On Saturday night, Billy Joel came to Philly and sold out Citizens Bank Park — again. Mayor Kenney even declared September 9th as “Billy Joel Day” in Philadelphia, seeing as he’s the first artist to play at, and sell out, the stadium four years in a row. The weather was perfect and Joel pounded on the keys for about two and a half hours, with no opener and no breaks (save for the encore). If you are a Joel fan — I know not everyone is — you probably found the show to be memorable. Here, five takeaways:
- He’s old, but his voice is not. When I saw Sting years ago, he had the stage presence of a 30-year-old, but his songs were half-a-beat slower and his voice less powerful than they were back in the day. Joel was the opposite: He did gear up with a few deep breaths before strapping on his harmonica for “Piano Man” (the crowd laughed), but his voice sounded strong, inspired, and familiar. (Now, that spinning piano he played on? That felt a little outdated.)
- The crowd was young. There were plenty of groups of 20- and 30-something fangirls and young couples that packed the stadium despite, as Joel pointed out, some songs having been written before many of them were born.
- It was like Joel was performing for a small, intimate crowd at a club — not the sold-out CBP. And that was pretty awesome. After opening with a few hits to get the crowd going (like “We Didn’t Start the Fire”), he scanned over his song list that sat on top of his piano (next to his fly-swatter), and let the crowd pick which songs they wanted to hear. He was casual and chatty and made a few jokes, including one about his many marriages. It was a nice break from today’s overly produced shows that often come through stadiums of that size.
- He played some covers. With so many hits that the audience was foaming at the mouth for, I wasn’t expecting this. But it was welcome for the show’s pacing. Joel & co. did “Take it Easy,” probably as a tribute to the late Glenn Frey, in the middle of “River of Dreams,” and after talking about what an inspiration The Beatles were, he performed “A Day in the Life”.
- He still loves his old songs, and so does everyone else. At one point he joked about how sorry he was that he didn’t have any new songs to play. Everyone laughed, because, let’s be honest, they were all there for “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” anyway. But so was the man himself: He and his backup band (at least one of whom has been with him for 30-plus years) gave the classics their all. Joel had fun and the crowd did too. It was the sing-along to end all sing-alongs for Billy fans.