On August 11, I had the esteemed opportunity to see Billy Joel perform live at PNC Park, right here in Pittsburgh. I’ve always enjoyed Mr. Joel’s music; I had never really gone super deep into his discography, but I’ve always been down with the classics: Uptown Girl, Piano Man, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, etc. Still, as a slightly less than casual fan, I went in with very high expectations. I mean, it’s Billy Joel. He’s among the most iconic musical artists of all time; I’m going to expect a great show. And he more than delivered.
The set list was expertly crafted; it was a great blend of his classic hits along with more obscure entries in his discography. The way that he interweaved them together, and balanced more high energy songs with lower energy ones created a very smooth and successful flow to the experience. As someone who isn’t very well versed on his deeper cuts, I appreciated their inclusion and the opportunity to be introduced to them. I also respected it from an artistic perspective, as in, “I’m Billy Joel, I’m a legend, if I feel like playing The Ballad of Billy the Kid, I’m going to do it.” Still, my favorite part of the concert was probably the end; he concluded with Piano Man, which brought the crowd to their feet, and kept them there with an encore comprising of, “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and “Big Shot.” It was a fantastic note to end on; I left feeling very hyped and energetic. The set felt very inclusive and satisfying for everyone; more casual fans, super fans, and even Billy Joel himself; for someone who’s been performing as long as he has, I could imagine it getting repetitive and almost monotonous at this point, but his performance never gave any indication as to feeling this way. You could tell he loves what he does, and is very much still invested in it. He was extremely lively, and actually kind of funny.
Part of Joel’s great performance was the banter he exhibited between songs; he had a very relaxed, easy going, and almost self deprecating nature, which set a very fun, lighthearted energy for the show and as an introduction to songs. He readily acknowledged when a song he was about to do was unsuccessful, and in a particularly memorable moment, said he didn’t want to do something (I wish so badly that I could remember what) because it would be a “cringefest.” But the best moment of this variety, hands down, was the way he exited the stage before coming back for the encore. Everyone’s clapping, he’s standing there taking it in, he points at the piano, gives a hand wave as if to say, “Forget about it!” and then books it backstage. It was an active scurry, his arms were in it and everything. I will forever be grateful not only that I was there to watch Billy Joel scurry away live, but that I caught it on video. He had a very personable and down to Earth nature about him, which created an intimate feeling for the show; it felt like everyone, “us” and him, was having fun together, hanging out, listening to some tunes he was playing.
As for, you know, the actual music portion of the performance, he sounded great; better than I was expecting really. Of course not exactly the same as way back in the 70s or 80s, but still very impressive and easily recognizable. He didn’t move and groove around too much throughout the performance, I’m assuming to conserve as much energy as possible for that mad dash at the end, opting to mostly sit at the piano. The screens broadcasting the performance, so that everyone would be able to see him and his band more easily, had great coverage, often fading between him singing and his hands playing the piano. They also had great coverage of the band, who were all extremely talented and very much enhanced the show. Everyone, including Joel, was very lively and into their performance; it reflected a commitment to put on a good show, and not fall back on his reputation or fame alone to carry it.
Mr. William Joel has definitely still got it; he put on a very entertaining show on multiple levels, delivering classic hits and more obscure gems with impressive commitment for someone of his age and grandeur, all the while maintaining a very personable and lighthearted atmosphere. His experience and mastery was apparent in pretty much every single aspect; I’m exceptionally grateful to have had the opportunity to see this legendary performer live.