Be Right" in front of my bedroom mirror. From age 26 to 42, I worked as the editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian, a weekly that covered every move the Piano Man made. For the past 16 years I've lived in Bayville, a sleepy North Shore beach village just outside Joel's Centre Island abode.

For me there are two Billy Joels -- Billy the rock star and Billy the low-key but friendly neighbor. Where I come from it's not uncommon to see him buying pet food at the IGA food market, grabbing a sausage and pepper hero at a summer festival or passing your driveway on his motorcycle. Nobody bugs him for selfies or autographs.

As for Billy the rock star, I have never seen him so content. The Madison Square Garden residency seems to have revived him in a way I always hoped. He's having fun with his own catalog pulling out his favorite deep cuts ("Sometimes a Fantasy," "Where's the Orchestra?") and hits he enjoys ("She's Always a Woman," "My Life"). Seeing him Thursday for the fourth time this year was proof that 2014 will go down as a major highlight in his career.

"We tied the record tonight," said Joel referring to the Garden's longest run of a single artist. "But, it's my record so it doesn't bother me."

Joel first set the record when he sold out 12 shows in 2006. Now that his Garden residency has been extended to September, it seems he is headed well past that benchmark.

What has become evident is just how comfortable Joel is at the Garden. He took requests from the crowd, wove in Christmas tunes and even wore a Santa hat while playfully crooning "Don't Ask Me Why."

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Joel has always been a money-in-the-bank performer, but this time around there's extra zest in his playing. During "The River of Dreams" he was soulfully banging on his piano keys with a wide grin of satisfaction as if he was channeling the late Ray Charles.

"I haven't put out an album in 20-something years," Joel admitted to the crowd. "Thanks for still coming to see me."

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