Billy Joel – Eden Park: December 3, 2022 (Concert Review)

Billy Joel

On a slightly damp night at Eden Park, Billy Joel was clearly in an “Auckland State of Mind” – he omitted one of his most famous numbers from the set list, but enchanted the 35,000 strong crowd with much of his other back catalogue of hits, sliding in a couple of fun covers too.

Taking to the stage 6 minutes early in a black suit and tie, there was no support and no pre-amble as he launched straight into “A Matter of Trust”.  Obviously no proof is necessary of Joel’s skills as “The Piano Man”, but using “Ode to Joy” to segue into “My Life” was truly impressive.

Billy JoelEqually impressive (although to be expected, after over 50 years as an entertainer) was the ease with which he engaged the audience. His easy wit and often self-deprecating banter between hits went down well – it was easy to imagine that you were hearing these anecdotes and reminisces in an intimate piano bar, rather than the vast space of a sold-out Eden Park.

His admission that “I haven’t written or recorded anything new since 1993… so basically you’re going to hear the same shit you wanted last time!” gained a huge laugh, acknowledging that what the audience really wanted to hear and sing along to were the songs they know and love. Joel’s humour shone through, at one point responding to the inevitable “I love you Billy” scream from an audience member with “I love you too… in a spiritual way.” The crowd sang along, laughed along, and hung on his every word for over two hours.

Oscillating between soulful, reflective tunes and rocky numbers, Joel was supported by a tight and obviously experienced band, who seemed to be having genuine fun. Joel was generous with the attention, bringing the band forward to the front of the stage, acknowledging their contributions, making introductions and allowing impressive “guest vocals” from his percussionist Chrystal Taliefero in “River Deep, Mountain High” and guitarist Mike delGuidice, for a spine-tingling “Nessun Dorma”.

Billy Joel45 years after release, “Vienna” was as soulful and relevant as ever, followed by a change of pace with a cover of “Start Me Up” which Joel prefaced by saying “Don’t get excited – I ain’t no Mick Jagger!”. He was enjoying himself and so were the audience, despite a few showers. Joel went on to commend the crowd’s singing, commenting that some audiences “couldn’t hold a tune”, before demonstrating this with hilariously off-key vocals and piano. There were lots of laughs and lots of classics, with most of the audience not just hanging onto every word of Joel’s banter, but knowing every word of his songs too.

A highlight of the evening was when Joel’s young daughters Della and Remy came to the stage to sit down by their dad on the piano and look out to the crowd. In an audience which was to a large extent more senior, I’m sure several people wondered how Joel, at 73, coped with having younger children! However, his energy was as evident as his musical skills, with rocky numbers such as “Pressure”, “The Entertainer” and “Only The Good Die Young” delivered with enthusiasm and panache.

Unsurprisingly, some of the hits with heartfelt lyrics were most enthusiastically received, probably because they are of huge significance and meaning within individual lives. Who knows what significance “Just The Way You Are”, “An Innocent Man” and “She’s Always A Woman” have to people? Suffice it to say I observed a lot of hands held, heads on shoulders and romantic looks between the couples around me.

Impressive sax solos featured not only in “Just The Way You Are” but in “Only The Good Die Young” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, with the lyrical storytelling accompanied by comic book graphics displayed on the big screens. Double saxophones duetted for “Movin’ Out”, with moody monochrome graphics of New York skyscrapers transporting us to Joel’s home town.

There were plenty of lesser known tunes and album tracks for the die-hard fans to enjoy, such as “Sometimes a Fantasy”, “Zanzibar” and “All For Leyna”. Standouts were “Allentown”, “I Go To Extremes” (from 1989’s “Storm Front” album) and crowd favourite “The River of Dreams”, which continued after a polished detour via a cover of “River Deep, Mountain High” and featured an extended bongo solo. The gig reached a high point in the culmination of the set, when Joel sat alone in the spotlight, strapped on his harmonica and got everyone immediately to their feet with the unmistakable first few notes of “Piano Man”. He stopped at one point to allow the crowd to sing acapella, a wonderful experience of thousands of people all united in their appreciation of a unique and beloved entertainer.

Arguably, Joel saved the best for the encore set. Kicking off with “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, the distinctive roll-call of names and events of the twentieth century was accompanied by fast-fire images on the big screens. Followed with “Uptown Girl”, the party vibe continued with “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me”, with Joel aiming to demonstrate this by twirling his mic stand! Returning to the piano for “Big Shot”, he kept up the enthusiasm and energy levels right through to the end, finishing on a high with “You May Be Right”, with an incidental nod of the head to Led Zep via an excerpt of “Rock and Roll”.

There was rain, there were queues and there were the usual parking and transport issues associated with Eden Park gigs. But Joel definitely brought a class act to Auckland last night and gave over 35,000 people a fantastic night to remember – cementing his position even more firmly in his fans’ hearts. Ka kite, Billy.

Carin Newbould

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Tom Grut:

Billy Joel Setlist:

  • A Matter of Trust
  • Ode to Joy (excerpt) into My Life
  • The Entertainer
  • Vienna
  • Start Me Up (excerpt)
  • An Innocent Man
  • Zanzibar
  • Just The Way You Are
  • Movin’ Out
  • She’s Always A Woman
  • Pressure
  • Allentown
  • Don’t Ask Me Why
  • I Go To Extremes
  • All For Leyna
  • Sometimes A Fantasy
  • The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
  • Only The Good Die Young
  • The River of Dreams
  • River Deep, Mountain High into The River of Dreams (reprise)
  • Nessun Dorma
  • Scenes From An Italian Restaurant
  • Piano Man

ENCORE

  • We Didn’t Start The Fire
  • Uptown Girl
  • It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
  • Big Shot
  • You May Be Right (with excerpt of Rock and Roll)

 

Carin Newbould