"Because he knows that it's me they've been coming to see to forget about life for awhile."
That lyric from the Billy Joel classic "Piano Man" rang true for several thousand people Thursday night who watched the Rock 'n' Roll and Songwriter's Hall of Famer deliver an outstanding two hours of hits and rarities.
Joel gave both die-hard fans and those only familiar with his radio hits what they wanted as he delivered a heavy mix of songs found off his Greatest Hits albums as well as obscurities that haven't been played in years.
Opening with "Prelude/Angry Young Man," Joel seemed a little sluggish getting out of the starting blocks despite his quick finger work on the piano. But by the second song, "My Life," he was firing on all cylinders.
Although Joel doesn't move around the stage as much as in his younger days, preferring instead not to stray too far from his piano, his stellar voice has not aged. Joel kept a spray bottle close by all night, noting to the crowd he needed to keep his vocal chords lubricated in the high altitude.
Joel had been on tour for nearly a decade with Elton John delivering nothing but greatest hits every night. On this tour, Joel dipped into his archives, pulling out rarely played gems like "Everybody Loves You Now" from his first album, 1971's "Cold Spring Harbor." Other rarities included "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" and a great rendition of "The Entertainer."
At one point, Joel gave the audience a choice of three rarities to choose from with "Vienna" from "The Stranger" album winning out over "Summer, Highland Falls" and "She's Right on Time for Me."
The jazzy "Zanzibar" was another rarely played highlight off 1978's "52nd Street" album and featured the outstanding trumpet work of Carl Fisher.
Joel's piano rotated throughout the evening to give fans from all sides a chance to see both his face and his piano playing skills on songs like "Allentown."
"That's it for the special effects. It's not a Pink Floyd show," he joked to the audience.
Joel was in good spirits throughout the evening, playing an occasional Christmas carol leading into a song and often conversing with the audience between songs. Joel also wasn't afraid to poke fun at himself as he made jabs at his looks, ("I'm actually Billy's dad. I'm here to just warm you up") as well as his publicized driving problems. Joel thanked the audience members in the upper bowl for coming, jokingly saying he needed the money. "I have ridiculous car insurance."
Joel showcased his piano playing skills all night, and stood out especially on the instrumental "Root Beer Rag," another rarity from 1974's "Streetlife Serenade."
"New York State of Mind" featured the saxophone playing of Mark Rivera, the most senior member of the Billy Joel band.
The biggest roar of the night, however, may have came when the mic was handed over to guitar tech roadie Rick "Chainsaw" LaPointe who yelled out admirably Bon Scott vocals on AC/DC's "Highway to Hell."
While the rarities were a treat for hard-core fans, Joel also delivered the radio hits that even casual fans were familiar with. Starting with "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," the second half of the concert was a long string of hits including "Don't Ask Me Why," "She's Always a Woman," "The River of Dreams," "We Didn't Start the Fire," "Big Shot," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" and "You May Be Right.""Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" filled the first encore followed by "Only the Good Die Young" and "Piano Man" rounding out the show for the final encores.
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