Before a sold-out crowd at Boston's Fenway Park Wednesday night, Billy Joel played his first concert since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Attendees called the show a tour de force that included a marriage proposal, audience singalongs and a tribute to the recently departed Dusty Hill of ZZ Top.
Rescheduled from the pandemic-delayed Aug. 28, 2020, date, the show featured 27 songs and snippets, according to Setlist.fm, starting with Randy Newman's ethereal and optimistic end-title instrumental to the 1984 baseball-fantasy film "The Natural."
From there the 72-year-old Joel and his band proceeded through a catalog of his neo-American standards, including "My Life," "Pressure," "Vienna," "The Longest Time," "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," "Allentown," "She's Always a Woman," "Only the Good Die Young," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and, during the extended encore, "We Didn't Start the Fire," "Uptown Girl," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Big Shot," "You May Be Right" and Joel's signature song, "Piano Man."
Sprinkled among them were such deeper cuts as "The Entertainer," "Zanzibar" — recently revived as a viral TikTok dance, which Joel puckishly noted — "The Downeaster Alexa," "And So It Goes" and "A Room of Our Own," as well as unexpected fillips such as the Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown classic "Singin' in the Rain" and Solomon Linda's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Joel and company additionally performed an aria from the Puccini opera "Turandot": "Nessun dorma" ("Let No One Sleep"), popularized by Luciano Pavarotti in the 1970s and sung Wednesday by Miller Place's Mike DelGuidice, the singer-guitarist who years ago went from fronting the Joel tribute band Big Shot to joining Joel's actual band. He and the music icon previously have performed it during Joel’s Madison Square Garden residency. Lauded one Twitter commenter, "#MikeDelGuidice's solo is EVERYTHING good and pure in this world."
A reviewer for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette noted that DelGuidice was filling in on bass "due to bassist Andy Cichon coming down with COVID."
Another Twitter commenter posted a photo of audience members on a giant screen reacting to a marriage proposal. "Someone just proposed in front of 25,000 #BillyJoel fans at @fenwaypark while 'She's Always [a] Woman' played. (she said yes)," the person wrote.
To his performance of "The River of Dreams," Joel added a portion of ZZ Top's 1975 hit "Tush" in honor of that trio's bushy-bearded bassist Hill, who died July 28 at age 72. Rolling Stone magazine noted Thursday, "The song was a great spotlight moment for percussionist Crystal Taliefero; she spent some of the pandemic battling breast cancer but appears to be back in fighting shape."
Joel's six-song encore included audience singalongs to "You May Be Right" and "Piano Man," ending with a standing ovation.
Joel's next show is Aug. 14 at Buffalo's Highmark Stadium. He returns to his pandemic-interrupted Madison Square Garden residency on Nov. 5.