Billy Joel opened his groundbreaking run as a Madison Square Garden franchise like a defending champion.
After all, he already holds The Garden record for the most sold-out shows in a single run for his 12 concerts in 2006. His monthly residency, which started Monday night and is already essentially sold out through September, is set to continue as long as the public is interested, Joel says.
Well, that’s going to be a while.
Joel’s two-hour concert Monday night showcased his wide range of strengths, with an eclectic setlist that balances his best-known rock classics with a mix of rarities that include the jazzy “Zanzibar” and the Broadway showstopper feel of “Where’s the Orchestra?”
There were times when Joel paused to soak in the moment, recognizing that the night could be the start of a possible new New York institution. At one point, he laughed as he caught a glimpse of himself on the massive video screen in his sleek, open stage set.
“I didn’t think I was going to look like this,” he said, looking up. “I look like my father. I thought I was going to look like Cary Grant.”
And though Joel seemed to be struggling with his voice a bit, even addressing it with a bit of throat spray that he said he saw Madonna use once that didn’t really help her, he still masterfully led the show and his excellent eight-piece band. The way the crowd turned “She’s Always a Woman” and “Piano Man” into roaring sing-alongs, Joel could easily have conserved his voice, though he sounded strong during “Summer, Highland Falls” and the doo-wop-drenched “For the Longest Time,” which he added “sounds better in a men’s room.”
The extended salsa-influenced opening of “Don’t Ask Me Why” was a welcome twist, as were the jazzy trumpet solos from Carl Fischer in “Big Man on Mulberry Street” and “Zanzibar.”
However, Joel’s hard-hitting encore was simply solid rock, built around his piano and Tommy Byrnes’ guitarwork, especially on “Big Shot.”
“It’s gonna be really cold when you leave tonight,” he told the crowd. “I’m hoping we’ll warm you up a little.”
SETLIST: Miami 2017 / Pressure / Summer, Highland Falls / For the Longest Time / Blonde over Blue / Everybody Loves You Now / All for Leyna / Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) / Where’s the Orchestra? / Allentown / Big Man on Mulberry Street / New York State of Mind / Zanzibar / The Entertainer / She’s Always a Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why / River of Dreams / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORE: Big Shot / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / You May Be Right / Only the Good Die Young