The Scene: As you might expect the scene at Billy Joel’s concert at the Pepsi Center was relatively mellow. The crowd was a healthy mix of those who grew up with Joel and his music and those of us who discovered him when he was touring the world and selling millions of records. To be honest the crowd was younger than I thought it would be and though there was very little standing or dancing, there was a good energy in the venue as the show moved on.
Just a note on the Pepsi Center, I had long ago written off concerts in hockey arenas due to the poor sound but sometimes you just gotta go cause you aren’t going to get a chance to see an artist anywhere else. (Roger Waters comes to mind as another example.) If you do find yourself getting tickets to a show at the Pepsi Center be sure that you are opposite the stage if at all possible. Quite simply the sound is MUCH better than anywhere else in the arena. It doesn’t bounce around and get lost in a sea of reverb as it is focused on the soundboard. At Billy Joel we were above and behind the soundboard and the sound was much better than I expected. I was plesantly surprised. It almost makes a concert in an arena an option again . . . almost.
Billy Joel: The arena went dark and a cheer rose up as silhouetted figures moved about the stage, all of a sudden an array of brilliant lights focused on a piano at the center of the stage and the man who was pounding out the intro to “Angry Young Man.” Though Joel’s curly locks are long gone and the creases on his face show his years, his fingers still move just as fast and throughout the show I was consistently amazed at the talent that he exhibited on the keyboard. The irony of a 58 year old man singing a song about teen angst was not lost on me as Joel sang “there’s always a place for the angry young man, with his fist in the air and his head in the sand,” and “he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell, and he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man,” with all the passion of the album version all those years ago.
Just before he played “The Entertainer” Joel turned to the crowd an welcomed us in to his world. His relaxed, casual demenor and the way in which he interacted with the audience managed to make the cavernous room feel just a little bit intimate. His attempts at humor were well received especially when he said “I’m Billy’s Dad. Billy couldn’t make it tonight, he’s at home doing his hair. Billy’s not this old. Hell, even Elton John’s got hair. It’s someone else’s but he got it,” as he rubbed his head.
Joel then opened his back catalogue and offered up three choices of songs that “weren’t hits when they were released,” for the audience to pick from by applause. To my dismay the audience chose “Ballad of Billy The Kid” over “Summer Highland Falls,” and “Vienna.” Though a great piece of work, “Summer Highland Falls,” is one of my personal favorites.
Keeping up his good natured banter with crowd every couple of songs Joel moved through hits like “Allentown” and the powerful and jazzy “New York State of Mind,” before warning the audience that he might not make it through the next piece. To his credit, not only did he make through the intricate, and obviously difficult instrumental “Root Beer Rag,” he nailed it and it was clear that he was enjoying performing in the thin mountain air that the band would musically allude to later on in the set.
His much loved “Movin’ Out,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “Captain Jack,” and “She’s Always A Woman,” followed the instrumental and throughout each song it was clear that nearly everyone in the arena knew all the words to each one of these classics. Joel then brought things more current (relatively speaking) with “River of Dreams” and “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” released in 1989 and 1993 respectively. However, it was a song sandwhiched between these two that was the surprise of the evening. Joel brought out Chainsaw, a burly, tatooed a member of his crew, who “wanted to try out for American Idol, but just didn’t have the right look,” for an explosive take on AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell.”
The set ended with upbeat rockers “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me,” and “You May Be Right,” and with a wave and a smile the band was gone . . . but only for a moment. After all, The Piano Man can’t get us all in the mood for a melody and then call it a night. The full band returned to the stage for “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” and “Only The Good Die Young,” which got some people up out of their chairs and dancing even in the upper deck.
As the band left the stage for the last time, Joel teased the crowd by walking away from the piano and feigning heading off stage. He’d then take a step toward the piano – HUGE CHEERS – and then a step away – BOOS – toward – CHEERS – away – BOOS and so on till he finally took a seat and began to play one of the most beloved songs in the american songbook, “Piano Man.” People stood and swayed and filled the arena with their voices.
All in all it was a pretty good crowd for a Thursday (and $100 tickets on the lower level) and we forgot about life for a while. After all these years of ups and downs, semi retirements and classical music albums, it is good to see that Billy Joel hasn’t lost it. He still captivates audiences and he has found a way to adapt his music to his slightly tired voice so it doesn’t sound so tired. He is a master showman, songwriter and musician and it was great to see him back on the stage singing the timeless songs that remind us all of younger days.
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: A-
Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for Jambase.com, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!