Detroit,Michigan(July 9,2022)-The first time I played in Detroit was in the 70’s and now Im in my seventies and Im back for one more! What Billy Joel was referring to was the concert, his first in the metro area since 2014 and his first stadium concert here as a solo artist, albeit 2 years later than originally planned. It was announced during June of 2019 and was originally scheduled to take place in July of 2020 but a pause in life that year relegated it to 2021. Unfortunately, it was delayed once again last year. For those of you quick with numbers, thats 1,025 days of waiting for the Piano Man to take the stage in Detroit.
And for those who held out hope over the past 2 excruciatingly long years, the wait was worth it.
Performing on a stage built in centerfield and facing home plate inside the cavernous Comerica Park, in Detroit,Michigan, Joel and his eight-person band’s two-hour and fifteen minute, 27-song set that was a musical trip back in time for most in the age diverse crowd. “It’s two years later,” said Joel, 73, decked out in a dark shirt, dark tie, dark pants and dark sport coat. “Thank you for waiting.” Of those 27 carefully selected cuts, most were massive hits with a couple deep cuts and a surprise or two thrown in for measure.
Joel is not the sort of classic rocker who tests material created in the current millennium on a live audience wanting to hear songs from the previous one. In fact, he hasn’t released an album of new pop songs in nearly 30 years. However, Joel has a Rock and Roll and Songwriters Halls of Fame career to draw on, loaded with enduring hits and album material that is universally as well known. He may be an elder statesman as a live performer, but Joel’s sense of showmanship is as sharp as ever, quick-witted and good-humored while matter of factly proclaiming to the sold out stadium “I got nothing new for you.Same old (stuff). But we know how to play it by now.”
And based on the crowds reaction, was he ever right.
“The Piano Man.” “My Life.” “You May Be Right.” “She’s Always a Woman.” “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” “Uptown Girl.” “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” “Big Shot.” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” “Only the Good Die Young.” “Movin’ Out.” “Allentown.” That’s only half of the sing along classics that the fans wanted to hear, in actuality needed to hear. Even the casual Billy Joel fans who found themselves tagging along with a partner probably knew most of the other half too.
Joel always packs a surprise or two into his shows and tonights was huge, an appearance by Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott. The British vocalist — in town for his band’s own Comerica Park show on Sunday — bounded onto the stage, lighting into “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as Joel and his band backed him with proficient arena-rock sizzle. The second surprise, while not as breathtaking as the earlier Elliott appearance, Joel pulled out the rocking and rarely played “A Room of Our Own,” a deep cut from his 1982 “The Nylon Curtain” album that was played live for the first time ever in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. By all counts the cut hasn’t been performed live at any show since 2014.
Historically speaking, It wouldn’t be a typical Billy Joel show without a few samples and snippets of other artists songs. Detroit is the birth place of Motown, so it was only proper for the Piano Man and his eight-member band to cover the legendary Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” after which he told the exuberant crowd, “a lot of great music came from this town. We all grew up in bands playing those songs. So we’re mighty glad to be here playing in the shadows of all the greatness that came before us.” So when Martha Reeves & the Vandellas “Dancing in the Street,” segued into “The River of Dreams,” something Joel and his band do at most of their shows, it came a little more natural and resonated a little deeper than it normally would have in any other venue across the country.
All said, Joel rolled out a crowd-pleasing collection of cuts from his nearly 52 years of recording, frequently introducing songs with insightful and sometimes humorous stories. Early in the set he referenced his 1974 album “Streetlife Serenade” before playing “The Entertainer,” he told those applauding, “Oh, don’t bull shit me. You don’t have that album. Nobody bought that album. I don’t have that album!”
Cell phones and lighters were out for “Piano Man,” of course, and had the full stadium singing along. Joel played guitar during “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” kicking off a rocking 20-minute encore that also tore through “Uptown Girl,” and a mic-twirling “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” He was back to the piano to wrap it all up with the bang-bang of “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right,” which featured a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”
As entertaining and enjoyable the evening was, it was during that last signature song a profound realization struck. That all too familiar “I’ll see him next time” isn’t an automatic possibility any longer. Billy Joel is on his 74th trip around the sun. We now know that, with apologies to Seals & Crofts, we may never pass this way again (Detroit). If you are a hardcore or even a casual fan, don’t let the opportunity to see one of the most prolific performers of a generation pass by. The Piano Man can only be The Entertainer for so long.