Billy Joel with Gavin DeGraw Target Center, Minneapolis Saturday, May 16, 2015
"It's nine o'clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in," Billy Joel sang to a sold-out crowd Saturday night at Target Center. Even though the 66-year-old singer has not written a Top 40 hit in more than two decades, his music is still a pinnacle that many artists strive to reach and defines timelessness. Classics and nostalgia were what he fine-tuned the dial to on Saturday -- enough to bring an older crowd to their feet.
Taking a break from his indefinite monthly residency at Madison Square Garden in New York, Billy and co. took the stage on a balmy Minneapolis evening. For his first time back to the Twin Cities since a 2009 tour with Sir Elton, Billy opened with "My Life," an anthemic ear-worm that's the mantra of any rebel, quickly followed by the sinewy "Pressure." Under his graying goatee, Joel grinned with perfect teeth from behind his rotating grand piano -- perfect for those who filled the seats behind the band.
Bands constantly cover Prince when they play this town, and Billy was no exception. As a nod to being in Minneapolis, the band broke into Prince's "1999" -- much to the crowd's delight -- before segueing into "Movin' Out." Wanting to break free of the set list, he left it to the audience to pick via applause for "The Stranger" or "The Downeaster 'Alexa,'" and did the same for "Vienna" over "Summer, Highland Falls."
For the Billy Joel super fans, seeing his eight-piece band is also a comfort, like walking into a bar full of friends. You have Tommy (Byrnes, guitar), Mark (Rivera, sax, flute, percussion), Dave (Rosenthal, keyboards), Andy (Cichon, bass), Chuck (Burgi, drums), Mike (DelGuidice, guitar), and Carl (Fischer, sax, trumpet), plus the secret weapon of the group: Crystal (Taliefero, percussion, sax, harmonica).
Many of the players have accompanied Joel for decades, and their easy rapport was apparent (watching Crystal and Rivera joke around when no one was looking was priceless). It also meant that Joel could decide, seemingly on a whim, to unleash some Elton John ("Your Song") or some Bob Dylan ("Like a Rolling Stone") and his band would immediately pick up on his cues.
His hits came in rapid succession, each of the pieces serving as a different choice cut dripping with flavor. One of those delicious selections was an a cappella "Longest Time" that had his eight piece band proving their talents not just with their instruments, but also their harmonies. Despite joking about his ability to hit a certain note on "An Innocent Man," written when he was half his current age, Joel did not have to worry about hitting any wrong notes. His still wonderfully strong voice filled each corner of the large stadium.
Not everything was all about the rock 'n' roll; Joel slowed down the evening with the sweet "Always a Woman" that had folks slow dancing in the aisles. Not giving a fuck about what anyone had to say, he brought out his roadie, Chainsaw, for a cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell," before über hits "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "River of Dreams" and closing out the set with the apt "Piano Man."
For dessert, "Uptown Girl" opened the encore as Joel left the piano and took center stage to showcase his "dad" dance moves and show that he was "still rock 'n' roll."
Critic's bias: While not as familiar with his works as most people in attendance, I can still appreciate a Billy Joel tune when I hear it. His show was worth the elaborate press conference that included piano keys-shaped donuts.
The crowd: Hardcore Billy fans.
Overheard in the crowd: "This show is so late. I need to get home to bed."
Random notebook dump: I don't know how to feel about opener Gavin DeGraw. While I would never seek out his music, his songs are familiar, but he gets lost in the shuffle with similar artists like Andy Grammer and Eric Hutchinson.
SetlistGIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS