In 2022, Billy Joel is an old pro. His chops are second nature, his routines are so well rehearsed they can almost seem spontaneous, his music catalog is so extensive that a Saturday gig in Detroit could be a four-hour marathon with extra songs.
And judging by the testimony at Comerica Park, where he finally went to one of the most anticipated concerts postponed due to the pandemic, he still really enjoys it all.
So did the multi-generational fans who filled the sold-out stadium of 37,000.
Taking the stage with his eight-member band at exactly 9 a.m. Saturday, Joel headed to his Steinway piano to play the buoyant “My Life,” launching a set that vibrated the concrete of downtown Detroit for 135 minutes. one of the most successful pieces of American pop music.
It turned out that he had a surprise worthy of a major league stadium. The concert lasted an hour as Joel gave a sharp welcome to Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, and the crowd’s confused murmur soon turned into a roar of recognition. The British vocalist, who arrived on Sunday for his band’s performance at Comerica Park, rushed onto the stage and lit up “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, while Joel and his band backed it up with a skillful hiss of arena rock.
Elliott and Def Leppard, along with co-headliner Motley Crue, will wrap up a packed music weekend at Comerica Park that kicked off Friday with Chris Stapleton. The stadium amps will be back on when Elton John arrives next week for his final show in Detroit.
But Saturday was dedicated to Billy Joel, and that was a long time coming. The show, originally scheduled to take place two years ago this weekend, was one of the longest bookings on the Detroit concert calendar, having been delayed several times due to the spread of COVID-19.
Saturday brought a glorious midsummer night to downtown, so maybe that’s how it was meant to be: On the evening of the original show’s July 10, 2020, Detroit was hit by a massive thunderstorm.
Joel thanked the fans who kept their tickets for the long wait.
Who the hell knew this would happen? he said about the pandemic.
Joel has been honing his crowd work for half a century now, and there’s a slight, winking familiarity to his approach, a feeling that he’s engaging his audience like old friends. There are a lot of jokes and good-natured things – for example, the ubiquitous fly swatter that he had on hand, the routine of his outdoor dates.
Early in the evening, he criticized the Tigers’ fans, saying that the 36-48 team was “doing well”, prompting groans and laughter from the crowd.
And he judged himself a little, lamenting that it was “the first time I play in Michigan when I’m in my 70s.” (Joel turned 73 in May.)
In recent years, Joel’s singing has taken on a serious edge, and he has occasionally lost control of himself (especially on Saturdays on the high notes of “She’s Always a Woman”). But he brought a familiar sweet tone to Comerica Park, still reliably using his falsetto and old Ray Charles vocals embedded in numbers like “Just the Way You Are”, “Vienna” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”.
For his first stop on the Detroit subway in eight years — and first stadium show here since the ’90s — Joel delivered enduring hits as he delved a bit into his catalog.
Among them are several hits of the 80s that have not been given due attention on the stage in recent years: the galloping “I Go to Extremes”, the cheerful “Keeping the Faith”, the stormy “An Innocent Man”. Before this last hit in 1983, Joel warned the audience that it had a high note that was harder to hit than ever. When he got to the chorus, he more or less pulled it off, drawing a round of applause from the crowd—although by lowering the song’s key in concert, the low notes now presented problems of their own.
His digs into less popular material also included the Beatles’ romp “A Room of Our Own,” a recording from the 1982 album that he barely performed live at the time.
It wouldn’t be a Billy Joel show in Detroit these days without covers of touching Motown covers. On Saturday, as on his last visit in 2014, those trunks in Motor City were Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Vine” and Martha and Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street”, the latter hitting Joel’s River of Dreams with backing vocalist Crystal Taliefero on vocals.
At one point, Joel played with Bob Seger’s opening piano phrase “Old Time Rock and Roll” before telling the band that he was interrupting it and moving on to his own “Only the Good Die Young”.
“A lot of great music has come out of this city,” Joel told the crowd in Detroit. “We all grew up in bands playing these songs. So we are very happy to be here.”
Later on in the show, powerful-voiced band member Mike DelGuidis got his own stellar line-up with “Nessun Dorma” and Joel backed him up on piano for the famous aria.
Cell phones and lighters were switched off during “Piano Man”, which ended the usual set before a hot five-song encore, on which Joel came forward with “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and the mic spinning “It’s Still Rock and Roll” to”. Me.” He returned to the piano to wrap up “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right”.
Andrew McMahon, of fame as a pianist in the Southern California emo punk scene, kicked off the evening with a drawing from his solo work and Jack’s mannequin days — “opening for one of my heroes,” he told reporters. the arriving crowd.
Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum at 313-223-4450 or email email@example.com.
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