There is almost nothing more exciting than a packed arena just before an icon is about to take the stage. As the lights start to dim and the crowd roars to its feet, the excitement is palpable – and so it was last night when the great Billy Joel took the stage at US Airways Center in Phoenix.
Part of a limited-city tour, Phoenix fans were fortunate that our city was one of the few to get this incredible show. Thanks must go out to Danny Zelisko and the team at Live Nation for once again ensuring that Phoenix fans get the very best rock n’ roll has to offer.
Just this morning I was talking with a colleague at Examiner.com about how difficult it can be trying to review a show as brilliant as this was. You don’t want to come off as a sycophant or overly complimentary – but I must say, I’m OK with that in this case, because this show was simply flawless.
One of the rare treats that I truly relished during the entire show was the extraordinary production value -- not only from the equipment and staging aspect, but also the incredible diversity of musicians and instruments. At any given time, you might see three band members all jamming on saxophone, as they did at the end of “Movin’ Out,” or a bongo drum jam coming out of the second drum set-up on the stage to close “River of Dreams.” Not to mention the incredible harmonies, killer jams and solos from this incredibly tight, well-assembled band that included all that you’d expect plus clarinets, trumpets, harmonicas, all-variety of percussion toys and probably even more instruments that I wasn’t even aware of.
From a staging aspect this show was bang-on stellar. A light show that stunned, an eight-screen high backdrop made up of varying screen widths and heights that provided a canvas for live images from the stage and crowd, mixed with photos and other art images that at times created a 3D-like effect that is hard to describe. Check out my slide show to see some of these images.
And then there is the Piano Man himself. There is so much to say that it’s hard to know where to start. I am not sure that I have ever seen a more humble, kind, funny and gracious performer, let alone someone of his magnitude and talent. I mean its hit after hit after hit. Songs with so much soul and emotion, others funny and yet others that address social and historical issues—a full palette of colorful brilliance anchored by the juxtaposition of the simple, but masterfully played, piano.
While I know many Billy Joel songs, I was unfamiliar with one he played--and as fate would have it, it was my favorite of the night -- a hard distinction to make once you see the set list -- but “And So It Goes,” moved me incredibly and created a moment in the arena that, for me, was magical. OK—one other really magical moment to note—because there were actually many— was at the end of “Piano Man,” when every sound from the stage stopped and every voice in the sold-out crowd sang the chorus – spine tingling magic for sure.
One other moment that moved me was during a cover version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” An odd one to be moved by, right? Well, there is more to this story. Billy allowed a member of the touring crew, guitar tech Shane (a native of Phoenix) to live a dream by singing this song on stage. Shane came out in shorts and t-shirt, the uniform of road crew guys, and banged out the lyrics, sometimes seeming to forget a few, in a voice that wasn't going to win any prizes—but that didn't matter. It was so cool to watch a dream playing out right before your eyes. Shane got a rousing ovation from his fellow Phoenicians and I got a few tears in my eyes, sharing that dream-making moment with him.
There were so many magical moments, so many incredible songs, funny stories and jokes Billy told throughout the night that, beyond identifying my favorite song of the night, is hard to quantify or try to fully express in words just how good a show this really was. I guess the best thing I can do is tell you to get in your car and drive to Las Vegas for the show June 7 if you missed this one. It’s that good people.
Official Set List (including songs he skipped (as noted), add-ins and short bits he played, not reflected on the official list, but added here)
Vienna/Summer (the crowd got to vote between Vienna and Summer Highland Falls, Vienna won)
Beginning of Fool In The Rain (Led Zeppelin)
Your Song (Elton John) (Billy did a good chunk of this one in an imitation of Elton’s voice)
A Bit of I’m Into Something Good (Herman’s Hermits, played impromptu after a crowd shout)
New York State of Mind
Billy The Kid
Instrumental of coda from Layla (Eric Clapton)
And So It Goes
Sometimes A Fantasy (Not Played)
Take It Easy (Eagles)
Always A Woman
Don’t Ask Me Why
Highway To Hell
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
River of Dreams (Played a bit of A Hard Day’s Night (Beatles) during this one.
We Didn’t Start the Fire
It’s Still Rock N’ Roll To Me
Uptown Girl (Not Played)
You May Be Right (opening act, Gavin DeGraw was on stage jamming out during this song)
Only the Good Die Young