Tuesday 13 September 2016

Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium - Review


Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium 

Billy Joel opened his Wembley Stadium concert at the weekend, announcing to what was indeed a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, that "there's no new stuff here, it's just the old shit". And of course the crowd that had shuffled in wanted no more than just that – for Joel, the ultimate Piano Man, to play them a memory. 

In what his now his fifth decade on the road, Joel ever the consummate entertainer, duly delivered dipping into his remarkable catalogue for a non-stop set that lasted two and a half hours. He may be a white-haired 67 but that voice is timeless. Close your eyes and he could oh so easily have been wearing a younger man's clothes.

The last two years have seen Joel take up the first residency at New York's legendary Madison Square Garden and this brief trip across the Atlantic (he was in London for one night only) is an extension of that season. And there is something so incredibly appropriate about a man so infused with the spirit of New York, making “The Garden” his performing home. Joel hasn't sold out long term with a ticket to the West Coast or Vegas - what you see (and hear!) with him is what you get. 

A singer songwriter and as much musician as vocalist, Joel's keyboard skills are unsurpassed in the rock world. Opening the set with Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway) the crowd were fired up for Prelude / Angry Young Man which remains breathtaking in its audacious piano intro. Video montages of upright piano keyboards offered an alternative interpretation of a skyscraper skyline.

Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium 

The classics were (mostly) all there, Joel occasionally offering the crowd a Fielder's Choice of two songs, allowing them to roar their desire for the song they wanted to hear the most. All the choices were gems, though greedy fans could not help but feel wistful for treats such as Summer, Highland Falls that failed to make the cut - though in that particular instance Vienna, the chosen song, was of course exquisite. 

Inevitably, the evening was more than just a whirl through Joel's hits. A passing gravelly voiced snatch of A Little Help From My Friends made for a brief tribute to Joe Cocker, whilst with the gig falling on the same evening as the Last Night Of The Proms, Joel couldn't resist a little post-Brexit fun, leading the audience into a rousing Rule Britannia - though staying neutral, he next rattled off the EU anthem aka Beethoven's Ode To Joy.

Joel's hallmark is commenting on the human condition, be it global or individual, consistently setting his perceptive wit to sensational melodies. The lyrical vista that is the anti-love song canvas of Scenes From An Italian Restaurant (accompanied by an exquisite video projection of hand sketched views of Manhattan's Empire State Building as seen from the island's Little Italy) offered, as always, the most honestly painful dissection of a relationship. Elsewhere, We Didn't Start The Fire (again, with sensational graphics referencing each of the song's lyric) nailed post War global history: political, social and musical, in under five minutes

And when, as a Fielder's Choice, Joel sang Leningrad (a comparatively much more recent song, so not often heard on tour), the personal nuance that he gave to its live performance made the number surely one of the most movingly eloquent commentaries upon the Cold War. Likewise Joel's Allentown, again with a clever video montage, has to rank as a noble elegy to America's Rust Belt, penned with as much love as profound perception, touching on the Pennsylvanian city’s industrial decline, set against the Vietnam War.

Joel took two brief pauses through the evening that not only offered him moments of deserved vocal respite, they also showed the breadth of love for music espoused by his band and crew. First up was Ricky "Chainsaw" Lapointe one of Joel's backstage guitar technicians who simply stormed his way through a sensational take on AC/DC's Highway to Hell. Later on and at the other end of the musical spectrum, Mike DelGuidice who up until then had supplied backing vocals and guitar, stepped up to the mike and with Joel accompanying on piano, offered an unexpectedly spine-tingling Nessun Dorma.

Mike DelGuidice at Wembley Stadium
To be fair, all of Joel's band were at the top of their game with memorable soloists including the multi-talented Crystal Taliefero, who with Mark Rivera wowed on saxophone. Carl Fischer blazed on brass alongside Tommy Byrnes and Andy Cichon on guitar and bass, while Chuck Burgi was a powerhouse on drums and all under Dave Rosenthal's assured musical direction. 

As the show built towards its climax, Joel donned his headset harmonica, signaling Piano Man’s intro, with the audience duly invited to sing along to one of the greatest ballads penned. After the first of his goodbyes, Joel’s return to the stage saw Uptown Girl kicking off an upbeat 4-number encore set of rock n roll “old shit” that had the crowd on their feet throughout. 

As ever – a first class, flawless gig hallmarked by Joel’s unpretentious excellence. 

Come back to London soon Billy and to kinda quote from Only The Good Die Young - Don’t make us wait!

Billy Joel at Wembley Stadium 

All images reproduced with the kind permission of Billy Joel


  1. I was there and totally agree. Love your review. Extremely well written and captured the feeling of the night.

  2. Great Concert, great review. Thank you!