Yeah, he’s not retiring.
Billy Joel’s concert Wednesday night at The Paramount, his first on Long Island in 11 years, was not the work of a man at the edge of calling it quits. Joel has told me that he doesn’t want to keep performing when he’s not at the top of his game, when he’s the past-his-prime ballplayer who can no longer hit the fastball.
Well, his Huntington concert showed that he can still smack one right out of the park, as he did several times during the two-hour show, especially during “Miami 2017,” which he dedicated to the victims of superstorm Sandy. More importantly, it seems Joel has found a new set of his songs that he can still enjoy playing.
“I’m not going to do all hits tonight,” he said before launching into “Vienna.” “I’m tired of that [expletive].”
Joel is the rare multiplatinum artist who actually doesn’t need to do all his hits to entertain the crowd. His catalog is deep and wide enough to handle nearly any situation. (Soon, he will have the nation’s highest award for a performer to prove it, when he is honored by the Kennedy Center in December.)
Sure, The Piano Man may still need to do actually do “Piano Man,” but he can also do “Blonde Over Blue,” a song from “River of Dreams” that he believes he has never played on tour until last night, and the underperformed “She’s Right on Time” and “A Room of Our Own” from “The Nylon Curtain.” His setlist at The Paramount sounded fresh, a major accomplishment considering this year marks the 20th anniversary of Joel’s last pop album.
There was also a likable looseness to the show, which happened because Joel and his band were rehearsing at The Paramount last week for a European tour later this month and liked how they sounded so much they wanted to do a concert at the venue. For “The Entertainer,” Joel asked for the lighting guy to put a spotlight on drummer Chuck Burgi near the end of the song so that Joel would know when it was supposed to end.
Joel also seemed to enjoy working with some new band members -- bassist John Conte, saxophonist Andy Snitzer, who lit up the solos on “New York State of Mind,” and guitarist Mike DelGuidice, best known for fronting the Joel tribute band Big Shot -- alongside Burgi, the ever-impressive guitarist Tommy Byrnes, trumpeter Carl Fischer, and horn player/percussionist Crystal Taliefero.
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Joel has never seemed like the kind of guy to do a Mariano Rivera-esque farewell tour where he can pick up lots of keys to lots of different cities so that fans can say goodbye to him. The 64-year-old seems like the kind of guy who, one day, will just start spending more and more time at his motorcycle shop in Oyster Bay and on environmental causes related to Long Island. He seems like the kind of guy who, one day, just won’t do it any more.
But this is a lineup that sounds too good right now to be just prepping for a handful of shows in England and Ireland. And Joel sounds too good to be stopping right now.
“Maybe we'll see you again soon,” he said as he left the stage. That sounds like a pretty good bet.
SETLIST: Everybody Loves You Now / Movin Out / Vienna / The Entertainer / Room of Our Own / She’s Right on Time / Allentown / Great Wall of China / Miami 2017 / New York State of Mind / This Is the Time / Don’t Ask Me Why / Stop in Nevada / Downeaster Alexa / Blonde Over Blue / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / River of Dreams / Piano Man // ENCORE: We Didn’t Start the Fire / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / You May Be Right / Only the Good Die Young