Saturday, Feb. 25 on the OLG Stage at Fallsview Casino
Never underestimate the ability or resiliency of a song.
There was a moment Saturday night during Billy Joel’s christening of the brand new OLG Stage at Fallsview Casino when the singing-songwriting pianist from Recent York City donned his harmonica and pulled out his signature tune that was transcendent.
Because the 73-year-old sang the opening verse of “Piano Man,” the 1973 song a couple of lounge pianist and the characters he meets within the setting, the audience suddenly united as one. Because the onstage cameramen captured and projected crowd shot after crowd shot onto the large screens, the visual refrain was similar: friends and members of the family arm-in-arm, swaying side-to-side and singing at the highest of their lungs, their telltale smiles reflecting a carefree spell where every weight, regardless of how burdensome, was temporarily lifted from their shoulders as they wailed away, nestled within the nostalgic comfort of a chunk of relatable Joel escapism that he had composed a tad shy of fifty years ago.
They were so accustomed to a song that has stood the test of time that Joel and his eight-piece band silenced their instruments to permit the 5,000 patrons to serenade the serenader before closing off the modern-day waltz with a robust finish.
After all, Billy Joel has written loads of songs since then; a lot of them hits — and plenty of of them that he paraded in front of the OLG Stage audience for greater than two hours, commencing with the unexpected run-through of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” that led directly into his 1978 smash “My Life” and one other 28 songs that included some surprising covers.
Nowadays, Joel is in semi-retirement, mainly because public demand won’t let him embrace the entire enchilada: he plays once-a-month sellouts at Recent York’s Madison Square Garden and sometimes forays into minitours in other locales. His Niagara Falls appearance was his first Canadian performance since a pair of dates in 2014, certainly one of them being the sector generally known as the Air Canada Centre on the time.
With life at a more relaxed pace, Joel might need every excuse to mail it in.
But he doesn’t.
His voice continues to be in superb stead; his ivory-tickling continues to be immaculate and phenomenal, as he uses his rooted classical discipline (amply demonstrated within the rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” sung by his guitarist Mike DelGuidice) to fuel his piano runs in songs like “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and the jazz-inspired “Zanzibar” — and although he may not have the option to physically recreate a few of the madman hijinks he performed as a younger man, the easygoing front room intimacy of the concert ideal for a venue just like the OLG Stage allowed him to be more talkative and charming than an even bigger arena or stadium crowd permits.
“By the way in which, you’re allowed to gamble in the course of the show,” he quipped just before jumping into “The Entertainer,” from 1974’s “Streetlife Serenade:” “Just cut me in.”
Or when Joel mentioned that his rotating grand piano was the one special effect of the evening, and a voice from the gang yelled that the headliner was the “special effect.”
“You might want to get out more,” he kidded in response.
Or when he took to centre stage to aim a Mick Jagger impression before he and the band played a great chunk of The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.”
“You would like hair to perform that song,” joked the mostly-bald Joel, “Nowadays once I comb I’m just scraping barnacles off the highest of my head.”
He also offered loads of stories behind his recording sessions: prior to performing his evergreen ballad “Just the Way You Are,” he mentioned that he initially didn’t want to position it on his 1977 breakthrough album “The Stranger,” but he played it to singer Linda Ronstadt, whom he had a crush on on the time, and he or she insisted it needed to be included.
And when he honoured an impromptu request by a fan to sing “Summer, Highland Falls” from 1976’s “Turnstiles,” — which he dedicated “to all of the manic depressives on the market” — Joel admitted that he was pondering of our own Gordon Lightfoot when he was writing the song (when it comes to inspiration, not subject material) — and delved impromptu right into a healthy verse of “Sundown” before segueing into “Recent York State of Mind.”
He also mentioned Lightfoot’s influence on “The Downeaster Alexa” after ending that song.
“Why don’t you guys go see Gordon Lightfoot?” he asked rhetorically.
Sometimes he mixed up songs only for the sake of it: “The River of Dreams” was interrupted by Joel’s long-time percussionist, background singer and saxophonist Crystal Taliefero sandwiching in a soulful “River Deep, Mountain High” before “River” continued; and the ultimate encore of “You May Be Right” found accompanying vocalist DeGuidice detouring right into a chorus and verse of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘N Roll.”
Obviously, Joel didn’t have time to perform all his hits, but he did milk essentially the most out of his uptempo crowd-pleasers because the octet behind him, which included his veteran sax player Mark Rivera and noted session drummer Chuck Burgi, offered crackerjack support: “Only The Good Die Young,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll To me” and “Big Shot” triggered the dancing, clapping and singing genes of an audience that couldn’t resist the good-time vibes of the occasion.
And the undeniable fact that Billy Joel was the grand opener of the OLG Stage (yes, there have been some prior performances on the venue, but this was the scissor-cutting event) — even with some prices reportedly set at $4,000 on Ticketmaster and $15,000 via StubHub — was something of a coup for Fallsview Resort, wanting to showcase a primary venue with pristine sound and great sightlines (although their assertion that no seat is farther than 150 feet from the stage is a bit questionable).
Joel was the right alternative, with the $130-million-plus soft-seater offering all of the intimacy one would imagine a crowd would want from their rock ‘n’ roll heroes, and offering great anticipation for the parade of superstars that may grace the stage in the approaching months (Billy Idol, May 5; John Fogerty, June 30; Steve Miller Band, July 8; Rod Stewart, Sept. 2 and Kenny Loggins, Sept. 8 amongst them.)
And although the performer may have a teleprompter assist to assist him remember an enormous and enviable catalogue of wonderful songs, Billy Joel is certainly one of those entertainers you hope makes his way back across the border, because he can still deliver a joy-filled show for the ages.
Which is just as well; full retirement doesn’t really suit him anyway.