More than 30,000 fans came from far and near to hear Billy Joel and his most excellent band perform at BB&T Field Saturday night.
Joel launched right into “Big Shot” and “My Life,” both chart-topping singles in 1978-1979. He led into “My Life” with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony.
After a brief chat to the audience, Joel followed up with “The Entertainer,” from 1974, and “Vienna,” from 1977. “Vienna” featured David Rosenthal on keyboards, making that kind of accordion/bandoneon sound that distinguishes the song.
Joel generously spotlighted band members, including Crystal Taliefero, a backup singer who did a rousing solo on “Respect,” paying tribute to the late Aretha Franklin. Multi-talented Taliefero also played congas and saxophone.
Mike DelGuidice, guitarist and vocalist, wowed the crowd singing “Nessun Dorma” (no one sleeps), an aria from “Turandot,” the opera by Puccini. Joel finished out the piece with a dazzling piano solo.
Equally dazzling was Joel’s “Rhapsody in Blue-ish” riff in “New York State of Mind” and most everything he played. His piano playing is as good as ever, and any weaknesses in his voice are compensated for with brilliant accompaniment and a spectacular light show.
He joked early in the show that sometimes the piano goes this way and sometimes it goes that way, demonstrating how the instrument rotated so that he could face all directions, and said that was all the special effects that he had.
But that was just a diversion. The visuals were fabulous, featuring strongly in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” which was also a musical tour-de-force.
“River of Dreams” was another peak moment, segueing into DelGuidice singing ZZ Top’s “Tush,” and then swinging back to Joel on “River.”
Joel got sweet and vulnerable, not his go-to state, on “And So It Goes.” It was a lone tender moment in the high-energy evening.
Bill and Martha Grib came from Pittsburgh to celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary and Bill’s 75 birthday with their son, Bradley Hutchinson from Clemmons, Bradley’s wife, Ashley and the Hutchinson’s son, Dominic, 15. Friend Davis Aaron was also part of the group.
They were spending their anniversary at the Billy Joel concert, “Because he’s so good,” March Grib said. “Piano Man” is the favorite of both.
A couple of rows up from the Gribs, Laura and Michael Ambler were celebrating their 27th anniversary with friend Doug Beelendorf, all of Summerfield.
Laura Ambler’s favorite song is “Lullaby,” which Joel wrote for his daughter; Beelendorf’s is “Vienna” and “Just the Way You Are”; Michael Ambler’s is “Goodnight Saigon.”
Four Williamses, Abby, 18; Ben, 20; and mom and dad Julie and Fred, were there from Winston-Salem. Ben, a classical guitarist, said that “Vienna” is his favorite, “Because of the really nice instrumentation. I like the piano underneath, and the accordion sound.”
“One of our first dates was a Billy Joel concert in Louisville, Ky., 30 years ago,” Julie Williams said.
The 20-song set wrapped up with the crowd-pleaser, “Piano Man,” and it was a glorious thing to hear an arena-full of people sing the chorus a cappella.
But that wasn’t enough. A four-song encore — “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” and “You Might Be Right/Rock and Roll” sent the capacity crowd out into the night highly satisfied, even ecstatic.