When you think of solo artists who are playing BIG arenas these days, there is a handful to name. Who comes to mind are James Taylor, Stevie Nicks, Andrea Bocelli, Bruno Mars, Madonna, Gaga and Joel.
Billy came to the Amway Center in Orlando last week for one of his four arena shows for 2017. Aside from his monthly residency at Madison Square Garden which is into a record 88 shows, this summer he is taking the show to baseball stadiums across the U.S. After seeing Billy several times, you get why this show is continually selling out. It appeals to an audience from millennials who grew up listening to their parents and even grandparents music to those who grew up with Billy Joel. At 67, Joel is past retirement age and still going strong.
From “Piano Man” to “River of Dreams” his catalog is massive. His show and setlist are never the same. Audience participation includes choosing between tunes by applause or singing along to any one of his iconic hits. At the Orlando show he brought out roadie “Chainsaw” who has been with him 30 years and had their own “American Idol” as Joel called it. Chainsaw shook the arena up with a hot version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” with Billy on guitar! Billy also payed tribute to the Eagles late Glenn Frey with “Take It Easy”.
A solo artist is never really solo. Great sidemen and women make Joel sound his best. This is a stellar band of artists. Everyone is given a chance to shine during the show. Brooklyn’s saxophonist Mark Rivera has been with Billy since 1982, “Longer than all of my marriages” quips Joel. Rivera’s signature sound heads up the horn section, Rivera is also musical director when he tours with Ringo’s All-Starr Band. Crystal Taliefero, backround vocals and percussionist arrived after being discovered by John Mellencamp. She has been with Joel since 1989 and has toured with Bruce, Bob Seger and the Bee Gees. Drummer Chuck Burgi has toured with Meatloaf, Hall & Oates, Joe Lynn Turner as well as being a sought after studio musician.
Carl Fischer is a horn section one man band playing trombone sax, trumpet, flugelhorn and has been with the band a dozen years now. He has several solos during the evening. David Rosenthal is the musical director and keyboardist since 1993. He toured with Cyndi Lauper, Rainbow and the late Robert Palmer. David has recorded with Whitesnake and guitar guru Steve Vai. Australian Andy Cichon on 5-string bass has divided his time between touring with Billy and Shania Twain for over 20 years. From Long Island, guitar genius Tommy Bynes was part of The Stray Cats band. He served as musical consultant and guitarist for “Movin” Out”, the 2002 Twarp/Joel Broadway musical. He is also guitarist for “Big Shot” a Billy Joel Tribute band that started on Long Island. Which brings it to the newest member of Billy’s sidemen, Mike DelGuidice. leader of “Big Shot” joined in 2013, initially for sound checks to stand-in for Billy. Then was asked to stay and sing backround along with guitar. He has gotten a couple of lead vocals in the show on jams of Zeppelin and even throws in some opera with a Puccini aria.
Billy is always tinkering around in-between the hits with snippets of a variety of genres. This night he took on Elton John including an impersonation of his friend joking about a line in John’s “Your Song”, that says “I don’t have much money but if I did I’d buy a big house where we both could live” Joel says “Really Elton, you don’t have much money”? It gets a loud laugh even though we all know Joel is as wealthy as his piano counterpart. Playing over 2 hours, you don’t want to see the show to end because you know Billy has songs he hasn’t played. That means you will just have to go to another show but whatever you do don’t miss out seeing Billy Joel and his great band for a once in a lifetime show.
all photos by Vicky Sullivan / Rock The Lens Photography