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Harlan Friedman on Billy Joel and the '10th band member'

Billy Joel takes the stage at Madison Square

Billy Joel takes the stage at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Friday, July 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Billy Joel plans to play monthly shows at Madison Square Garden for as long as the public is interested. Follow his first year of this groundbreaking music-industry experiment by looking at his shows through a variety of viewpoints -- from critics, musicians, celebrities and fans. This month, it’s Glen Cove’s Harlan Friedman, former WLIR DJ and current owner of Oyster Bay-based The Harlan Group, the event marketing and PR company behind The Oyster Festival and USTA Serves events at the U.S. Open. Check back every month in 2014 to see how Joel's concert series is evolving.

 

“From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island…” is, for many, simply a lyric. For some, it’s a musical postage stamp validating the Piano Man’s love of Long Island. And, for a much smaller group, an overwhelming authentication of “Our Guy”’s home.

Growing up in Oyster Bay, three things give us pride. The first is Sagamore Hill, the summer residence of President Theodore Roosevelt. Secondly, every year people descend upon our town and eat the incredible delicacies that come from our bay at The Oyster Festival. Then, there is the third one – “Our Guy,” Billy Joel – who people ask if you have ever seen, as if he was the monster of Loch Ness.

Wednesday night, “Our Guy” showed why. He did what he does best. He brought about 20,000 of his friends to Madison Square Garden, where he is now the “house band” for what has become a monthly happening.

Randy Newman's central theme to “The Natural” kicks in and the faithful Madison Square Garden audience knows it’s show time. The buzz kicks in.

Projections of what he will open with start filling the arena like political analysts on election night. “2017!” one fan shouts, as another calmly states he did “Matter of Trust” last show so it will be “Pressure” tonight.

Several strokes of the keyboard in, the popular vote wins and a powerful version of “Miami 2017” wins the bet. As Billy guides us through a tapestry of hits ranging from “Everybody Loves You Now” off of his debut album “Cold Spring Harbor” to the title cut off off his last studio album, “River of Dreams,” he does it with the same excitement and pride that has sustained him through his almost-50-year-career.

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Billy’s interaction with the audience is frank and genuine, asking for forgiveness before belting out a perfect rendition of “An Innocent Man,” hitting all those so-hard-to-reach high notes. After “The Entertainer,” he looked at the audience and reflects upon the lyrics, “You've heard my latest record, it’s been on the radio.”

He smirked and remarked, “Last time I did that it was 21 years ago. Thanks for still coming to see me!”

Joel is pulling classics out of the archives including “A Room of Our Own” and “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” leading New York City’s largest two-hour sing-along.

I do believe there is a little extra magic at each Billy Joel show. If the Seattle Seahawks won this year’s Super Bowl partly in due to the “12th Man,” I would say that some of the magic at a Billy show comes from the “10th Band Member.”

Billy’s fans take a true ownership in each show singing along with every word, cheering for each song louder than the last and pushing the man behind the piano and his band to elevate its game to higher and higher levels every show.

Early on, Joel introduced himself and his bandmates with, “We’re the house band and we might be here for the rest of my natural born life.” Let’s hope so, Billy! We can only imagine the heights you will reach.

 

SETLIST: Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) / Pressure / Everybody Loves You Now /  An Innocent Man / The Entertainer / A Room of Our Own / This is the Time / New York State of Mind / Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) / And So it Goes  / Allentown / Big Man on Mulberry Street / My Life / She's Always a Woman / Don't Ask Me Why / Sometimes A Fantasy / The River of Dreams/Summer in the City / Scenes From an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORE: Uptown Girl / It's Still Rock and Roll To Me / Big Shot / You May Be Right (with Gavin Degraw) / Only The Good Die Young

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