Last Thursday night, my life changed.
Look, I knew this was going to be a big deal for me. Hence the countdown I did all week here on the blog. I just didn’t realize how big it would be. So I’m going to try to tell you all about it. I’m just not sure I’ll accurately convey how incredible it was.
We arrived at Wrigley Field in time to buy a forty dollar t-shirt (You’re killing me, Mr. Joel. You’re killing me) and find our very pinchy, small seats (You’re killing me, Wrigley Field. You’re killing me). It was such a weird thing, going to this concert, because we took the red line to get there, and everyone on the train seemed to be going to the same place. Every time we’d stop, the already crammed train would fill with just one more person in a Billy Joel shirt. At Addison, we all flowed off the train and down into the closed-off street, where thousands of people in their fifties and sixties struggled to figure out how to take a selfie in front of the marquee. It was like night of the living Baby Boomers down there, but as Mr. Jen points out, we were kind of on their turf, showing up at a Billy Joel concert and all.
The opening act was Gavin DeGraw, who I had heard of before, but I’m not very familiar with. Who’s the old person, now? That’s right, it’s me.
Despite buying our tickets within literally two minutes of them going on sale, our seats were not on the field, and weren’t the most advantageous angle. Or so it might seem…
While we were not head-on for seeing the band on stage, we could see the giant monitors just fine, and holy cow, look at that, we can see into the “backstage” area. Which meant that when Billy Joel rode out to the stage on the back of a little golf cart (my mind still can’t fully get around the idea that I not only saw Billy Joel in concert, but I saw Billy Joel riding on the back of a golf cart), we could see him, when most people on the ground either couldn’t or just didn’t notice he was there.
But I noticed, dear reader.
As a prelude to Mr. Joel and the band coming on stage, the stadium was filled with the sweeping orchestral sounds of an extract from Randy Newman’s The Natural theme, which I thought was a great nod to the park. I don’t know if that’s something he does every time he plays there, or if it was just for that night, since he was breaking the record for being the artist who’s performed there the most. Either way, as the music faded, the lights went down, and…
Well, from here, I’ll do my best to go from song to song in the setlist and just tell you what happened:
As soon as the lights went down, I started screaming. The guy in front of me started crying. But I was crying, too, so it was okay. I sat through the song hugging myself and wiping away the copious tears that were riding a wave of unbridled joy and excitement straight out of my face. This continued right into:
at which point I realized that I could text Bronwyn Green the setlist, and she could remember anything that happened for me, because I was so high on endorphins that I would remember NOTHING.
After “My Life,” Mr. Joel addressed the audience by playing a little bit of “My Kind of Town,” before abandoning it and sheepishly telling us that he didn’t actually know all the words. I believe it was at this point that he mentioned that he was setting the Wrigley Field record. Then he gave us the choice of which song he would play next, offering the option of “Summer, Highland Falls,” (which I cheered for, and mightily,) and “This Is The Time” (which actually won).
This Is The Time
As must as I love “Summer, Highland Falls,” it was probably better that I didn’t get the chance to cry harder. People were already looking at me funny. This was also the point in the concert where I realized that nobody gave a damn that everyone else was singing along, so I did, too.
I lost my beans. I. Lost. Them. See, this is the song that fully cemented my idolization of Billy Joel as a religious figure and not just a musician. You can read that story, and how “The Entertainer” figures into it, here. This was such an amazing moment for me. I keep using words like “amazing” and “awesome” and none of them are sufficient to describe the moment.
At this point, Mr. Joel once again put it to the audience to decide the next song. The choices he gave, “No Man’s Land” and “All For Leyna” were not met with a hugely enthusiastic response, to which he replied, “Neither of them sound like a real barn burner.” But we went with…
All For Leyna
…which I screamed my head off for. I don’t know that I ever considered I would have the possibility to hear that one live.
After the song, he told a story about the times he opened for various different bands in Chicago, from The Beach Boys (which went horribly) to Hall and Oates (he played and sang the chorus of “Rich Girl” to illustrate that one), and even mentioned playing with “the other guy.” In case we didn’t know who “the other guy” was, Mr. Joel played and sang a few lines from “Your Song” by Elton John, ending on “I don’t have much money/but boy if I did,” and cutting short to say, “Bullshit, you don’t have much money. You got lots of money!” then quickly saying that it was a joke, they’re good friends, etc.
Not sure if I buy that.
Then he introduced the next song, saying it was “from an album called Stormfront,” and I was like…wait…
Because Bronwyn Green had said she hoped he would play…
The Downeaster “Alexa”
I wished and wished that Bronwyn could be there with me. Then I remembered how phones worked. I dialed her number, waited to make sure it picked up, then shouted, “I hope you can hear this!” into the mic before holding my phone up so she could hear the song.
He then gave us another choice of songs, between “New York State of Mind” and “For The Longest Time” And overwhelmingly, the stadium roared for
For The Longest Time
In order to perform it, he explained that he had to warm up, which he did by singing a little “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with his band. Then they launched into the song, and I caught Mr. Jen actually singing along.
After that, Mr. Joel did my absolute favorite of all his songs,
immediately followed by
I’d never realized before how well these songs go together, how much they’re meant to be together. They’re both on The Nylon Curtain, but they’re separated by other songs. Right next to each other, they’re like one piece of American disenchantment. As per usual, Mr. Joel had veterans and service members on stage with him to sing the song’s moving “we said we’d all go down together” hook, and the audience stood as though we were all hearing the national anthem. After the song, Mr. Joel shook the hands of the men and women on stage with him, to cheers and a chant of “U.S.A! U.S.A.!” from the guys behind us.
The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
Mr. Joel introduced this one as something he wrote out of a desire to write the film score for a western. He explained that as a New Yorker, West Virginia sounds like it should be a part of the Old West. After he played it, he pointed out the myriad historical inaccuracies he made in writing the lyrics, including the fact that Billy The Kid never made it to Utah or Oklahoma, that the Rio Grande actually flows east to west, and Billy The Kid wasn’t hung. Then Mr. Joel revised, “Well, we don’t know if he was hung,” followed by a rimshot from his drummer.
He gave us a choice for the next song, but for the of me I can’t remember what the other choice was. But what got picked was
Just The Way You Are
because it’s the most popular radio song, I assume. But the song bums me out in a big way, after reading Fred Schruer’s biography of Billy Joel. “Just The Way You Are” was written as a birthday present to Mr. Joel’s first wife, Elizabeth, and after he played it for her for the first time she asked him if her present was the publishing rights. Seriously, how sad is that? After he finished playing the song for us, he said, “We got divorced,” then after a beat added, “It was fun while it lasted.”
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
How could I hear this song and not think of my BFF Jill? Every time I see a kayak, the first thing I think of is “kayak-ack-ack-ack-ack” because of the day we annoyed Mr. Jen by adding superfluous “acks” to ever “ack” word we could think of.
This was another song I wouldn’t have guess I would have heard. He followed it with
Keeping The Faith
Let me tell you about the importance of this song, dear reader. I take so much inspiration from this song specifically from the lines “You can get just so much of a good thing/you can linger too long in your dreams/say goodbye to the oldies but goodies/’cause the good old days weren’t always good/tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”. Here’s a video of part of the song, in which you can briefly hear me singing along before I stop because I’m crying. It’s okay though, because the people around me were singing it and they picked up the slack.
Sometimes A Fantasy
I was so excited when he introduced this one by saying he was going to play a song that was banned from the radio. I looked at Mr. Jen while I was screaming and clapping my hands, and he goes, “Jen. I have no idea what that means.”
Don’t Ask Me Why
One of the things I absolutely loved about this concert was how great Mr. Joel’s voice sounded. Everyone has been saying for years that he was losing his voice, he doesn’t sound as good anymore, but at this concert? It could have been taken right off the record. I heard he’s taking allergy shots now, and apparently they’re working because this song, especially, sounded fantastic. So did
She’s Always A Woman To Me
and he complimented us all for staying on key when the stadium inevitably erupted into sing-a-long on the line “Oh she takes care of herself.”
We Didn’t Start The Fire
The second Mr. Joel got up from the piano and took his guitar from a roadie, I knew what he was going to play. Because it’s like, the only song you ever see him play on guitar. And while it’s not my favorite of all his songs, I was really excited to see him play guitar.
The River Of Dreams
I’ve written about this song before. It is, if not the backbone of Joelism, an important vertebrae in the neck. I’ve written my analysis of the song with regard to my beliefs in the afterlife. So naturally, I had to get a video of this song.
(One of my favorite things about this video is that you can clearly hear the woman behind me, who got progressively more drunk as the evening went on, loudly proclaiming, “I LOVE THAT SONG!” at one point. Somewhere along the fifth visit from the beer selling guy, she started just randomly shouting that over and over and it cracked me up every time.)
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
I really wish I would have recorded this one. Everyone just partied like crazy to it. People were standing up, dancing, and of course singing along. “Oh oh. Oh oh. Oh oh oh oh oh oh.”
This was, of course, his closer. That is, before the super long and bombastic four song encore he did.
There is nothing I can say that will describe the feeling of standing in that stadium, singing along to this song, with Mr. Billy Joel himself right there, singing and playing it for us. I’m glad I got a video of it, but even the video doesn’t capture the way it felt in the moment. I’ve never felt that way singing a hymn in church. I’ve never felt that way at another concert, with another artist. Everyone was united in this amazing song that should feel old (and Mr. Joel himself has said that it’s starting to feel old to him), but is like some strange cosmic glue that held all of us together, thousands of us, all swaying along and living the story of the song together.
After Mr. Joel left the stage to wild applause, walking the length of the stage and waving, the lights went out, the crowd went wild, and Mr. Joel and band returned. And he was like, “Did anybody see Trainwreck?” and I was like, “NO!” because I’m too cheap to go to the movies. Apparently at the end of Trainwreck there’s a dance sequence to “Uptown Girl,” and during the song Schumer and Jennifer Lawrence came out and danced on the piano.
So I texted Bronwyn:
By the way, Jennifer Lawrence is god damn adorable. After they came down from the stage, we could see her in the backstage area, dancing and skipping around and twirling and throwing her arms up in the air to the music.
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
Two things: 1) he still throws around the mic stand and dances around the stage to this. 2) it was freaking amazing because they projected images of him performing this song in the music video on the big screen while he was throwing around the mic stand and dancing.
You May Be Right
This is one of my theme songs, and I often think of it as a companion to “My Life.” I’m so happy I got to hear both of them, as sort-of book ends to the concert.
Only The Good Die Young
He closed the show with this ode to how easy it is to get Catholic girls into bed. As a former Catholic school girl, I have to say this song will always have a special place in my heart, and since it’s a fan favorite, everyone really went to town dancing and singing and screaming. It was the perfect end to the roller coaster of emotions that was the entire experience.
Everything about this night was incredible. When the lights came up and I was wiping tears from my face, the guy sitting next to us looked to me and said, “Was it your first time seeing him? It was my first time!” and fist bumped me. And I was so excited to see the band members as well, especially Mark Rivera and Crystal Taliefero (who I just found out is in her early fifties and my mind is blown to smithereens). Apparently knowing their names and being excited for them makes me “a dork,” but they’re both amazing and more than hold their own on stage with Mr. Joel.
I consider myself lucky and cosmically honored to have been there. And honestly, I still can’t believe I got to experience all of it.