Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Billy Joel Live At Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, July 9, 2016

I've never been a fan of the large, rock events at baseball stadiums because the band is so far removed from the fans that the best view is on the large video screen that surrounds the stage. It often feels like you're not really watching a live concert. That's even true for those of us with seats on the field.

I remember seeing Paul McCartney at old Veterans Stadium in Philadlephia, sitting in the lower deck seats behind the third base line. The stage was in deep right field so the great Beatle was barely visible. The giant TV screen made me feel as if I was watching a DVD at home.

This year I bit the bullet again and bought expensive tickets to see Billy Joel on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies. My wife and I were seated in the last row of the sold out stadium's field so I was expecting a better experience, but more on that later.

As a musician and showman Joel did not dissappoint. His excellent band nailed the songs and this hall-of-famer's usually pleasing but  irreverant onstage personality shined through all night long. It was evident, despite not releasing any new music since 1993, that he still enjoys playing his distinctively impressive catalog. He trotted out many of his hits and for true aficionados enough deep tracks to make them happy. Among them were "The Entertainer" (Streetlife Serenade), "Sometimes A Fantasy" from Glass Houses, and "Big Man On Mulberry Street" from The Bridge. He also pulled out of mothballs another unexpected pleasure, the ballad "And So It Goes," from Stormfront, a minor hit single that is mostly forgotten today.

Also included was an album track that pre-dates Piano Man that Joel only plays in Philadelphia because of how the song helped his career. A live, radio broadcast from 1971 on the city's formerly influential, alternative, FM station, WMMR, 93.3 on the dial, introduced "Captain Jack" to a wider audience and was the highlight of the radio gig. It helped earn the young singer-songwriter a big time recording contract.

Joel has too many hits to play them all, especially when room is needed for three of his best and most famous album tracks: the classic "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" (The Stranger), "New York State Of Mind," and his other famous ode to New York City, the hard rocking "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)," both from Turnstiles.

Joel interrupted "River Of Dreams" to break into "A Hard Day's Night," a hit by his idols, a famous quartet from England you may have heard of, before returning to his last great song from the album of the same name.

The rest of the evening was loaded with many hits including "Uptown Girl," "Anthony's Song," "Just The Way You Are," "Allentown," "Don't Ask Me Why, "Piano Man," and more, plus all of the big, arena-rock songs that made up his encore: "We Didn't Start The Fire," "It's Still Rock and Roll," "You May Be Right," and "Only The Good Die Young."

Missing were some standards like "She's Got A Way," "Summer, Highland Falls," "The Longest Time," and "Tell Her About It" but in the end, every studio album except Cold Spring Harbor was represented.

It's too bad the volume level muddied the sound to the point of distortion. With the amps turned up to twenty it was often hard to imagine that you weren't at a Black Sabbath concert. This is not what Billy Joel shows should be about and it got me rethinking the whole idea of stadium concerts again, especially when you consider the hefty price tag attached to the tickets.

Despite the one huge drawback the sold out evening was a major event in the city that started America and everyone in attendance, including me, was very much into the whole affair.

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