Rock ‘n roll icon Billy Joel brought his ever changing set list of classic hits to a packed Scottrade Center on Friday, nearly 20 years after he opened the venue, when it was called Kiel Center, on October 15, 1994. For the show 20 years ago he was touring in support of his “River of Dreams” CD, which was released the year prior and, subsequently performed several songs from that CD live that night.
On Friday, the only song from that CD, which is still his latest CD to date, he performed was the title track. Instead, he dug deeper into his other catalogue of albums from which to treat the crowd.
While many shows from other well-established musicians rely heavily on their past hits or a greatest hits show, Joel likes to mix things up for every show (a point he joked about when he talked about touring with Elton John in some friendly jabs at his touring partner). Joel left out several established songs like “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, “My Life” and “Just the Way You Are” among several others, replacing them with songs like “All for Leyna” and the jazzy styling’s of “Zanzibar”.
The audience didn’t seem to mind much as they ate up “summer, Highland Falls” (much to the surprise of Joel, who joked they must all be manic depressives) as well as “The Ballad of Billy the Kid”. The latter of which Joel acknowledged was factually inaccurate in many ways and explained how he just wanted to write a soundtrack like “The Magnificent Seven”, so he just made the whole thing up, taking liberties with historical facts along the way.
Joel joked often during the show to keep the air light and mixed in several back stories to songs as well, heavy on the references to one of his several ex-wives. At least at 64 he can still poke fun at himself and find humor in his life. He played snippets of songs from other artists like The Beatles’ “When I’m 64”, Elton John’s “Your Song” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” to which he added “I didn’t write that-but I wish I had”.
Looking rather dapper in his suit and tie Joel’s voice was as strong as ever, easily punctuating through the pulsing verses of “Pressure” and crooning though the soulful notes of “New York State of Mind”. Joel’s 8-piece band dutifully performed a solid set behind him (save for one “screw up” that Joel pointed out during “Sometimes a Fantasy”).
The stage setup was simple, yet elegantly elaborate with several 20 foot tall “strips” of video screens above the stage of varying sizes displaying a mix of video, artwork and colors. With an arsenal of several dozen light banks positioned around the stage the atmosphere was easily adaptable from a giant rock show to a small club feel. Joel’s piano rotated throughout the night and he joked “That’s it for the special effects, the piano turns this way and the piano turns that way. We spent the big bucks of this set.”
The concert ran a full 2 hours and was solid from start to finish. Joel stayed behind his piano for nearly the entire set, leaving and singing up front for only a couple songs during the encore. Joel acknowledged he hasn’t put out an album of new material in a long time but admitted he has the best job in the world that people still pay to see him. He shows his appreciation of that fact by not selling tickets to the first few rows, but instead giving them away to fans at the back of the venues for every show. Very classy, indeed.
The show ended with “Only the Good Die Young” during which a female fan jumped up on the stage, casually walked up to Joel, climbed on top of his piano and danced for him. Joel watched, wide-eyed and smiled but didn’t miss a note and kept on singing. She was up on the piano a good 15 seconds before security finally came out to escort her off the piano and the stage.
Gavin DeGraw opened the show with a brief 30 minute set that was solid. He admitted that Joel was his idol and looked genuinely stoked to be opening for him. His enthusiasm bubbled over as he couldn’t stop smiling when he came out to sing backup during Joel’s encore of “Big Shot”.
Billy Joel Setlist:
Miami 2017(Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
All For Leyna
Summer, Highland Falls
When I’m 64 (The Beatles cover – first verse)
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
And So it Goes
New York State of Mind
Your Song (Elton John cover – first verse)
Sometimes a Fantasy
She’s Always a Woman
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Don’t Ask me Why
The River of Dreams
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan cover – snippet)
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
Only the Good Die Young