Billy Joel’s 65th birthday party turned out to be quite the bash at the sold-out Madison Square Garden on Friday night, packed with moments that will be memorable to both the artist and his audience.
"You're supposed to retire at this age," Joel said in his welcome. "Or at least not have the name Billy."
But Joel showed no sign of getting ready for retirement at this show, repeatedly saying how much he loved his job and how thankful he was that he could keep doing it.
Throughout the two-hour show, Joel doled out some presents, including turning the show into a benefit for the North Shore Animal League's Bianca's Furry Friends campaign being spearheaded by his friends Howard and Beth Stern to expand the group's Port Washington headquarters. For Joel's donation, Stern dubbed him "Saint Billy," the new patron saint of animals, while stars like Sting, Paul Rudd and Judd Apatow looked on.
Jimmy Fallon made a surprise appearance, doing an a capella version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" with Joel and then a ragtime-reggae version of "Sweat" with his barber shop quartet the Ragtime Gals.
However, it was Joel who provided the most surprises, including playing, for the first time in decades, "Scandinavian Skies," the song he recently revealed was about his experience with heroin. He tackled "Uptown Girl," which he rarely attempts these days due to the notes that tax his upper register at the end, and added a version of "A Hard Day's Night" into the middle of "River of Dreams."
Perhaps the most touching surprise of all, though, was when Joel paused at the beginning of "Piano Man" to regroup, after a huge outpouring of appreciation came from the audience. He recovered quickly, though, changing a lyric to "It's a pretty good crowd for a birthday."
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“This really is a great job,” he said later.
And as Howard Stern said when he introduced Joel to the crowd, hopefully Joel will keep doing that job "for the rest of his life and then some." "Even after he dies, just stuff him and wheel him out here for a while," Stern said.
SETLIST: My Life / Movin’ Out / The Entertainer / Ballad of Billy the Kid / Everybody Loves You Now / Zanzibar / Goodnight Saigon / Allentown / The Lion Sleeps Tonight (w/Jimmy Fallon) / Sweat (w/Jimmy Fallon and The Ragtime Gals) / New York State of Mind / Scandinavian Skies / Sometimes a Fantasy / She’s Always a Woman / Don’t Ask Me Why / River of Dreams/Hard Day’s Night / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORES: Uptown Girl / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / Big Shot / You May Be Right (w/Gavin DeGraw)