This was one of those shows: where the arena is packed from the floor to the rafters; where the crowd stands for nearly the entire show, singing along to nearly every song; where the air is electric and the crowd and everyone on stage draws energy and emotion from one another.
Friday night, Billy Joel drew a crowd of nearly 18,000 to the Sprint Center, and for more than two hours, he and his eight-piece orchestra kept everyone in the place suspended in a state of euphoria.
He opened with “My Life,” adorning the intro with a couple bars of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” As he would several times throughout the show, he let the crowd decide between two songs. “The Stranger” won in a landslide.
For most of the show, Joel sat at a grand piano that rotated 360 degrees, giving him a view of the entire arena. A series of rectangular video screens hung above and behind the band, broadcasting an array of visuals. Two large screens that flanked the stage displayed Joel and other activity on the stage. It was slick but no frills. This evening, the music and his array of hits and favorite songs were the focus.
He played 24 songs, and even during the one or two lulls, like “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” the crowd was engaged and the room crackled with anticipation.
Joel said he was feeling fine but he sprayed his throat several with medication, a “secret” he picked up from Madonna, though “it didn’t help her much,” he wisecracked. If he was ailing even slightly, it didn’t show. Joel turns 66 on May 9, but he sounds today like he did in the late 1970s, when he burst into stardom with “The Stranger.”
The show was one long highlight, but some moments stood out. The band shone vocally during “The Longest Time,” his homage to doo-wop. Couples danced and swayed during the lone yacht-rock moment, “Just the Way You Are.” Other raucous episodes: “Allentown”; “We Didn’t Start the Fire”; and “Don’t Ask Me Why,” which he adorned with a few bars of “America” from “West Side Story”; and “The River of Dreams,” which included a verse from ZZ Top’s “Tush.”
He saved the best for last, closing with one of his best, “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” a song that is to Joel what “Jungleland” is to Bruce Springsteen. After pausing a bit to bask in the delirious roar, he launched into “Piano Man,” setting off the loudest and longest sing-along of the night.
The encore was even better. Joel abandoned the piano and stood at a microphone during the irresistibly poppy “Uptown Girl,” showing off some mic-stand tricks as he sang. Then came a salvo of four more hits, including the two closers, “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Even as Joel and the band took their bows and the house lights went up, the arena was still nearly filled with fans expressing more elation. It was that kind of show.
My Life; Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song); The Stranger; Zanzibar; Vienna; The Entertainer; An Innocent Man; New York State of Mind; The Longest Time; Just the Way You Are; Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway); Sometimes a Fantasy; Allentown; She’s Always a Woman; Don’t Ask Me Why; We Didn’t Start the Fire; The River of Dreams; Scenes From an Italian Restaurant; Piano Man. Encore: Uptown Girl; It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me; Big Shot; You May Be Right; Only the Good Die Young.