January 09, 2015

A New Year's State of Mind, With A Little Help From My Friends. Billy Joel In Concert.

New Year's Eve 12/31/14

From the moment he took the stage with the one-two punch of "Miami 2017 (I've Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway), and "Pressure," Orlando knew that Billy Joel was in for the long haul! "Miami" has always been my favorite tune by the Piano Man, and it was an especially nice way to kick off this night, because it's in this tune that he sings, "Before we all lived here in Florida," which of course, drove the joint crazy! I knew I was in for a special night. 

But first ... let me back up a bit, 39 (gulp!) years ago! That was the only other time I ever had tickets to see Billy in concert at the Guzman Hall in Miami, Halloween night, 1977. I woke up with the worst flu that day. Could not go. Bummer. But my Dad and I listened to the simulcast on Zeta-4 that night. It was great. But the radio duped us: when he impersonated other stars such as Springsteen and Paul Simon, those of us at home listening thought the stars were actually there!! That is, until he introduced his last “guest,” Joe Cocker. Part way through "You are So Beautiful," Billy's voice cracked, and we realized it was him all along! By the way, comparing set lists, this New Year’s Eve Billy played 11 songs that he played that night in Miami, including a partial "You Are So Beautiful," the first tribute to his friend Joe that he did for us (because Joe passed away the week before).  

Back in ’77, I knew I had to see Billy someday. I just thought it would have been a lot sooner! But that's OK; it was worth the wait!  

Allow me to back up a few years again ... not so far this time! ... My wife and I had a list of artists we wanted to see together, if they ever came in concert, before her cancer inevitably took her. At the top of that list were McCartney, Ringo, Green Day, Heart, Journey, Fleetwood Mac ... and Billy Joel. Well, we got to see ALL of those artists in her last 5 years, except Billy. So, I knew I HAD to see Billy on THIS night, because New Year's Eve was also the 19th Anniversary of my wedding to Jennifer. 

Knowing I could probably not be able to afford a ticket or two for this show, I decided to post a trade online: a decent ticket or two for a print of my new Billy Joel portrait, and an original autographed drawing of Billy that I did 15 years ago. I got a few bites, but nothing serious ... so I took my work to the Amway Center two hours before show time, and went to hang with the scalpers. As soon as they saw what I had to offer, they all were on my side when someone who had an extra ticket came along. Eventually John from South Jersey (fittingly) came up. He and his (very nice) family were in town to see the concert but ended up with an extra ticket. So he made the trade, I was in, with 10 minutes til show time!  Sitting 11th Row center! 

When the lights went down, first on was … who is that? A local talent? Hold on, it's Rufus Wainwright! Too kool! A nice five or six tune set. Of course, he played his version of “Hallelujah” (from Shrek), and he finished with his awesome version of “Across The Universe.” How perfect! Before he played his last tune, he wanted to acknowledge family in the audience: his Aunt from Stuart, Fla., and his husband. Wow, he introduced his husband. In Florida. And we cheered! I did not hear one boo or hiss ... just applause.
Very nice. Restored my hope for humanity!

Between his opening tunes and midnight, Billy Joel played an amazing set, including: “The Entertainer,” “Vienna,” “The Stranger,” “Zanzibar,” “Movin' Out (Anthony's Song),” “All for Leyna,” “Allentown,” “New York State of Mind” (with Rufus Wainwright), “My Life” (with a “Jingle Bells” intro), “Sometimes a Fantasy,” “She's Always a Woman,” “Don't Ask Me Why,” an awesome “River of Dreams,” and then … at eight minutes to midnight, Billy covered Joe Cocker's Woodstock version of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” with beautiful ‘60s colored lighting. Very classy. 

As Billy counted down to midnight, I texted a Happy New Year to my son, who I really wish was there (but he kinda was anyway). After the countdown, Billy led a full, rousing “Auld Lang Syne.” That was followed with the introduction of AC/DC's singer Brian Johnson (?!), who resides in the Tampa Bay area, I believe. I'm not a huge AC/DC fan, but a rocking version of AC/DC's “You Shook Me All Night” (with Billy on red electric guitar) seemed to be the perfect way to bring in the New Year!  

 That was followed by the set-closers: “Big Shot,” “Souvenir,” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I felt the strong presence of my wife, and Dad, throughout the course of the evening, but never more than that last tune. 

The band came back for encores: “It's Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “You May Be Right,” “Only the Good Die Young,” and the finale, “Piano Man,” after which Billy said, “Happy New Year, and remember – Don’t drink and drive. Drink and take a limousine, like me!” New Years come, and New Years go...but some things never change! 

Postscript: as I was writing this piece, I looked for some of Billy the Kid on YouTube. I found Live on Long Island, his 1983 HBO Concert. Wow, it's been a long time! 

BY THE WAY...If you happen to be going to NEW YORK CITY
this year, 
Billy Joel performs at MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
almost every month! 

Also, be sure to tune into my weekly radio show
'On The FlipSide' w/Java John
Saturdays @ 6pm - www.wfit.org

all photos and artwork (c) John Goldacker

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