Billy Joel was in a holiday state of mind for his final Madison Square Garden show of 2016.
His stage was lit like a Christmas tree during “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” He donned a Santa hat for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” one of a sack full of holiday songs (some pretty, some, er, festive) woven into the two-hour, 20-minute set. For much of the concert, it felt more like an informal house party than an arena show.
And that’s what makes Joel’s record-setting monthly residency so successful. Three years in, the show changes to suit Joel’s mood, as well as topical and timely shifts.
Joel playfully dropped a bit of his Bob Dylan impression — make that Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan impression — into “Only the Good Die Young.” He did a bit of Bruce Springsteen as he did a snippet of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” And before launching into “New York State of Mind,” he offered a “goodbye to the old Sag Harbor Cinema,” which was destroyed by fire Friday.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, came when guitarist Mike DelGuidice delivered a gorgeous version of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” (To balance things out, DelGuidice later howled during a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”)
Throughout the main part of the show, Joel was often experimenting with his voice, seemingly testing to see what new notes he could hit following sinus surgery in September. He also stretched a bit to handle the strenuous piano runs in the prelude to “Angry Young Man.” “This is not easy,” he told the crowd. “Pray for me.”
However, no prayers are ever needed once Joel and his ever-impressive, eight-piece band hit the encore. As lighthearted as the main show was, the encore rocked hard, opening with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” where the photo of the late John Glenn drew extra cheers.
With “Big Shot,” fueled by Tommy Byrnes’ raucous guitar solo, and “You May Be Right,” where Joel roared his hardest, the arena rock show was on full display.
SETLIST: Movin’ Out / The Entertainer / The First Noel / Angry Young Man / What Child Is This >She’s Right on Time / Jingle Bells >Ode to Joy >My Life / The Christmas Song >Vienna / Hark! The Herald Angels Sing / Say Goodbye to Hollywood / Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas / Allentown / New York State of Mind / The Longest Time / Frosty the Snowman >Keeping the Faith / Sleigh Ride >O Come All Ye Faithful / Feliz Navidad >Don’t Ask Me Why / O Little Town of Bethlehem >She’s Always a Woman / Angels We Have Heard on High >Sometimes a Fantasy / Santa Claus Is Coming to Town >River of Dreams >Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer / Nessun Dorma (Mike DelGuidice on vocals) / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Joy to the World >Piano Man // ENCORES: We Didn’t Start the Fire / Uptown Girl / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / Big Shot / Only the Good Die Young / You May Be Right >Rock ‘n’ Roll