Since Billy Joel became Madison Square Garden’s first entertainment franchise and started his monthly residency in 2014, he has broken one record after another.
Joel has performed at The Garden more than any other artist in history, a feat that grows ever more insurmountable with each monthly show and each new banner commemorating the record that gets raised to the rafters. He has sold more than 1 million tickets at The Garden, another seemingly unreachable achievement. And on Wednesday, March 28, he will perform the 50th show in his current run of shows. (The previous record was 12 in 2006, held by — you guessed it — Joel.)
To commemorate the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s milestone 50th concert, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit the 49 shows that came before it to see how much Joel’s show has evolved, how many of his famous friends have dropped by, and how he uses his monthly connection with fans to reflect the changing times.
SHOW No. 1 (Jan. 27, 2014) For music historians and future “Jeopardy” contestants, “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” was the first song Joel and his band played in the residency. The final encore was “Only the Good Die Young,” as it is on most nights. And as has become his custom, Joel introduced each member of the band — guitarists Tommy Byrnes and Mike DelGuidice, the horn section of Mark Rivera, Carl Fischer and Crystal Taliefero, who also plays percussion, keyboardist Dave Rosenthal, bassist Andy Cichon and drummer Chuck Burgi — and mentions their hometowns. As Joel welcomed fans to the first show, the enormity of the undertaking seemed to hit him. “I have no idea how long this is going to go,” he said. “This is my 50th year in show business. What was I thinking?”
No. 2 (Feb. 3, 2014) The second show marked a few firsts. It was the introduction of the “fielder’s choice,” where Joel gives the crowd a chance to pick the next song the band plays from two possibilities. (“And So It Goes” beat out “Where’s the Orchestra?”) It also marked the start of adding interludes to “River of Dreams,” with Joel dropping in a bit of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”
No. 3 (March 21, 2014) The first special guest of the run is AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, who does “You Shook Me All Night Long” with Joel and the band. This was before Johnson’s hearing problems forced him to leave AC/DC in 2016.
No. 4 (April 18, 2014) Joel brings out a string quartet to perform “She’s Got a Way” and “Where’s the Orchestra?” However, the most popular guests were the first responders who joined Joel and the band for a rare live performance of “Goodnight Saigon.”
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No. 5 (May 9, 2014) Joel celebrates his 65th birthday with some dear friends. Howard Stern introduces him and brings out his wife, Beth, and Joel’s then-girlfriend, now-wife Alexis to lead the crowd, many wearing Joel masks, in a version of “Happy Birthday.” “Even after he dies, stuff him and bring him out here and we’ll have more Billy Joel,” Stern says in his introduction. “Billy Joel is a Long Island guy who gives back.” Later, Jimmy Fallon joins Joel for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
No. 6 (June 21, 2014) Joel celebrates the arrival of summer by dropping The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” into “River of Dreams.”
No. 7 (July 2, 2014) Gavin DeGraw, who opened many of the early shows in Joel’s run at The Garden, joins him onstage for “You May Be Right.”
No. 8 (Aug. 7, 2014) Jon Stevens, former lead singer for INXS and The Dead Daisies, joins Joel for a rocking version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”
No. 9 (Sept. 17, 2014) Joel pays tribute to the then-ailing Joe Cocker by performing The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” in Cocker’s style. Later, he added a bit of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” in the encore.
No. 10 (Oct. 2, 2014) The night takes a metallic turn, with roadie Chainsaw leading the band in a version of “Highway to Hell” and a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain” finding its way into “River of Dreams.”
No. 11 (Nov. 25, 2014) Look, rock stars get to enjoy Thanksgiving week, too, and two big ones found themselves at Joel’s show. Sting joined in on “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” while John Mellencamp led the band on “Crumblin’ Down.”
No. 12 (Dec. 18, 2014) Joel starts what has become a heartwarming New York holiday tradition, by filling his December show with holiday songs. There’s a bit of “O Come All Ye Faithful” after “The Stranger,” some “Jingle Bells” in “My Life,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” in “River of Dreams.” Joel ties it all together with a lovely version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
No. 13 (Jan. 9, 2015) Joel’s first banner of the residency — “Longest Run of a Single Artist: 13” — gets raised to the rafters of The Garden, fittingly before “The Entertainer.”
No. 14 (Feb. 18, 2015) Joel calls a fielder’s choice between “Vienna” and “Summer, Highland Falls.” “Vienna” wins, but Joel plays both songs anyway.
No. 15 (March 9, 2015) Joel introduces Itzhak Perlman by calling him “the greatest violinist in the world today” and Perlman lives up to the billing on “The Downeaster Alexa” and “And So It Goes.”
No. 16 (April 3, 2015) Joel plays “Running on Ice” for the first time since 1986. “Maybe we’ll keep it or maybe we’ll shoot it,” he says following the song.
No. 17 (May 28, 2015) The Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere leads the band in a rousing version of “Good Lovin’,” as Joel celebrates the coming change of seasons with bits of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City.”
No. 18 (June 20, 2015) Joel dedicates “Keeping the Faith” to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, days after nine people were killed in the church. Richie Sambora joins in on “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right,” which segued into Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”
No. 19 (July 1, 2015) Joel gets his second banner in The Garden’s rafters for playing his 65th show at the arena, surpassing Elton John’s previous record of 64 shows. Kevin James is on hand to help raise the banner and restraining himself from doing more. “I feel like body surfing this audience,” said James. “But we’d probably set another record — for most injuries at a concert.”
Joel is thankful for the record. “This is so far beyond anything I’d ever imagined,” he said. “I first came to Madison Square Garden when I was 5 years old. It was in a different place. I saw Gene Autry singing ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ I didn’t know I was going to be here 65 times. Amazing.”
No. 20 (Aug. 20, 2015) Perlman returns to play violin on “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” and “The Downeaster Alexa.”
No. 21 (Sept. 26, 2015) Joel and the band show off their love of doo-wop with a medley of The Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” and his “The Longest Time,” done with spectacular, multipart harmonies.
No. 22 (Oct. 21, 2015) Joel shows his support for the Mets’ appearance in the World Series by dropping “Meet the Mets” into “New York State of Mind” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” into “River of Dreams.” John Mayer stops by to play guitar on “This Is the Time” and Steve Miller leads the band in “The Joker.”
No. 23 (Nov. 19, 2015) Chick Corea sits in with the band to play on “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” “Zanzibar” and “New York State of Mind.”
No. 24 (Dec. 17, 2015) The holiday show includes bits of “Feliz Navidad” in “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Little Drummer Boy” and “Jingle Bells” in “My Life,” as well as full versions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
No. 25 (Jan. 7, 2016) Fallon stops by early in the show to offer his Michael McDonald impression for a bit of “I Keep Forgettin’ ” and then a full-on Mick Jagger for “Start Me Up.” Then, he returns with Joel and the band for the encore, which includes the “fast” version of “Unchained Melody” and parts of “Duke of Earl” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
No. 26 (Feb. 13, 2016) Dhani Harrison drops in to appear on “The Downeaster Alexa” and the band goes into a full Led Zeppelin medley as “You May Be Right” morphs into “Rock and Roll” followed by “Whole Lotta Love” and “Fool in the Rain.”
No. 27 (March 15, 2016) Anyone wondering what “We Didn’t Start the Fire” would sound like with Perlman on violin found out on this night, as Perlman returned to jump into the rocker following his earlier appearance on “The Downeaster Alexa” and “Where’s the Orchestra.”
No. 28 (April 15, 2016) Before the 2016 presidential primary in New York, Joel didn’t make any endorsements, though he did dedicate “The Entertainer” to Donald Trump and “New York State of Mind” to Ted Cruz. He then followed that up with a bit of Cream’s “Politician.”
No. 29 (May 27, 2016) To kick off Memorial Day weekend in 2016, Joel put Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” at the end of “Summer, Highland Falls,” “The Boys of Summer” at the end of “The Entertainer” and “Summer in the City” in the middle of “River of Dreams.”
No. 30 (June 17, 2016) Days after the shocking shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 people and injured dozens more, Joel performed “You’re Only Human (Second Wind),” a song he rarely plays to those affected. “I understand the shock and the sorrow you’re feeling,” he said, dedicating the concert to the people of Orlando. “We’re no stranger to terrorism and mayhem and grief here in New York more than any other city in America. . . . I want to dedicate tonight’s concert to the people of Orlando. . . . We’re with you.”
No. 31 (July 20, 2016) Joel offers an early 90th birthday wish to his friend Tony Bennett, who joins in on “New York State of Mind” and gets a birthday serenade from the crowd.
No. 32 (Aug. 9, 2016) Joel unveils the band’s version of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” with guitarist DelGuidice handling lead vocals on the aria.
No. 33 (Oct. 28, 2016) Joel gets into the Halloween spirit with bits of the themes from “The Exorcist” and “Jaws” thrown in, as well as longer versions of The Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”
No. 34 (Nov. 21, 2016) The first rescheduled show of Joel’s run — postponed from Sept. 30 to give him time to recover from endoscopic sinus surgery — was more lighthearted than usual, including bits of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” He also throws in Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” to apologize to The Boss for building him a motorcycle that broke down earlier in the month. For the encore, Joel placed on his piano his newly won New York Emmy Award for best entertainment program/special for “Billy Joel: Home at The Garden.”
No. 35 (Nov. 30, 2016) Violinist Julian Rachlin joins Joel and the band for “The Downeaster Alexa.”
No. 36 (Dec. 17, 2016) The holiday show features bits of “The First Noel” in “The Entertainer,” “Jingle Bells” in “My Life,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in “Big Man on Mulberry Street” and “Joy to the World” in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” Joel also pays tribute to the Sag Harbor Cinema, which had been damaged by fire, during “Allentown.”
No. 37 (Jan. 11, 2017) Joel kicked off the third year of his residency with a classic rock extravaganza, using Derek and The Dominos’ “Layla” to end “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” in “Allentown,” Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in “Sometimes a Fantasy,” The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” in “Don’t Ask Me Why,” and The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” in “River of Dreams.”
No. 38 (Feb. 22, 2017) Joel brought a piece of New Orleans, where he had played earlier in the month, back to New York, keeping Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” in the set, featuring a trumpet solo from Carl Fischer.
No. 39 (March 3, 2017) The Rascals’ Gene Cornish and Felix Cavaliere drop by to join Joel and the band on “Good Lovin’,” while Mellencamp stops in to do “The Authority Song,” which gets mixed with “Land of 1000 Dances.”
No. 40 (April 14, 2017) Kevin Spacey makes a surprise appearance to deliver the second verse of “New York State of Mind” and trade lines with Joel. As tribute to J. Geils, who died earlier in the week, Joel adds part of “Centerfold” to “River of Dreams.”
No. 41 (May 25, 2017) The range of Joel’s influences was on display, adding The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” to “Vienna” and some of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to “New York State of Mind.”
No. 42 (July 5, 2017) To mark the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Joel brings back his version of “A Day in the Life.”
No. 43 (Aug. 21, 2017) Following the protests of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier in the month, Joel makes one of the strongest political statements of his career without saying a word by wearing a bright yellow Star of David on his black suit during his encores. Earlier in the show, Joel showed pictures of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former communications director Anthony Scaramucci while guest Patty Smyth joined him and the band for “Goodbye to You.”
No. 44 (Sept. 30, 2017) “You May Be Right” featured the unlikely trio of Joel, Paul Simon and Miley Cyrus in the encores, following Simon’s earlier appearance for “The Boxer” and “Late in the Evening” and Cyrus joining Joel for “New York State of Mind.”
No. 45 (Oct. 20, 2017) Joel paid tribute to Springsteen’s show opening on Broadway a week earlier by dropping a bit of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” in “Pressure.”
No. 46 (Nov. 18, 2017) “We’ve lost a member of our musical family,” says Joel, dedicating the show to the late Jeff Schock, director of The Billy Joel Archives and his former tour manager, who died earlier in the week. “He was with me since 1976. . . . You name it, he did it. . . . I’m going to miss him a lot. This show’s for Jeff.”
No. 47 (Dec. 20, 2017) The makeup show for the June concert, which had to be postponed due to Joel’s viral infection, became the year’s holiday show, which included “Little Drummer Boy” in “She’s Right on Time” and “Silent Night” in “Only the Good Die Young,” as well as an appearance by Steve Miller on “The Joker.”
No. 48 (Jan. 11, 2018) Foreigner’s Mick Jones and Lou Gramm join Joel and the band for rocking versions of “Urgent” and “Cold As Ice.”
No. 49 (Feb. 21, 2018) Joel is still trying new things this deep in his residency. This night marks the debut of “A Minor Variation,” an album cut from “River of Dreams,” and Sly & The Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” in the middle of “River of Dreams.”
WHO Billy Joel
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Wednesday, Madison Square Garden
INFO $65.50-$139.50; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com