by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO
Billy Joel was refreshingly honest early during last night’s show at Boston’s Fenway Park: “I don’t have anything new for ya. Same old shit.” The sold-out crowd didn’t mind one bit.
Joel hasn’t released an album of new material since 1993’s “River of Dreams,” and has since successfully toured solely on his past catalog of hits.
And what a catalog. The career spanning 28 song show featured mega-hits alongside songs that were singles but didn’t quite reach the heights of his more famous material. “Flops,” as Joel called them.
Taking the stage to the strains of Randy Newman’s orchestral score from 1984’s baseball themed film “The Natural,” Joel strapped on a guitar for “A Matter of Trust” before settling in behind his rotating piano for the bulk of the evening.
After running through solid versions of “Pressure,” “The Entertainer,” and “Vienna,” Joel mumbled something to his backing band about doing something “Boston based,” as they launched into a few verses of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” sung by singer/guitarist and Joel soundalike Mike DelGuidice.
The crack backing band shone on “Ballad of Billy The Kid,” which Joel confessed to the crowd was “100% bullshit and inaccurate” lyrically but sounded good as a movie song, albeit to a movie that was never made.
A well received “Movin’ Out” was next, followed quickly by “Sleeping with the Television On” from 1980’s Glass Houses LP. This lesser known tune was introduced by Joel as “not a hit, probably a good time to go to the bathroom if you want.” It was a welcome change of pace, however, and a nice nod to his lesser known, but still top notch catalog material.
Joel introduced “The Downeaster Alexa” after talking about the Gloucester area north of Boston and the struggles of the commercial fishermen in the area.
“New York State of Mind” followed to some boos, but mostly cheers, from the crowd – playing a song so identified with New York City in Fenway Park could be seen as sacrilege. Joel addressed it after playing the song. “Someone in the band told me I had balls to play that one in Fenway Park,” before diffusing whatever tension there was with his declaration that Ted Williams was the the best hitter in baseball history, winning over the offended Sox fans in the crowd.
“Allentown” was next, followed by a note-perfect take on the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” which showed off the group’s impressive vocal harmonies.
Another deep cut followed, 1986’s “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” which again showcased the band, particularly the horn section and trumpeter Carl Fisher’s jazzy solo.
The bulk of the rest of the set was solid hits: “My Life.” “She’s Always A Woman.” “Only The Good Die Young” (with a sprightly solo from longtime saxman Mark Rivera.) The crowd at Fenway was on its feet despite the intermittent rain showers.
Following “The River of Dreams” and a romp through another Beatles tune “A Hard Day’s Night,” Joel and DelGuidice were left alone on stage for DelGuidice’s mighty solo vocal performance of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” which left the awed crowd spelbound by his vocal prowess.
From that point on, it was song after song, hit after hit. Any band or performer would be blessed to have just one of these: “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” and “Piano Man” before an encore consisting of “We Didn’t Start The Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Big Shot,” and “You May be Right,” which featured a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” to close things out.
Billy Joel was one of the hottest, most difficult tickets of the summer concert season – and was his 6th sellout in a row at Fenway Park.
It’s a pretty simple formula: people want to see and hear great songs (who cares if they’re old?) And they want to hear them performed well. That’s what Joel brought, in spades, to Fenway Park on Saturday night.