Sign up for newsletter
 

Joel makes old sound new

Fenway Park, Boston, August 30, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Early on, Billy Joel acknowledged the obvious: "I don't have anything new," he said matter of factly, perhaps a bit sheepishly. "Same old shit."

And then Joel seemingly launched into criticism of bands who want to play their entire new albums for fans. "Yeah, oh really?" Joel opined with sarcasm. "Do you have to?" Perhaps Joel was being self-deprecating. Or maybe he meant it as a means of self-justification.

The fact of the matter was that despite not having released a new album of pop material since "River of Dreams" in 1993 (he did released a disc of classical material, "Fantasies & Delusions" in 2001), Joel kept things fresh with a number of twists and turns.

If one expected Joel to plough through his hits, they would have been left wanting. After starting with a piano intro of "Ode to Joy," Joel lit into the upbeat "My Life" and then another hit, the glossy sounding "Pressure" (less sheen would have made for a better presentation here and elsewhere) and an older chestnut "The Entertainer."

But then Joel entered a stretch highlighted by what he called "fielder's choice" songs. He allowed the audience to vote on one of two songs the band would play. In some cases, one got the sense (Joel did as well the first time around) that the crowd wasn't so familiar or perhaps wild about either of the choices. Except for a very spirited version of the doo wop "The Longest Time," the remainder were deeper album cuts. Nothing wrong with that, of course, with good readings of "Vienna" and "Zanzibar," for example. But it led to a mid-concert ebb and flow.

At 68, Joel's voice was not as spry and elastic as it once had been. He received some help from his band mates on backing vocals, but he more often held his own vocally.

Joel rightfully placed a lot of faith in his band, letting most all have a chance to shine. That would include back-up singer/guitarist Michael DelGuidice, who had the best vocal turn of the night during the 2 -hour concert with his reading on Puccini's "Nessun dorma." DelGuidice, who was plucked from singing for Joel cover band Big Shot to actually being in Joel's band, sang with passion and beauty. Sax ace Mark Rivera played with authority as well throughout the night.

Joel incorporated a number of covers over the course of 30 songs, ranging from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (after all, he was playing the home of the Red Sox) to The Beatles" "A Day in the Life" to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" to the Eagles' "Take It Easy" to a snippet of Hendrix' "The Wind Cries Mary."

One got the sense that Joel played them simply because he liked the songs because he didn't particularly change them up sufficiently to put his own stamp on them. Most weren't natural fits for Joel.

And then there was a cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell." Perhaps in keeping with his ethic of giving space to his mates, this one was a bit different. It wasn't even a band member who sang it, but Chainsaw, the guitar tech. Chainsaw was no Brian Johnson, but the roadie sang it as if he owned it.

Joel brought it all back home at the end of the regular set and into high gear with a stretched out "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and perhaps his signature song, "Piano Man."

Impishly looking at his watch as if he had some place else to be, Joel, of course, returned with a tour de force encore of vintage songs - "Uptown Girl," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Big Shot," Only the Good Die Young" and closing out the night with "You May Be Right" (with a snippet of Led Zep's "Rock and Roll").

There may have been nothing new there, but Billy Joel and band sure made it sound as good as ever.