May 18, 2024

Billy Joel was giving a prelude to a song off one of his more obscure albums, 1974’s “Streetlife Serenade,” when a concertgoer at Madison Square Garden beat him to the punchline.

“The Entertainer!”

“Oh, that’s right. You’ve been here before,” Joel cracked to the sold-out crowd on the 95th night of his residency at the iconic New York venue. “What a shock.”

This rainy Friday evening kicked off the first of Joel’s final 10 concerts in his record-breaking Madison Square Garden residency, which will end next year after 150 shows. And for a singer with such a beloved catalog and generation-spanning fanbase, most of the audience certainly needs no introduction to the some 34 songs he played over two and a half hours.

Despite his quip earlier in the night, he’s well aware these people aren’t here to hear anything from this decade, or even millennium. To attend a Billy Joel concert is to know that you (and the 19,500 fans around you) know every word, and have license to belt, to every song on the setlist. Although he mostly lets his music do the talking, the 74-year-old performer seems to enjoy the moments in between songs when he gets to address the energetic room. On this evening, he took several opportunities to thank everyone for braving the “lousy weather” of this New York autumn to hear him perform. (“How many weekends in a row have we had rain?” he asked. “It’s crazy!”)

He didn’t deviate from the hits — kicking off the setlist as he usually does with the lively “Miami 2017” into “My Life” before checking off favorites like “New York State of Mind,” which has unmatched energy with an Empire State crowd, “Vienna” and “Only the Good Die Young.”

“I have good news and bad news,” he said. “The bad news is I don’t have any new songs for you. The good news is you don’t have to sit through songs you didn’t know that you don’t want to hear in the first place.”

But it is spooky season, after all, and with Halloween around the corner, Joel delighted the audience with renditions of “Monster Mash” and “The Addams Family” theme song and kept a skull hand propped on the piano for the entire show. “It’s going to be one of those nights,” he laughed.

Joel, dressed comfortably in jeans and a green suit jacket, was parked at the keyboard for most of the evening, and he did his best to temper expectations when he did stand up to take the mic. “Don’t get your knickers in a bunch. I’m not Mick Jagger,” he said as he launched into his best impression of the Rolling Stone frontman and sang a few bars of “Start Me Up.” Later, he was joined on stage by his two youngest daughters, aged 6 and 8, who played the triangle as he sang “Don’t As Me Why.” As they jumped up on the piano, he shouted, “Nepotism!”

After a brief interlude to sing “Happy Birthday” to his youngest child, whose birthday is Oct. 22, he got back to business with “She’s Always a Woman,” “The River of Dreams” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” before getting to the one that everyone’s waiting for — “Piano Man.”

After his signature song, he returned for a rousing five-song encore of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” into “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right.” With the energy of the arena still vibrating at Madison Square Garden, Joel tossed his mic stand across the stage, plucked the skeleton hand off the piano and sent the crowd back to brave the rain.

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