The restaurants surrounding AT&T Park were packed to the gills as people pre-gamed before the Billy Joel concert in San Francisco on Saturday, September 5. I know this because upon arriving in The City at 6:00 pm in order to grab some food and drinks before said show which started at 8:00 pm and then being unable to get into any bar or restaurant until making a total lap around the area, we finally ended up at the venerable Java House a scant few hundred yards from AT&T Park. But frankly, this was a perfect start to the night as the beers and burgers were inexpensive and the view of the Bay and the park, priceless.
As the clock hit 7:45 we decided to head into the show and mere moments later the lights in the stadium dimmed and people began to panic as the ambient music ended and a band took the stage. Turns out it was Gavin DeGraw opening up the show which was a surprise not just because hes pretty popular in his own right but mainly because no one seemed aware he was opening the show. After everyone calmed down, realizing that Billy Joel hadnt taken the stage early, we all were able to be safely shepherded into the show.
We made our way to our seats in the upper-deck (which I scored on Stub Hub the day before for a mere $35 each!) and I immediately became nostalgic as Billy Joel was the first concert I ever saw as a youngster. Ive seen him at least three other times since then with former girlfriends and people I havent seen for decades. Billy Joel is very much engrained in the fabric of my musical fandom and his music has been in my life for as long as I can remember. In fact the first album I ever got was Glass Houses and I still have it today. Its weird to think that pop superstars of the 70s and 80s are nearing their seventies now but thats definitely the case and at 66 years old who knows how many more huge tours Mr. Joel has left in him. Yet as he took the stage at 8:50 it became clear he still hasnt lost his step in any way. Sure, his wild black hair has given way to a shiny chrome dome and his rear end never left the piano stool to climb atop his piano, Billy Joel has still got it.
After a light musical interlude to kick off the evening (which upon further inspection turned out to be the theme to the film The Natural) Joel launched into My Life which right off the bat got everyone in the mood for a terrific evening classic Joel hits. It was soon thereafter he noted he hadnt played San Francisco proper in over 40 years and the last time he did, it was at the Great American Music Hall. This was both a nod to San Franciscos lack of a music venue big enough to support stars of Joels brightness as well as the fact hes been doing this a long, long time. Yet the comment also served as a sort of thesis statement for the night which included several San Francisco songs (San Francisco: Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair, Black Magic Woman, Piece of My Heart, White Rabbit and of course I Left My Heart in San Francisco) that were a nice reminder of how many classics once originated in the Bay. The songs also showed off what a great time Joel is having on this tour which sees him playing about once a week in a different big league baseball park.
Another interesting fact Joel dropped on the crowd is that he hasnt had an album or a charted single in 22 years. While after you hear that, it clicks and makes sense its also pretty amazing that Joel is still able to pack the house having been out of the recording side of things for two decades. But when you have all the great hits Joel has, you dont need to keep making albums. Everyone loves him just the way he is.
The weather for the show simply couldnt have been more gorgeous as I sat in a sweatshirt and shorts singing along to the hits with the other mostly white people in attendance. But it was neat to see many kids with their parents as well as younger people who dont care if Joel is deemed uncool digging the show. The view was equally amazing as boats of all shapes and sizes crowded McCovey Cove to hear some free, if not muffled, hits. I should also note there was kind of a funky echo throughout the show and Im not sure if it was just from where we were sitting (stage left, upper deck, fairly close to the stage) or an overall acoustic issue with concerts in AT&T Park. Nonetheless, the show was a lean, mean hit machine clocking in at just around 90 minutes.
Personal highlights included My Life, Movin Out (Anthonys Song), The River of Dreams, and an epic version of Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. Obviously he closed the first set with Piano Man which the nearly sold-out crowd sang backup vocals on as if we were all a group of drunken best friends gathered around his piano in a crowded bar. Then Joel came back onstage for an amazing encore that included Uptown Girl, Its Still Rock and Roll to Me and You May Be Right which shifted gears in the end and morphed into a fairly shredding version of Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin.
All in all it was a fantastic evening and as we all piled out of AT&T Park to head home, there was a sense of satisfaction in the air. Billy Joel is and was a great songwriter with so many classic, indelible hits he could skip a few (no Only the Good Die Young, Captain Jack or Pressure) and hardly anyone was the wiser.
Full setlist can be found here….