If you haven’t yet been to a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden, you really should make it your business to go. Joel, who lives in Sag Harbor, is in performance there once a month. It’s a 23,000 seat venue. So there’s plenty of room. Except there isn’t. He’s been doing this every month for nearly three-and-a-half YEARS and from the very first concert, 40 shows ago to this day, it’s been a sell-out. Almost a million tickets have been sold, and that’s just so far. It’s broken every record for continuous performances at MSG since the beginning of time.
Yes, you’ll be able to go. But you’ll have to buy tickets for a concert four months ahead. It’s like The Book of Mormon or Hamilton, though it’s a little further downtown. Get far enough into the future and you can get tickets.
The turn came for me and my wife last week.
What a wonderful time this is. Billy appears just after the 8 p.m. start time—there’s no warm-up band—and everybody stands and cheers him and then they stay standing for the next two-and-a-half hours, swinging and swaying, singing the lyrics, screaming at the appropriate moments and generally having a great love affair time with their Long Island Piano Man who, for a while, held the record for the most records sold by a single performer in the history of the world.
The people stand, of course, expecting to hear his biggest hits—“We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Allentown,” “Piano Man,” etc., etc. But he doesn’t start with these. He starts with a series of songs that are not familiar to anybody but his most loyal fans. They are from the B-sides of his albums. Yet everybody here knows them. I posted a video on YouTube of a Madison Square Garden usher, a handsome young couple and two 14-year-olds standing just next to us, singing the lyrics and doing the appropriate gestures of various dance moves. Amazing.
After his first tune, Joel stares out at the sea of faces and says, “This is such a great job I have, isn’t it? Once a month.” And then he smiles. “Thank you for coming.” And everybody goes nuts again.
I should also note it is not just Billy and his piano up there. It’s his whole band onstage with the female singers, the drummers and trumpeters, keyboarders and bass players. He sits downstage at the front, playing his grand piano as the pyrotechnics and smoke surround him and at times seem to lift them all up. Eventually he gets around to his full familiar rock and roll repertoire. He’s brought hundreds of wonderful songs into this world. An astonishing 33 of those he wrote rose to the Billboard Top 40 in their time.
Sometimes he varies his repertoire. He asks the audience what they want to hear him sing. How about “For the Longest Time?” They cheer. Instead, he plays “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the African song with African instruments. This is certainly no song he wrote. Kevin Spacey, the actor and singer appears in the middle of the two-and-a-half hour show as a special guest for a duet of “New York State of Mind” with Joel.
Afterwards, Spacey tells the crowd how fortunate he feels to be here with Joel. He gets down on his knees and gestures to Joel. “I’m singing with HIM,” he says, then runs over to Joel with his cell phone and cuddles up beside him. “I’ve got to take a selfie.” And he does.
Of course “The Downeaster Alexa,” about a Long Island bayman, brings the house down. So does “Uptown Girl,” so does “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” The hits and the excitement flow.
Joel is now 67, married again and a father again, now with a two-year-old daughter. He sings strong and true and he plays flawlessly and it’s just for the rest of us to enjoy with him, this Long Islander whose wonderful songs have made him the popular national musical icon he is.
Don’t they have some guy who does this for the Jersey Shore? Nowhere near as good as Joel, in my opinion.