Review by Elyse Trevers
What better way to start off the New Year than with Long Island’s favorite son, Billy Joel? Appearing at Nassau Coliseum on New Year’s Eve for the first time in 25 years, Joel took the stage promptly at 10:30 p.m. and performed 26 songs for more than two and a half hours.
The sold-out crowd was primed and ready to celebrate, many having already started their holiday toasts well before the concert began. Despite the anxiety and frustration of having to wait outside in a downpour before going in to only two security lines, (“We older white people are going to revolt,” the woman near me yelled), the anger dissipated once Joel took the stage. After the first two opening songs, he acknowledged the “sh-tty weather” and welcomed everyone to Uniondale, “only 15 minutes from where I grew up.”
Backed by a band of incredibly multi-talented musicians, Joel sat down at his piano and began his long set of familiar hit songs. Once he got going, he barely left the piano, which rotated giving everyone a clear view of the Piano Man. Images relating to each song were projected on screens above the stage. Some illustrated the songs, as in “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” while other images showcased the various band members and concertgoers. However, the best were the eight views of Joel’s hands moving rapidly over the piano keys.
For the first hour and a half leading up to midnight, Joel introduced each song, giving the date and a little story about the song’s evolution. For example, he was living in the high desert of Malibu and wanted a western-sounding song. Result: “The Ballad of Billy the Kid.” Then he dissected his song, mocking all his historical inaccuracies.
Most of the songs were fan favorites, and everyone in the crowd all sang along. A couple like “I’ve Loved These Days” were more obscure. Every once in a while, he began a familiar melody and the audience would realize that it wasn’t one of Joel’s own songs. He performed the piano break from “Layla” and a good portion of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Best of all was his rendition of Joe Cocker’s version of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
If you listened carefully, you heard references to New York City in many of his songs — songs like “Miami 2017,” “Scenes from An Italian Restaurant” and “New York State of Mind,” with references to Sullivan Street, Mulberry Street, and Oyster Bay drew cheers from the NY audience. Joel is doing a residency at Madison Square Garden, and it’s no wonder that he sells out MSG every month
But on New Year’s Eve, he came home: “I live here and spend my money here.” During the encores, including “Uptown Girl,””It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” and “You May Be Right,” he reminded folks to drive home safely or to take a limo as he does.
It was an auspicious beginning to 2019. “We were all in the mood for a melody and he had us feelin’ alright.”