Much has happened to Billy Joel since his sell-out shows last summer at Citizens Bank Park, which was also Thursday night's venue. Once each month, in an amazing display of audience loyalty and personal dedication, Joel has been packing them in at Madison Square Garden. Then on Wednesday, at the age of 66, Billy became the father of a baby girl, Della Rose Joel, after recently having married (in April) his 33-year-old then-girlfriend Alexis.
So there was much to celebrate on Thursday night, and Joel hit the CBP in kinetic, fired-up form from the start. Jumping immediately into a gnarly version of "Big Shot," Joel showed that he wasn't planning to repeat last year's set, in which he gave that song's already boastful lyrics an adrenalized vocal one octave higher than usual. He started "An Innocent Man" as if he was Ben E. King, in a simmering romantic baritone, then neared his falsetto range during the "Spanish Harlem"-slathered number.
Wiping the sweat from his face, swatting flies (save for the one that sat on his shoulder during the entirety of "The Entertainer"), Joel bounced off his stool as he showed big-screen photos of his new daughter and threw cigars to the audience. He chuckled when the Phillies Phanatic danced in the audience. He brought up the old Main Point nightclub (and its "crappy piano") before the galloping C&W cinematic complexity of "The Ballad of Billy the Kid."
Joel commandeered songs of lost relationships, worn-hard workers, and disillusioned soldiers; their cosmopolitan melodies and their life-sized lyrics just to the side of (and gentler than) Lou Reed and Springsteen, whose "Thunder Road" Joel quoted on harmonica going into "Piano Man."
Billy and his band did a lot of sampling throughout their 160-minute show. Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" and "Good Times, Bad Times" came out of "You May Be Right." The Four Seasons' "Sherry" introduced the steam whistles of "Allentown" (Joel saved his own Frankie Valli-soundalike, "Uptown Girl," for the rousing encore). Leonard Bernstein's "America" slid into the clave-clicking Afro-Cubano "Don't Ask Me Why," and the gospel quartet style of Joel's "The River of Dreams" touched down on The Loving Spoonful's "Summer in the City" and the Cadillacs' "Gloria." Joel didn't need other people's songs to be a human jukebox. From the elegantly bluesy Broadway soul of "New York State of Mind" to a howling "Only the Good Die Young," Joel was delicious.