Billy Joel’s 70th birthday party at Madison Square Garden Thursday night was packed with surprises — for him and for the capacity crowd.
“This is kinda a weird night,” Joel said after the crowd cheered wildly for him for spending his birthday at his concert. “What else am I gonna do?”
Daughter Alexa Ray Joel joined him on “New York State of Mind” and then led the crowd, along with 3-year-old sister Della Rose and Joel’s wife, Alexis, in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” Peter Frampton stopped in to deliver a fiery version of “Show Me the Way” with Joel and the band, complete with a talkbox solo. Frampton then gave Joel a talkbox of his own, before launching into “Baby, I Love Your Way.”
But he wasn’t Joel’s only well-wisher. As fans entered the show, they were handed a “Happy Birthday Billy” party hat and a laminated Billy Joel baseball card. And throughout the show there were video messages from friends, including Pink, who sang a bit of “Just the Way You Are” and told Joel, “You are the greatest, in my eyes.” Later, Garth Brooks told him, “I think you’re the only guy who gains momentum as he gets older.”
And Joel certainly did keep up the momentum, opening with “Big Shot” and “My Life.”
At the April show of his residency at the Garden, Joel tried a new strategy with his set list, focusing more on his hits rather than the more obscure corners of his catalog. On Thursday night, the 64th show in his residency and his 110th appearance at the Garden in his career, he followed the same pattern, though the set was punctuated with some of his own favorites like The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” and Dion’s “Runaround Sue.”
Joel and his eight-piece band were clearly having fun as they warmed up with bits of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Satisfaction.”
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It’s no wonder that Joel wants to keep performing.
Joel told Newsday that he has no plans to retire any time soon — something he wouldn’t have said five or even 10 years ago.
“I've become very comfortable with that concept of maybe you just don't retire,” Joel said. “Maybe it just keeps going because people want to keep seeing it. And it's a great job. I have a great band. I play great venues. And I make great money. So what's wrong with that?”