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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Billy Joel remains 'The Entertainer'

Billy Joel Entertainer_WEB
LAUREN WELDON | The Observer
LAUREN WELDON | The Observer

Though nearing 70, Joel still has the chops and charisma to captivate a crowd — if the very drunk, middle-aged woman in front of me was anything to go by. Joel stuck mostly with his greatest hits, opening with “Angry Young Man,” “My Life” and “The Entertainer.” There were a few slower songs — “Just the Way You Are,”  “And So It Goes” and “She’s Always a Woman" — but as always, Joel’s more poppy material carried the show.

From the start of the night — “Prelude/Angry Young Man” — the drums were electric and very, very loud, as were Joel’s vocals, which seem to be just as good now as they were in 1975 — a feat many aging rock stars would kill to pull off.

And it wasn’t just Joel. Joining the New York native on stage were a slew of guest saxophonists, guitarists and even an opera singer and Joel gave each time to shine. “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind” featured soaring saxophone solos while “The River of Dreams” — perhaps the best performance of the night — was graced by Gary, Indiana native Crystal Taliefero on the congas and vocals.

But above all, the night belonged to Joel and his fans. Joel’s career has been full of ups and downs, and playing a fifth straight sold-out show in Wrigley Field was never a given, even for the Piano Man himself. And the tens of thousands of fans knew that. Their passion — singing and dancing like they wore younger mens’ clothes —  drove the concert. Though technically spot-on, this show wasn’t for the critics or the money, but for loyal Billy Joel fans everywhere.

And, in a city known for Lollapalooza and more hip groups, it was refreshing to see an old-fashioned entertainer put on a memorable show. Yes, it's easy to attach the word “entertainer” to Joel, but in the truest sense of the word, that’s what he is. Joel knew what the crowd wanted and he gave it to them, twice even having the audience pick between two songs in what he called a “fielder’s choice.”

In between songs, Joel was still his usual witty self, working in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and pulling out a flyswatter when a fly threatened his bald head. And that’s not the mention the jabs about his ex-wives after “Just the Way You Are” and “She’s Always a Woman” and the potentially intentional poke at Kanye when Joel commented on his own lack of frills saying, “That’s it for special effects, the piano goes this way the piano goes that way. You can’t fly this thing.”

Joel saved his best for last and the high point of the concert was the last third which included “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and a 40,000 member sing-a-long to “Piano Man” where everyone in the audience swayed back forth like they were singing the Alma Mater. The encore kept everyone on their feet with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,”“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,”“Uptown Girl,”“You May be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young” in quick succession.

While he may not be doing backflips off of his piano like he did when he still had hair, Joel still knows how to put on a show. If you like even just a few of his songs, it’s well worth it to make it out to a show. Friday night’s show at Wrigley emphasized Joel's effect on the musical world and on the lives of his millions of fans. “Only the Good Die Young,” but the greats — like Joel — will live forever.