Billy Joel has reached a point in his career where there’s little else to achieve. He’s currently in an ongoing residency at Madison Square Garden that began in 2013 and will continue “as long as there is demand.” Joel saved Chicago fans a trip to the Empire State with a record fourth sold-out performance at Wrigley Field on August 27.
The crowd never knows what to expect when Joel takes his spot on stage at the piano, and that’s what keeping his MSG run fresh. There’s always going to be any number of his countless hits–Chicago was treated to “My Life,” “Big Shot,” “The River of Dreams,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Piano Man”–and virtually any deeper cut from his entire catalog is always a possibility.
Joel toyed with the crowd, offering several “fielder’s choices” whereby he calls out a pair of song titles and lets the audience’s response dictate the song. It’s usually a win-win proposition. For instance “Just the Way You Are” was chosen over “New York State of Mind,” and “The Stranger” beat out “Say Goodbye to Hollywood.” However, Joel even poked fun at the himself when he offered up “No Man’s Land” and “All for Leyna” to little fanfare. It prompted the Piano Man to quip, “That’s a biggie, a barn burner,” and “Neither one sounded like an ass kicker” finally leaning toward “Leyna.”
An eight-piece band of multi-instrumentalists changed the mood in a heartbeat. They brought vitality to Joel’s music, and easily kept up with his offbeat personality and frequent improvisation. Whether it was a compelling blend of horns, uplifting guitar riff or a simply a backing harmonica, they added great depth to each song. Early into the show Joel recollected his jaunts to Chicago over the years. From opening for The Beach Boys, Hall and Oates, and Yes to his co-headline gigs with Elton John, Joel threw in some impersonations of those acts to boot.
There’s no denying that Joel still has the pipes to perform in excess of two-hours. He went beyond the 11 p.m. Chicago curfew by a good fifteen minutes and had no trouble hitting his notes. When the crowd chose “The Longest Time” over “Honesty” he did take a moment to warm up with an a cappella verse of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” before launching into his classic hit. Then again, that’s just another facet of his endearing live show.
Amy Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence joined Joel during his lengthy four-song encore. They replicated a scene from the movie “Trainwreck” by dancing barefoot atop his piano during “Uptown Girl.” Schumer and Lawrence have been working together on a screenplay and Amy is in town this week for the Oddball Comedy Fest in Tinley Park this coming weekend. Joel finished out the set with “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.”