The Piano Man started things off in Tampa on Friday night a little different this year. Instead of taking to the ivories, he came out on guitar to a rousing opener of “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.
Billy brought something for everyone on this annual trip to Florida’s west coast. There were the hits and there were some deep cuts for the diehard Joel fans!
Billy’s 1976 album “Turnstiles” got some air play with “Summer, Hyland Falls” and “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”. The iconic ode to the city that never sleeps “New York State of Mind” is on the record as well. Saxophonist Mark Rivera and Billy transport us to the city along with graphic images on the big screen. Another rare gem from 1990’s “Stormfront” album is “The Downeaster Alexa”, a tribute to the northeastern fishermen and their boats. Billy’s own boat was named after his daughter Alexa. The next cut that was a big surprise was “Modern Woman” from the 1986 film “Ruthless People” that starred Bette Midler and Danny DeVito. This was on “The Bridge” album produced by Phil Ramone. Billy said, “I have this thing for women,” which draws a laugh and croons, “She’s Always a Woman”.
One of the things about a Billy Joel show is that you never know what is going to happen. Any musical genre or time period can show up. In Tampa, early rock and roll showed up, with Billy and the band playing The Beatles “I Feel Fine” and you feel like you have stepped into 1964! “The River of Dreams” has become a highlight of the show, not only for the amazing arrangement but for the interlude of whatever song Joel segues off on in the middle which for the Tampa crowd was ZZ Top’s “Tush”. The crowd and the band in full rock mode. Band member Mike DelGuidice steps up to bring some beautiful opera with Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” to put the crowd in the mood for “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”.
On the setlist, to name a few were, “Allentown”, “Only the Good Die Young”, “My Life”, “Don’t Ask Me Why” and “Sometimes a Fantasy”. The over 20,000 sold-out crowd was ready to sing-along with “Piano Man”, with Billy on harmonica and piano singing his own life story. Returning for the encore, Billy left the piano to sing the 80’s MTV video hit, “Uptown Girl”, complete with Billy swinging a gift bag given to him by a fan. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “ Big Shot” kept the high energy going with the closing tune “You May Be Right” with a snippet of Zeppelin thrown in.
It is amazing that Billy Joel continues to sell out Madison Square Garden month after month, baseball stadiums around the country and shows wherever he goes. He hasn’t had a new album since 1993! How is this possible? Is it about nostalgia? There might be a bit of that but it’s so much more than that. It is about great music! Billy has written some timeless songs but also plays covers of other timeless artists. It touches the hearts and souls of the millions of people who have been to Billy Joel shows. It is also an evening of fun! Singing and dancing is going on all over from the nosebleed seats to the front row! Strangers next to each other singing together! As Billy says, “ It’s been me they’ve been coming to see to forget about life for awhile”!
Photos from Vicky Sullivan / The Suncoast Post