As Billy Joel’s career has spread over four decades, so has his fan base. Passed down through secondhand record collections, barroom juke boxes and karaoke joints, the ubiquity and of his timeless songbook ensures that The Piano Man will always have an audience. The songs our parents heard when Joel was just a young buck from the Bronx have now become our songs.
It was clear from the moment I entered Dodger Stadium this past Saturday night. Mothers and fathers sat alongside their children who ranged from at least their mid-twenties to their late thirties. Out of the 45,000 fans who were there to hang on Joel’s every word, I was one of those children, sharing the night’s experience with my mom the day before Mother’s Day.
There are only a few early memories of Billy Joel that this late Gen X’er can recollect. It started with MTV videos of “Uptown Girl.” As he and I grew older, so did the music and its intended target during the VH-1 days where “River of Dreams” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” videos played on constant rotation.
But tonight Joel was just a mere 18 rows away. Though I wouldn’t consider myself a diehard fan, I’ve always admired his music. I do place him up high with some of the other greats that I grew up listening to: Bruce, Madonna, Michael. All pop/rock performers that I heard everyday on the radio before I discovered cassette tapes and vinyl records.
Under the clear, cool canopy of the Los Angeles sky, the lights of the stadium went dark and the spot lights fixated on the man coming from the rear of the stage. The roar of the crowd was instant, as the ominous sounds of the piano started playing. And so began “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” a song I’d just heard for the first time the weekend before the show as I tried to get more acclimated to Joel’s discography—including the distinctive “ack-ack-ack-ack-ack” line that bolted like a shock of electricity through the crowd.
Just as the second song started, the stage which Billy Joel’s piano sat upon started to rotate. I marveled at the stage as it moved and Joel’s ability to tickle the ivories with precision without losing his focus.
I’ve always thought of him primarily as a New York kid, devoted to the Yankees or Mets. Aside the story telling throughout the show, he proclaimed about his love affair with Los Angeles, where he said his career kicked off at the Troubadour. But he had a love for the Dodgers. He grew up as a Dodgers fan, he said during a short break between songs. But when they moved to California, he had become a Yankees fan, and now the Mets. And atop of his piano, only seen from the video monitor cutaways was a Dodgers hat. Even drummer Chuck Burgi wore a Dodgers jersey during the entire set. Obviously Billy Joel loves baseball. One of the smallest details seen by a few was the Wrigley Field coffee (or tea) mug on top of the piano, refilled every few songs with a fresh brew.
The first huge surprise of the night came when Joel brought out his first guest, Pink, about a third into the program. As his piano intro for “New York State of Mind” showed off his deft piano skills, the duet between the two became more romantic for the evening. Before she started the next tune, Pink said that she was Billy’s “pee break.” In addition, Pink sang one of her hits, “Try”, as Billy Joel came back and sat in front of the keys again. You can relive that moment here.
A few songs later, Joel brought out his second guest of the night, as he stood up away from the piano and was handed an electric guitar and started jamming. Those distinctive chords started playing and began the cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and out from the back a flannel wearing hatted man emerged onto the stage: Axl Rose. It was a special treat to see Axl fronting the song since it was a such a short lived career as AC/DC’s temporary front man last summer.
I’ve attempted many times to belt out “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” but the lyrics move so fast for me to catch up. It’s one of those songs that you think you know it but just mess up even when the lyrics are right in front of you. At least it was a slow pace with “River of Dreams” following next.
If you need to get your fix of “The Piano Man”, here’s the video:
With the concert being on the verge of Mother’s Day, it was definitely a treat to have her with me for the whole set.. Two years younger than the man on stage, she was only a teenager in high school when she first heard of Billy Joel (I asked her after the show). When Billy Joel performed “She’s Always A Woman to Me”, I could only think of my mom. She doesn’t have the best of hearing especially without the help of an aide and I have to be patient when talking to her. With the the concert being so loud, I had to still give her ear plugs. But she didn’t seem to have any problem hearing every word Joel sang. And under that clear, cool Los Angeles night, the fortunate sequence of events I brought mom along to her second concert ever.
The Set List:
Vienna / Just The Way You Are
For The Longest Time/ Innocent Man
Billy The Kid
Don’t Ask Me Why
New York State of Mind with Pink
Try with Pink
She’s Always a Woman
Say Goodbye To Hollywod
Highway to Hell with Axl Rose
We Didn’t Start The Fire
The River of Dreams with mid-song break cover of Eagles’ Take It Easy
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
It’s Still Rock N Roll To Me
Big Shot with Axl Rose
Only the Good Die Young
You May Be Right