Billy Joel admits that he didn't start the fire but he did his best to kindle it inside the KFC Yum! Center on Sunday night. On a stage that had an innovative video screen set up which played footage that synched with and complemented the music, the singer-songwriter made the evening about the music. After 40 plus years of stratospheric stardom, that what it boiled down to for his nearly two hour set.
Looking very much like the elder statesman of rock and roll, Joel acknowledged that fact by introducing himself as Billy Joel's dad which elicited peels of laughter from the nearly full house of baby boomers and Gen Xers. That's when you knew it was going to be a fun evening.
The piano was front and center the entire night as the fans watched their musical hero run through the songs they came to hear. The one and only special effect was it's spinning ability to give each side of the arena a better view of the artist. Joel promised no other effects, which served to highlight the plethora of hits.
His stage banter was punctuated by jokes and some self deprecating pandering to the crowd. It was all in the spirt of personalizing the show and included nice words about the KFC Yum! Center while taking a good natured shot at Freedom Hall where he used to perform when visiting the Ville. He also cued up "The Call to the Post" several times as a way to get cheap (his words) cheers.
There was even a verse from Louisville's own Wilson Pickett when he launched into “In The Midnight Hour." In his mausoleum in at Evergreen Cemetery, the wicked one had to be pleased at the recognition.
Joel also strayed from the typical artist format to give the crowd the theme from the "Magnificent Seven" before powering through "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" from his flirtation with trying to write a Western movie soundtrack.
At one point in the evening, he offered the obscure "Blonde Over Blue" as a bathroom break song. Most of the audience decided not to take him up on his offer because he performed that song like he did all the others, as if it were the biggest hit of his career. (...more )
Photos by: Glenn Hirsch/Louisville.com
Those who were worried that the KFC Yum! Center would be filthy due to the Monster Jam the night before had to be pleasantly surprised because the arena sparkled. That's a huge tribute to the production crew that had to clear dirt, debris and possibly Gravedigger in time to set up for a concert by an artist the stature of Billy Joel.
While the evening was about reliving the songs the crowd grew up with, the fans proved to be thoroughly modern as well. Selfies, with instant posting to social media, were the order of the day, this reviewer included.
One of the highlights of the middle portion of this show happened when Joel left the piano to play guitar while road crew member Chainsaw sang "Highway to Hell." Earlier reviews on the tour mentioned the oddity, but seeing it live was a treat.
After 90 minutes, Joel sang the tour de force and likely epitaph "Piano Man" while also playing harmonica along with piano. Then he left the stage. The crowd wasn't having it and lit up the Yum Center with their cell phone pyrotechnics. Joel got the message and came out to perform "Uptown Girl," "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me," "Big Shot," "You May Be Right" and "Only the Good Die Young," as he encore. That 25 minutes alone was worth the price of admission.
Gavin DeGraw opened the show with an energetic set that he said was inspired by Billy Joel, whom he saw in concert in Albany, New York as a 15 year old. It took the crowd a little bit to warm up to DeGraw, but after the artist sang his way through the arena floor, they came alive. His 4 piece band created a big sound with "Best I Ever Had" and "Not Over You" being inspired choices to climax his portion of the evening.
Photos by: Glenn Hirsch/Louisville.com