A freewheeling Joel played both hits and deep-cuts in an over two hour set.
Billy Joel opened his August 28th, 2019 show at Madison Square Garden with guitar-in-hand. Strange, you might think, for the Piano Man? Not for those who know his catalogue!
Joel opted this night to open with “A Matter of Trust,” a song that, until this year, he rarely performed in concert. The song is one of the only Joel tunes to feature him strumming a guitar, not plunking the keys.
The catchy riff in “Trust” melded perfectly into the anxiety-driven “Pressure,” after which Joel stopped to address the crowd. Noticing a light-up sign, and the one next to it that read simply “#100,” Joel began conversing with the group holding them up. The superfans told him it was their 100th Billy Joel show. He said, “You’ve been to a hundred of these? Shit, I ain’t even been to 100 shows. Shouldn’t you get a discount by now?” And a discount he gave them: “Turn those signs into the road crew, and we’ll give you tickets to the next one.”
Such is the freedom of a monthly concert. Each year that we have covered the Garden Residency, the setlist has been wonderfully different each time. While staples like and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Piano Man,” and the encore-opener, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” have their solid place in each concert, the middle of the show is where Billy can get creative with his setlist.
You might hear “Big Man on Mulberry Street” (we did not) or you might hear “The Downeaster Alexa” (we did). Or if you’re lucky, Joel may decide to randomly play a snippet of “Malaguena” or one of his instrumental compositions. We were lucky to get both that night.
A freewheeling Billy Joel seemed not to have a care in the world about where his setlist went at the Garden that night. A show highlight was a tribute to the Joe Cocker Woodstock anthem “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Joel remarked at his disappointment that Cocker was not a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member before launching into a near impression of him.
Each song had its own lighting to enhance the mood and bring out the intricacies in Joel’s work. Purplish pink for the malt shop-like “Uptown Girl,” and a rainbow spectrum of VeriLights for “Still Rock and Roll to Me.”
Sometimes, the lighting was a deconstruction of the particular album cover from the respective song. The backing image on how opener “A Matter of Trust” was a glistening rendering of the artwork from 1986 The Bridge. The reds, blues and greens during “River of Dreams” evoked the eponymous album’s wistful cover.
It is often noted that Billy Joel has not released a pop album in over two decades. Yet, Joel has a line in his 1974 hit, “The Entertainer,” “And I won’t be here in another year/If I don’t stay on the charts.” With show number 67 in the bag, and no signs of ending his Garden Residency anytime soon, nothing could be further from the truth.