Crowd-pleasing Joel to bring favorites to town
Though he's spent more time in the tabloids than the recording studio over the past decade, Billy Joel has more than earned his spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
With more than 20 albums to his credit, Joel is responsible for such enduring classics as “Piano Man,” “New York State of Mind,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” “Just the Way You Are,” “My Life,” “Big Shot,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Allentown,” “Keeping the Faith” and “We Didn't Start the Fire.”
That he hasn't recorded an album of new songs in two decades hasn't hurt his enduring popularity. And despite tabloid obsession with his divorces, financial woes and substance abuse problems, Joel still has no trouble filling venues across the country.
Joel has sold out an open-ended slate of shows at New York City's Madison Square Garden (nine and counting) and drops by Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center Friday night at 8. The arena is all but sold out, with only a handful of Platinum seats remaining at a cost of $325-$465 each.
“I'm a piano player. I never thought of myself as a singer, at all,” Joel told Billboard magazine last month. “I was always trying to sound like somebody else. I don't like my own voice, I like Ray Charles, Robert Plant, I like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, people that have an edge in their voice. I happened to sing in tune, I hope, but I always thought of myself as the piano player in the band. I guess my songwriting developed as I went along and I got a certain amount of confidence in that. The songs are like my kids, I'm proud of all of them for one reason or another.”
Those “kids” have allowed the Long Island native to soar to greater heights than he ever dreamed. In December, Joel was honored at the 36th annual Kennedy Center Honors.
“Those songs are out there now making their own money, they don't need Dad anymore,” he said. “It's like, ‘All right kids, get outta the house, make a living, don't depend on Dad.'”
Joel took a break from touring in 2010, save for isolated appearances in New Orleans, Australia and the 12-12-12 concert for Hurricane Sandy Relief. That last appearance convinced the Madison Square Garden brass that Big Apple audiences were eager to see Joel perform.
“We got a whole lot of inquiries about gigging again,” Joel said. “The Garden contacted my agent Dennis Arfa and said we'd like to do a series of shows. They didn't refer to it as a franchise at first, it was a residency. I heard that and thought, ‘Hmm, that's kinda cool.' People talk about a residency in Las Vegas or Branson, Mo., but then you gotta live there. I started thinking, ‘My gig's at the Garden, all I gotta do is commute.'
“I guess they looked at the ticket demand once it was announced and thought, ‘Wait a minute, this guy can keep playing here for the rest of his natural life.' I thought, ‘I'm gonna be 65 next year, am I gonna be able to do this?' But once a month isn't bad.”
Joel admits it took awhile for the magnitude of the project to sink in.
“At the press conference at the Garden to announce this I didn't fully realize what it was until they unrolled this logo which says ‘Billy Joel at the Garden,'” he explained. “It's got its own logo, next to the Knicks, the Rangers, the Liberty women's basketball team, and Billy Joel at the Garden, and all of a sudden it hit me, holy crap, that's a franchise.”
Fortunately for local fans, he scheduled a stop in Pittsburgh between the New York City appearances.
“Of course we are doing other gigs because I gotta feed the elephant, ya know?” he said.
Jeffrey Sisk is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1952, firstname.lastname@example.org.