Billy Joel Review

Billy Joel proves he still has the goods in first-rate performance of greatest hits

Billy Joel proves he still has the goods in first-rate performance

Billy Joel in concert April 2014
On Friday night, Billy Joel made his first visit to Houston since 2009. Billy Joel/Facebook

One thing you can say about Billy Joel: he certainly has multi-generational appeal. 

As the Piano Man himself noted from the stage at the Toyota Center Friday night, he's been in show business for 50 years. For GenX'ers, he's one of the voices on the soundtrack of their '80s childhoods. For boomers, he spoke to their anger when they realized they wouldn't get at least as good as their old men got. For millennials, a surprising number of whom seemed to know all the words to all the songs, Joel is an artist they heard via parents or grandparents. 

Houstonians have waited for the longest time to see Joel in concert. Nevermind that tickets for his Friday night concert at Toyota Center went on sale back in February —  the entertainer hadn't performed here since 2009 with Elton John or solo with a full band since 1999.

Joel hasn't released any new music since River of Dreams in 1993, which is nice in the sense that just about every song should be familiar. His almost three-hour concert featuring 30 songs provided a satisfying retrospective of a career that's produced over 150 million albums sold and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Without looking at the track list of one of his many Greatest Hits albums, I didn't even realize that he left off favorites like "Pressure," "For the Longest Time" and "Just the Way You Are." 

Just to keep things interesting, Joel paid tribute to some of Texas's most celebrated rock icons with eight cover tracks: everything from Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" to Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" and "Tush" by Houston's own ZZ Top. He also allowed the audience to choose two deeper cuts by applause, "Vienna" and "The Ballad of Billy the Kid."

Yet, the cover that got the audience up and cheering the loudest had to be when the band's guitar tech sang lead vocals on AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" with Joel strumming along on electric guitar. 

Despite my temptation to find a little irony in a man singing a 32-year old song about how the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems, well, I have to admit he sounded great. Joel once told the New York Times he would stop touring if it stopped being fun; no worries there — the man interacted well with his incredibly tight backing band and smiled from beginning to end.

Even when he turned them into a cover act, the band nailed the Texas classics that Joel said they'd rehearsed during soundcheck. Special shout out to the saxophone player who whistled a pitch perfect intro to "The Stranger" and the percussionist who demonstrated adept musical talent by switching from drums to saxophone for songs like "Movin' Out."

As the final notes of closer "Only the Good Die Young" faded away and the lights came up, the audience stood still for a minute before the march to the exits. We'd seen a first rate performance from a rock icon, and we needed to let the moment linger before facing the traffic.

Setlist:
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
My Life
Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly cover)
The Entertainer (Dedicated to Donald Trump)
The Stranger
Vienna (audience choice over This is the Time)
Boys of Summer (Don Henley cover)
Zanzibar
Dance to the Music (Sly and the Family Stone cover)
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Ballad of Billy the Kid (audience choice over the Root Beer Rag)
Rock Around the Clock (Bill Haley and the Comets cover)
Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover)
New York State of Mind
No Man's Land
Allentown
Keeping the Faith
Piece of My Heart (Janis Joplin cover)
She's Always a Woman
Don't Ask Me Why
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover, guest vocalist)
We Didn't Start the Fire
River of Dreams (Tush by ZZ Top in the middle)
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
Piano Man

Encore:
Uptown Girl
Still Rock and Roll to Me
Big Shot
You May Be Right (finished with Crossroads by Eric Clapton)
Only the Good Die Young