Better Than: This
Billy Joel is an American institution. For many, Joel's music is passed down through generations like a father's advice on delivering a left hook or grandma's silverware. In South Florida -- also known as the balmy refuge favored by droves of self-exiled former New Yorkers and New Jerseyans seeking an escape from another winter or income taxes -- a Billy Joel concert is more than just a show: It's a chance to reconnect with roots. It's an opportunity to run gleefully down memory lane, and for some, a chance to pay it forward for new generations.
Last night marked Joel's triumphant return to South Florida, after a 3 year hiatus (publicized as retirement by many outlets) from live performance. Unfortunately, the show might be one of the last opportunities we have to see the piano man in South Florida for the foreseeable future, as Joel has signed to become Madison Square Garden's first franchised, resident performer, in a rather Vegas approach to late career-hood.
See also: Photos of Billy Joel at BB&T Center
With "farewell" lingering in last night's chilly air, Joel took his post behind a black Steinway and proceeded to run through a perfectly balanced set of hits and deep cuts to a completely packed BB&T Center. The crowd was positively jubilant for the duration of the evening, and though rarities and album tracks cut the bombast of the sing-alongs at times, Joel appeared to revel in the obscurities. However, the hits have not suffered from age. Joel hammered away gleefully at the popular numbers with a voice that appeared to be in as good a shape as ever, holding up the night's energy over the course of the 23-song set with ease.
Amid the stabbing keyboard lines and piano chop of "Pressure," Joel and his baby grand slowly rotated on a 360 degree axis, allowing the singer to be viewed from all corners of the arena while painting the picture of an obscure, piano-bound James Bond villain. Charming to a fault, the lesser-known numbers were introduced by year and album, and Joel's succinct and witty banter punctuated the night in a way only musicians who have worked in the trenches of the dive bars and restaurants possess. Highlights included a (surprisingly) light-hearted jab at former tour mate turned critic, Sir Elton John, his own age (claiming he was 5 when he wrote "Where's the Orchestra?"), and introducing "Blonde Over Blue" by saying it's "kind of a sick song... and I like it!" Joel even slipped into the piano exit of Clapton's "Layla" at one point before catching himself and lamenting the fact that he hadn't been the one to write it.
Joel's crack band of top tier musicians -- the majority of which were introduced by borough through the night -- bolstered the entertainer and added excitement to the set that was dotted with ballsy saxophone solos and thumping reports of heavy handed rock drumming. The set had people on their feet and moving to high energy songs like "All for Leyna" and "Everybody Loves You Now," and swaying gently to the soft tracks like "Vienna," which was greeted by a unison "aww" from the crowd. "New York State of Mind" brought a nostalgic sway over the audience, and "Piano Man" got everyone in the room in on a joyous and cacophonous sing-along.
The night ended with an encore romp through the megahits, a smooth dance with a mic stand during "You May Be Right" that showed how far the singer's mobility has come since his recent hip replacement surgery, and a smiling Billy Joel taking the #selfie of a lifetime for an audience member who offered up an iPhone.
Personal Bias: I never cared for Billy Joel's songs, but I definitely left a fan.
Random Detail: "Zanzibar" had the sexiest of flugelhorn solos.
-"Pressure" (with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" acapella intro)
-"The Longest Time"
-"Sleeping with the Television On"
-"Everybody Loves You Now"
-"All for Leyna"
-"Where's the Orchestra?"
-"New York State of Mind"
-"Blonde Over Blue"
-"She's Always a Woman"
-"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
-"Don't Ask Me Why"
-"The River of Dreams" (with "When the Saints Go Marching In" interlude)
-"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
-"We Didn't Start the Fire"
-"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me"
-"You May Be Right"
-"Only the Good Die Young"