Although most of Billy Joel’s biggest hits date back a few decades, you wouldn’t know it from the fans that filled his 33rd sold-out Madison Square Garden show Wednesday night in New York. Listeners ranged from 8-year-olds to millennials to senior citizens, all still flocking to see what has been the most successful arena engagement of all time; by the end of this monthly residency, the Garden will have moved some 700,000 tickets.
Most of the time, Joel sat in his black suit and a black tie, at his sleek, black Steinway. He switches keys on the piano just like he did 25 years ago, and his voice is clear and beautifully distinctive in a way that Auto-Tune could never replicate. In other words: Joel doesn’t need many props to get us all to rock out.
Check out the five best moments of Joel’s show:
1. The best way to make any audience go crazy for you is letting them chose from your assortment of songs in the self-proclaimed “love section.” Joel just celebrated his one-year anniversary with wife Alexis Rodderick, so maybe he was feeling a little sentimental when he asked the audience to choose between “Just the Way You Are” and “Innocent Man.” The former won by a close margin.
2. He wished a happy 90th birthday to a special guest. After playing the first few notes of “New York State of Mind,” a guest appearance was made by none other than Tony Bennett, who turns 90 on Aug. 3. With all 18,200 spectators on their feet, Joel accompanied this crooner on the piano for the quintessential hometown classic.
3. He uses the word “MILF.” Need we say more? To introduce “Sometimes a Fantasy,” Joel admits that perhaps this song may have been “a little risqué for its time,” as it came out in 1980, but that doesn’t stop him from belting this song that’s about a “MILF,” as he put it.
4. He completely tricks and/or temporarily confuses his audience. At one point in the latter half of the show, Joel got the audience going with what we all thought was going to be the Bees Gees‘ “Stayin’ Alive.” Then he decided he was “singing too highhh, too highhh, too highhhh” and switched to the beginning notes of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” before again switching to a lower key. (I told you it was confusing.) This was all cleared up, however, when Joel brought out his guitar technician Chainsaw to bust out a heart-thumping cover of the classic rock song.
5. He brought down the house with “Piano Man” — but that’s a given, isn’t it?There was nothing complicated about this song’s performance- all it was was Joel, his piano and the unforgettable harmonica, and the voices of an entire arena singing together- but that’s all you really needed to conclude a concert like this one. The screen featured only images of purely blissful audience members, including a 6-year old who knew all the lyrics, an elderly woman with her head on her husband’s shoulder, and a man with both arms around his daughters. There wasn’t one song that didn’t transport each listener to a particular place or person the music reminded them of. In “Piano Man,” Joel sings: “He knows it’s me they’ve been coming to see to forget about life for awhile.” On Wednesday night, speaking for almost 20,000 people, he couldn’t be more right.