August 31, 1997 – The night Princess Diana died.
U2 played Landsdowne Road that evening too, and at the gig I met an older man from Australia. A huge fan – he had seen the band multiple times, but I could tell this one was special to him.
Why? Well as he roared to me in a mid-gig fit of love for the band and the moment – it’s different when it’s their home town.
And I guess that’s why I waited to see Billy Joel in Madison Square Garden.
Cos he’s from only out the road in Long Island. And right from the get-go when he launched into Miami 2017 the New York influences were clear. And the crowd loved it.
I knew the songs of course. And while it was special to hear 6 of the 7 amazing opening tracks from The Stranger live for the first time, what I was really waiting for was to see what else he would do. And how the band would interact. Who’s calling the shots. Are they having fun?
They were. And the man himself sure was. This was his 118th show in Madison Square Garden, and his 72nd consecutive monthly gig there. So he has to keep it interesting for himself and the band.
So the gig was peppered with snippets of other songs. Many with references to New York. Cos it was his home town.
The outro to Layla from the end of Goodfellas. The opening riff from Kander and Ebb’s (and Sinatra’s) New York New York. Manhattan by Rodgers and Hart, and the first few notes of the Prologue to West Side Story.
He made the ‘more cowbell’ joke during A Hard Day’s Night, and he and the band rocked out on Ode to Joy.
He brought the three horn players out to bounce off each other at the end of Movin’ Out. All sang BVs. Two played percussion also. One played trumpet, trombone and two different saxophones throughout the gig.
And then Jon Bon Jovi from across the Hudson River arrived up to sing Big Shot and It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me.
I could go on.
But as Sinéad said to me after the gig – ‘he can really play’.
And she was right. And after travelling across the Atlantic to see him that’s the biggest thing I’ll take home. And it might sound obvious, but Billy Joel can play piano.
Not just the bits in his songs that you hear on his albums, but he can play. Really play. Mess around. Jam. And I knew he probably could (I had seen this looser version of New York State of Mind) but I just never had the opportunity to hear him do so live.
Cos that’s where the craic was. Sure his songs are great, but watching him trade solos with Chuck Burgi (the drummer) at the end of I Go To Extremes was eye-opening. He loved it – and so we did too.
Or the comedic four false starts to Piano Man where he’d play the opening two chords and then launch into another piece entirely. I didn’t recognize all 4 pieces but they sounded like old American tunes, possibly some of the earliest ones he learned on the piano. But as they’d say here, he played the hell outta them.
In his home town. For the umpteenth time. But we still believed him.