Billy Joel told a capacity audience of about 40,000 precisely what they wanted to hear during a stellar performance at Kauffman Stadium on Friday.
“I don’t have anything new for you,” he confided. “It’s the same old (stuff).”
The old stuff included straightforward interpretations of a handful of the biggest hits of the 1970s and 1980s in an oldies concert, just over two hours, that revived a long-dormant use of the baseball stadium.
While the production lacked the pyrotechnics of most large-scale shows, colossal video screens displaying live footage of Joel and his eight-piece backing band gave fans in the upper deck a front row view. Joel’s rotating piano was the only notable special effect.
Joel, like his contemporary Elton John, alternated between evoking the manic rock of Little Richard and the formal styling in the tradition of George Gershwin.
Joel’s voice was in fine form, although he strained to hit a high note on “Uptown Girl.”
Kauffman Stadium proved to be a worthy venue for Joel.
“I’m told that this is the first show you’ve had here in 39 years,” the Long Island native said.
An enormous stage was positioned under the Crown Vision scoreboard. Dozens of rows of folding chairs were situated on thick plastic tiles covering the outfield grass.
Supplemental sound reinforcement for fans in the grandstand were provided by towers of speakers positioned at first base, third base and home plate.
Swarms of insects drawn to the spotlight distracted Joel, 69. He wielded a flyswatter like a furious conductor waving a baton before conceding to the pests. He serenaded a bug on his right shoulder during “She’s Always a Woman” midway through the show.
He also lamented that his career wasn’t even more successful, noting that “I wrote more songs that weren’t hits than were hits: I call them album tracks instead of bombs.”
The lesser-known “The Entertainer,” a 1974 composition about the ruthlessness of the music industry, was among the most rewarding selections. The song’s narrator frets that “I won’t be here in another year if I don’t stay on the charts.”
Joel disproved the notion on Friday. Even though he hasn’t had a hit in 25 years, he’s as popular as ever.
Set list: Big Shot; My Life/Ode to Joy; Vienna; Big Man on Mulberry Street; Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song); Layla; Don’t Ask Me Why; New York State of Mind; No Man’s Land; The Magnificent Seven; The Ballad of Billy the Kid; And So It Goes; Allentown; The Entertainer; Respect; She’s Always a Woman; Sometimes a Fantasy; Only the Good Die Young; The River of Dreams; Nessun Dorma; Scenes From an Italian Restaurant; Piano Man; We Didn’t Start the Fire; Uptown Girl; It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me; You May Be Right/Rock and Roll