No one in 2014 is going to change their opinion on Billy Joel, whatever it may be. You are either into his top-tier pop songwriting that, were we to extend the boundaries of the Great American Songbook to the latter half of the 20th century, would surely qualify, his affable stage persona cultivated over a half-century of performing, and the nostalgic feeling his songs conjure thanks to their wafting in the background of your life from, oh, the 1970s onward. Or you’re not, for some weird reason. Spoiler Alert: The Spin is in the former camp.
Friday night was a warm, beautiful night downtown; the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of New York. (Sorry.) The predominantly middle-aged crowd of Match.com hookups and husband-and-wife date-nighters was in a phenomenal mood, and even our heart was warmed by the smattering of families throughout Bridgestone Arena. Seated in front of us, a mother and father brought their son and daughter (aged approximately 10 to 13) and appeared to genuinely enjoy each other’s company all night long. Two beers almost made us bold enough to compliment them on their family togetherness, but we erred on the side of Not Being Weird.
Piano-playing Jon McLaughlin was the opening act, a concert formality that we hadn’t expected or read about. A handsome singer-songwriter in the Mix 92.9 vein, his classical music-esque digressions on the piano seemed to go over much better than his songs, which were far too beige for any melodies to get wedged into The Spin's brain. “How fun,” we imagined to ourselves, “would it be for an opening act to do only classical music?” Very fun, was the consensus in our head. Someone should try it.
And as for Joel? Production was minimal, though at times pretty annoying. People seated near the floor had lights blasted in their faces intermittently throughout the show, like they were being interrogated by the NYPD’s singing-est detective. The Spin, with our photo-sensitivity and delicate constitution, had to shield our eyes several times during the evening. The separated Tetris blocks of video screens (reminiscent of the Black Flag logo) above the stage created an odd effect wherein Joel seemed to be three times as wide as he actually is; dude straight-up looked like he had a turtle shell under his jacket every time he appeared. There were cameras on the piano keyboard that were a nice touch. Oh, and the piano slowly rotated. It doesn’t sound like (and isn’t) much, but it was still about 10 times the production of Elton John.
But guys! The songs. Very little to be objective about there. Our notes are basically little more than a set list, because it’s hit after hit, classic after classic. Joel opened with “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” and followed that up with “Pressure,” which is when The Spin smelled the weed. As good a Billy Joel song as any to smoke up to in an arena, we suppose. (Sidebar: Who wants to risk a drug arrest for a Billy Joel concert? Like we said, the production is minimal.) “The Entertainer,” “New York State of Mind,” which is a song that makes us feel homesick for a city we’ve visited all of twice, The Stranger one-two of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “She’s Always a Woman,” covers of “A Hard Day’s Night” and a tiny bit of “Your Song,” “River of Dreams,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” (a song that features one of our favorite misheard lyrics, the character “Brenda Rinetti”) and “Piano Man,” which, yes, we got choked up over.
The encore, of course, was all hits. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was the first time Joel stepped away from the piano that evening, and the video screen became hilariously literal, projecting images of the lyrics. Yep, that kid is disfigured from thalidomide, all right. “Uptown Girl.” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” “Big Shot.” “You May Be Right.” And the final song, “Only the Good Die Young,” a song that terrified Baby Spin because we took the title of the song very, very seriously. There was slight heartbreak at the lack of “Vienna” (favorite), “The Longest Time” and, of course, “Why Should I Worry?” from the 1988 Disney non-classic Oliver and Company. A fine evening otherwise, folks. Very fine indeed.