Saturday, September 3, 2016

Billy Joel Helped Us Celebrate Our 50th Birthdays

Doug: What a fun night! Last Friday, 26 August 2016, my wife and I rushed home from school and finished packing, grabbed a snack, and made tracks straight north. We faced no delays on the way into Chicago, as most people are heading out of town around 4:30-5:00 in the afternoon. Smooth sailing all the way to our hotel. The reason? Back in the waning months of winter we heard that Billy Joel would be making a third appearance at Wrigley Field late in the summer. Big fans who grew up through junior high all the way through college with his music, we decided it would be a great way to celebrate our 50th birthdays. I turned 50 in the middle of June, and my wife reaches that "milestone" late in September.

Great night - perfect weather. It's been a very (let me say VERY) humid summer in Chicagoland. It was that evening, but the temperature had cooled to the low 70s making it just about awesome. There were a few clouds in the sky and a light breeze. And the old stadium looked fantastic, as she always does. I have been a Cubs fan for the better part of 45 years and it never ceases to be a highlight to get to see a game. We've also taken two tours of the stadium over the years; we did just that back at the end of June. It's really, in my biased opinion, one of the most beautiful places on earth. And the place has been busy in August -- the weekend before Pearl Jam played two concerts, of course we saw Billy Joel, and then the next night Luke Bryan played.

I was very interested to see how the outfield grass would be covered. I knew the infield would be roped off and guarded by security, as would the famed ivy that clings to the outfield wall. I was surprised to see not tarps, but thick modular plastic covering every blade of grass from the moment we stepped through a large service door in right field. And lined up on the covering were rows and rows of light white-plastic folding chairs. They were zip-tied together, so when all us middle-aged fans got crazy we wouldn't tear the place up! We (obviously) had field seats, and were maybe 65-70 yards from the stage. But we were very happy. We could see the performers and make out facial expressions, so it was fine.

The stage had three large video boards hanging down from the rigging. They were actually comprised of several small boards, and the way in which they could be manipulated with live footage from the concert but also footage from Joel's music videos was captivating. The lighting was phenomenal and just seemed to breathe through the show's life. What an enhancement to the experience.

Here's the setlist from the show:

Billy Joel Setlist Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL, USA 2016, Billy Joel in Concert

There were so many really cool, "man, that makes me smile" moments. The first was when Joel played Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the piano. He of course greeted Chicago and then made some comments on the great season the Cubs are having. If you don't know, it has been a tradition at Wrigley Field to sing that song during the break between the top and bottom halves of the 7th inning, immortalized by now-decesased announcer Harry Caray. Joel scored big again with his rendition of Frank Sinatra's My Kind of Town.

Sticking to the baseball theme, Joel gave the audience two different "fielder's choices", letting the level of noise decide between two songs. The first time our choices were both off "The Stranger" album. He asked if we'd prefer Just the Way You Are or The Stranger. You can see which one won. Later, we could choose between a song of which I was unfamiliar (can't even recall the name) and Vienna. The latter won big. "The Stranger" was the record of choice on the night, with the band performing six cuts from it. It's long been my favorite of Joel's albums.

You'll notice a cover of Layla on the setlist. They actually played only the instrumental ending to that song. But there were more surprises when percussionist/vocalist/saxaphonist Crystal Taliefero burst out in Martha and the Vandellas' Heat Wave, embedded in The River of Dreams. As part of the encore set, Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll was embedded in You May Be Right, and sung by guitarist Michael DelGuidice.

The show was to have started at 8:00, and we assumed with an opening act. Well, 8:00 came and went and nothing. Lights still on, crowd still filing in and milling around. But about 8:20 a score began to play that might best be described as an anthem from a Disney film. Suddenly the baseball lights went down and the place erupted with the opening notes of Prelude/Angry Young Man. Wow-o-wow, was that cool! The band seemed to miraculously materialize, and overhead cameras caught Billy Joel's hands on the piano keyboard -- all monitors large and small showed that footage. They went right into My Life, and I sent my sons a text telling them I was singing that loud and proud like it was my job!

It was interesting that during some of the ballads the crowd sat down, but every time it seemed the next song would bring them right back to their feet. Perhaps the most notable of those occasions was the winding down and finishing of And So It Goes. There were a few seconds of silence and darkness, and then that famous whistle at the beginning of Allentown sounded. Bam! Right back up and the house was rocking. 

The concert ended at 10:50 -- they'd played an almost-solid two-and-a-half hours with only a three minute break before the encore set... and what a set that was! We Didn't Start the Fire was fast and loud, with the video screens flashing every person or event named in the song. Uptown Girl continued a theme of Joel reminiscing about the hits he'd gotten out of his three previous wives -- Just the Way You Are and She's Always a Woman were the other two. Hey, you have to be able to poke fun at yourself, right?

So a good time -- no a great time -- was had by all. Super memory for us, and for the other 60,000 attendees, too.

PS: An attendee at the same concert we attended has uploaded this video of one of the great performances of the evening. The camera's view approximates our own -- we'd have been back a bit and slightly to the left. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

The only Billy Joel album I've ever owned was "An Innocent Man". Uptown Girl was a massive hit in the UK (#1 for 5 weeks) and Tell Her About It was a Top 10 hit too so Billy Joel was enjoying a surge of popularity. But my favorite songs from the album were the title track and The Longest Time. By the way, Doug, happy birthday to your wife :)

Redartz said...

Great write-up, Doug! Your excitement shines through every word. Billy Joel puts on a fantastic show; I saw him in Indianapolis some years back. Incredible, high-energy performance. And what a catalog of tunes he has (my faves are "Allentown", "Innocent Man" and "We Didn't Start the Fire")!

And as a Cubs fan, you must be loving this season. Congratulations on your team, your evening and your birthdays!

Graham said...

Was a huge Billy Joel fan back in my younger days, all the way back to the beginning. What a set list! I know you had a blast! Happy Birthday to both of you!!

BobC said...

Glad you had a great time, Doug. I'm not a fan, but it's nice knowing a performer from our childhood can still pack stadiums. Happy 50th!

Martinex1 said...

Pretty cool A great year for Wrigley all around. Funny how Chicago sports are; the team is 40 games over 500 and I still get nervous about their prospects. I guess after a century of losses it's hard to be over confident.

I've never seen Joel live but have a friend who has seen him many times and he raves about the concerts.

Edo Bosnar said...

Happy (belated) birthday to you, and happy (ahead of schedule) birthday to your wife!
Glad the concert was an enjoyable experience as well (as Hannibal Smith used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together...").

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great time. I've always liked Billy Joel; nice to see he played one of my favourites: Say Goodbye to Hollywood.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments and well-wishes, friends. Colin, Billy Joel is coming your way soon. They will play Wembley early in September. They are in Frankfurt tonight.

And I know that because after I tweeted today's post, we got a "like" and a retweet from Michael DelGuidice, who I'd mentioned in today's reminiscence. How cool is that?


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks for sharing the story and the photos, Doug! My wife is the big Joel fan in our house, but I like a few of his songs. 52nd Street is probably my favorite of his albums, with Nylon Curtain coming in 2nd place.

Anonymous said...

Wow what a way to celebrate you and your wife's 50th birthdays Doug!

Anyways, I'll echo Edo and say happy belated birthday to you and of course please give my regards to your lovely wife's upcoming birthday. I'll be 46 in December so I still have a few years to go to achieve that milestone. I've never been to a Billy Joel concert but from the looks of it you guys had a blast!

- Mike uptown boy' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Congrats! Never a huge BJ fan. My friends and I liked "Only the Good Die Young" because one of our group was named Virginia, and we would loudly sing to her window on weekend nights, earning the ire of her parents. Fishing was excellent within view of Joel's Oyster Bay home as well.

William said...

Doug, that sounds like an awesome time. Thanks for sharing the story. And very happy 50th Birthdays to you and your lovely wife.

david_b said...

Congrats on the 50th celebrations to both you and soon-to-be for your missus, Doug, well deserved.

I hit 53 back in May, so will be stay just a few steps ahead of you, I'll be 'the pointman' for you.

Blessings again ~

Humanbelly said...

Ah, to have the youthful vigor of 50 once again. . . yessir. . .

GREAT concert recap, Doug. Y'know, he/they played at Nationals Park in DC a few weeks ago. We're having a particularly awful time with our Metro (subway/train) transit system this year, and early on, for DIRE safety reasons, they've drastically cut back the late-night service in order to do deferred maintenance. Due to weather that night, Billy Joel's concert started an hour late, and went quite long with enthusiastic encores-- past the scheduled closing time for the system. In the past, the system would keep a mop-up run ready to go for an event like this. Not this time. THOUSANDS of fans were left w/out a way home late at night after the concert, it appears. Hoooo-boy.

Billy Joel thoughts:

Not a particular big fan myself, but I've always liked him. FOR THE LONGEST TIME is definitely my favorite song of his-- love the fact the does all of the voices in that do-wop arrangement-!

The first three or four times I heard SHE'S ALWAYS A WOMAN TO ME, I simply assumed it was Paul McCartney. His voice sounds surprisingly like Paul's; his styling is like Paul's; and the song itself is about as McCartney-esque as it gets. And then it turns out that, of course, he was this huge Beatles fan (particularly McCartney) when he was growing up-!

NYLON CURTAIN, however, is his only album I own, and I think it's just terrific. IIRC, he identified it at the time as the album where he could showcase his the influence that Lennon had on him musically.

On (possibly) the downside-- I've heard PIANO MAN so many times on the assorted oldies/soft rock/classic rock/pop channels that I favor, that I tend to switch stations when it comes on.


The Groovy Agent said...

Billy Joel is hands-down my favorite performer of all time. I loved his music from the first time I heard Just the Way You Are play on the radio for the first time in 77. Always wanted to see him live, but never have. Saw a few of his concerts on HBO back in the 80s/90s. Amazing. What a great way to turn 5-0 you whippersnapper! :D

Doug said...

Thanks for today's comments, friends!

HB, I cannot imagine what the scene at Nats Park must have looked like after that concert, with no Metro service. Not the best neighborhood to have to find a ride in, either. Wow...

Bronze Age Captain America review tomorrow, kids, entitled "Doug's First 'Rubber Mask'". Tune in!


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