Billy Joel was the first big concert I ever went to. He was touring his Storm Front album and Todd Abrams’ mom took Todd and I to the show. She loved Billy Joel. He loved Billy Joel. I loved Billy Joel. So we headed to Worcester outside of Boston. The Worcester Centrum seated around 15,000 and it was loud and raucous as Billy hit the piano keys and bounced around the stage. “We Didn’t Start The Fire” was just reaching number ONE on the charts, the same chart dominated today by Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, and others. Back then it was Billy.
I’d see Billy Joel a couple of more times over the years. Once was a birthday gift from a friend at Boston University. She got us floor seats. It was pretty awesome. Once was with my future wife when we went to see Billy Joel and Elton John at Foxboro Stadium when they were dueling pianos. Awesome again.
But then Billy and I started to drift apart. He wasn’t recording much new music and didn’t do these huge stadium tours. I was getting married and then raising little kids. My wife and I just didn’t get out that much anymore. The years went by and Billy took one of the places on the shelf of memories of my youth. All these years later, I heard Billy was set to play Dodger Stadium, a place he had never played before. And on a Friday afternoon impulse buy I got tickets for the family.
We both have less hair than the last time around. Heck, it’s been years. Still when Billy Joel hit the stage and sat down at the baby grand it was like time rewound. He was introspective, talking about his growing up, and his years spent in LA. I was introspective too. It all came back.
Billy made his way through a set list of classics and stories, taking in the moment as he talked about this being his first ever show at Dodger stadium. “So this is where the Dodgers ended up?” he asked the crowd. He said he became a Yankees fan and then a Mets fan when the Dodgers moved and the crowd booed. But not for long. Billy ripped into more songs “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, “The Ballad of Billy The Kid”, “The Entertainer”. Billy said he was so full of s*** when he wrote that song and sings it now only to remind himself of what an a**hole he was back then. There were multiple choice concert songs: on this night the crowd picked “The Longest Time” over “An Innocent Man”. The singers warmed up and then the entire stadium did a near acapella doo-wop. I could still hear my mother humming that song as we made our way to Malden to visit my nana Ruth on Sunday mornings.
Being that this is Hollywood, Billy Joel had some surprises for the crowd too. The place went crazy when he introduced his friend Pink for a blistering duet of “New York State of Mind” and when she rocked her own song “Try” with Billy on the piano. Now it was MY kid sitting in the same row rocking out with HER friends. And then it happened. Billy Joel grabbed the guitar and introduced Axl Rose. The two tore the roof off an open air stadium with a breakneck version of “Highway To Hell”. Axl would come on once more for “Big Shot”. And he was. They both were. And the place went crazy again when Billy strapped on the harmonica for “Piano Man” as cell phone lights swayed in the air.
It indeed was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday. Billy and I had come a long way since Todd Abrams’ mom took us to the Worcester Centrum. This was a sitting crowd more than a standing crowd. But not by the encores. We all had mustered up the energy of twenty or thirty years ago. The night wrapped with a series of encores including “Only The Good Die Young” and a final bow from Billy after “You May Be Right.” We left the show as my older kid clutched her new Billy Joel concert shirt. A new fan born.