The Piano Man Comes to Chicago: A Concert Review

It's been a good year for concerts, perhaps one of the best I've had in a while in terms of big names. I wish I could have gone to more (my hearing and wallet might think otherwise), but I can't really complain because the shows I saw this year were some of the best rock and roll concerts I've ever been to. A few days ago I was able to catch the "Piano Man" himself, Billy Joel, here in Chicago, and the trend of great concerts continued.

This was my first time seeing Billy Joel, but I've been a fan of his music since I was a kid actually. I remember 'We Didn't Start the Fire" being my first true favorite song, way back in '90 or so, and it's still a great song today, as are many of Joel's, some of which, like "Uptown Girl", "The Longest Time" and 'Piano Man" have become permanently ingrained in popular culture. I don't know why I never decided to go see him play earlier, as I've heard for a long time that he can put on a really great show.

Whatever the reasons, I'm glad I finally did go because this was an incredible concert with tons of energy, fantastic musicianship, plenty of fun and some once in a lifetime moments.

Here's the set list for the night, but at least one song will need a little explanation.

Prelude/Angry Young Man
Jingle Bells
My Life
Everybody Loves You Now
The Entertainer
Vienna
Allentown
Zanzibar
New York State of Mind
Root Beer Rag
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Christmas In Fallujah (with Cass Dillon on Lead Vocal)
Keeping The Faith
Stand By Me
An Innocent Man
Don't Ask Me Why
She's Always A Woman
The River of Dreams
We Didn't Start The Fire
Big Shot
It's Still Rock and Roll To Me
You May Be Right
Gloria In Excelsis Deo
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
Joy To The World
Only The Good Die Young
Silent Night
Piano Man

Any Billy Joel fan can see that it was a pretty great set with all the songs you'd expect to hear. I would have liked them to have played "Say Goodbye to Hollywood" and "Goodnight Saigon", (personal favorites), but the inclusion of songs like "Zanzibar," "Vienna," and 'The Entertainer" were welcome additions. Overall though, the entire band was sounding incredibly tight with standout performances from the horn and saxophone players, while listening to Joel wail on the ole' ivories (that would be the piano)... especially on the instrumental "Root Beer Rag", a definite highlight... easily confirmed for me that he still lives up the name "the Piano Man". His vocals were soulful and powerful as well, really taking command and belting out explosive numbers like "Big Shot", "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me", "You may Be Right" and "Only the Good Die Young". In fact those songs seem to be where the band really hit a stride as they were electric, driving and alive like those numbers should be when performed. That isn't to say that numbers like the partial cover of "Stand By Me", "She's Always a Woman", "New York State of Mind," "Allentown" were lacking though, as each was incredible in it's own right.

"Piano Man," as expected, closed the night with an amazing sing along, including part where the band was almost completely silent and the crowd went on unaccompanied. I also enjoyed the Holiday song interludes, especially "Silent Night", which spawned one of the coolest concert moments I've ever seen. Joel was playing unaccompanied, just on piano with no vocals, and spontaneous the entire venue started to sing to "Silent Night". It was one of those magic moments that sends chills up your spine.

Then of course there is the song "Christmas in Fallujah". If you don't recognize this song, there's a reason for that. Apparently this show in Chicago was the very first time they performed it live. It's a new track and is being sung by 21 yr old Cass Dillon, a singer songwriter also from New York. Joel wrote this song after being inspired by letter from US soldiers and felt that it would have a much stronger impact sung by someone around the age of many of those soldiers. Dillon joined Joel and the band on stage to sing lead as did several members of the United States Military on back up vocals. It was one of those once in a lifetime concert events that I'm glad I was able to witness firsthand... the song is pretty powerful as well, and very topical.

"Christmas In Fallujah" is available on iTunes starting today, Dec. 4th 2007.

All proceeds from the song go to Homes for our Troops, a non-profit organization designed to help provide specially adapted homes for severely wounded service members. You can find out more about Homes for our Troops here: http://www.homesforourtroops.org/site/PageServer

Back to the concert...

Although there was plenty of synchronized light shows to go with the songs and a rotating piano platform which Joel joking referred to as the night's "special effects", the music was the definite feature. Actually, what I think took center stage the most that night was the charisma of Billy Joel. He seems very comfortable on stage, perhaps more so than any other performer I've ever seen in recent times, up there cracking jokes and giving commentary between songs. That charisma also comes through in the way he plays though, putting tons of energy, soul and passion into his music. It's easy to see the band picking up on that energy as on every song it just seem like the whole band was having a so much fun... and that makes the music and the performance a thousand times better.

Overall I would say that this concert definitely confirmed that Billy Joel puts on a great show live. Or perhaps "great show" is a slight understatement. If you're at all a fan of Billy Joel or maybe just a fan of good rock and roll, I think you owe it to yourself to go see him play live if you haven't already. Good fun will be had by all.

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