Ambient Music

Billy Joel, Auckland New Zealand, 2022


Billy Joel

3rd December 2022
Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Bridget Herlihy. Photography by Tom Grut.

It can be a surreal and magical experience watching an artist that has played an integral part in the soundtrack of your life perform. Billy Joel is one of those artists, and his triumphant One Night Only show on Saturday night in Auckland was of the highest calibre, and worth waiting a lifetime for.

Joel’s return to New Zealand marked several poignant milestones for the artist. Not only was he the first international artist to play at Eden Park since the borders reopened, but it also marked a quarter of a century since Joel’s last stadium show in New Zealand, and 14 years since his last show here; a lengthy wait between shows which Joel acknowledged during the show, commenting “its been a while”.

Yet the rate at which tickets sold to Joel’s only NZ show for this tour was a testament that the dedication and adoration of his fan base has not shrunk one iota; rather it appears that absence makes the heart grow fonder. A sell-out crowd of over 35,000 eager fans descended on Eden Park on a sunny afternoon, with the black clouds hovering in the distance doing nothing to dampen the excitement that was evident amongst the growing crowd. With ticketholders encouraged to be seated by 7pm, a full hour before Joel was due to hit the stage, the stadium was full and the anticipation was palpable when Joel and his band arrived onstage almost ten minutes early. And for the following two and a half hour hours he held the audience in the palm of his hand.

With a career spanning five decades, Joel had an abundance of material to draw from for the set. Opening with ‘A Matter of Trust’, Joel was front and centre stage with his guitar in hand, before moving to his instrument of choice – a grand piano for a rousing rendition of ‘My Life’. Upon greeting and welcoming the crowd, Joel disclosed that he had some bad news and good news; the bad news was that he hadn’t recorded any new material since 1993. Then with tongue firmly in cheek, he mentioned that the good news was that he hadn’t recorded any new music since 1993, meaning that the crowd was going to be treated to an evening of some of Joel’s most beloved songs. And he delivered in spades.

Introducing many songs with a brief story about them, Billy Joel is very much the entertainer with a wry sense of humour that is often self-deprecating (for example, musing that 1974’s ‘Streetlife Serenade’ isn’t a very good album, in fact he doesn’t even have a copy of it). A few songs later he mused that he was “no Mick Jagger” before launching into a blistering snippet of ‘Start Me Up’, sounding very much like the Rolling Stones front man, complete with his trademark moves.

Suffice to say the highlights of the performance were many, and it was impossible not to become engrossed in Joel’s musicianship and prowess as a lyrical storyteller. Even the constant showers over Eden Park couldn’t put a dampener on the evening, as thousands continued to dance and sing at the top of their lungs to each and every song, from exquisite rendition of ‘An Innocent Man’ (yes, he did indeed hit the high notes) to ‘Always A Woman To Me’ to the unexpected ‘The Downeaster Alexa’. A friend who comes from Allentown was beyond ecstatic about ‘Allentown’ and ‘Pressure’ also being thrown into the set, which was not only career spanning but absolutely spellbinding from beginning to end, even when Joel’s daughters Della and Remy took a seat on the piano riser and threatened to steal the show with their antics.

The opening bars of Piano Man were met with rapturous screams, and the obligatory mobile phone lights in the air (in lieu of cigarette lighters). The crowd was on its feet and sung like there was no tomorrow, swaying arms and bodies in unison. Saving a few of his bigger hits for the encore, things were cranked up to 11 for ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, ‘Uptown Girl’, ‘It’s Only Rock and Roll To Me’, ending with ‘Big Shot’.

After having seen hundreds of performances over the years, seeing Billy Joel live was without a shadow of a doubt one of the most memorable and special for me. After five decades in the business, and at a sprightly 73 years of age, Joel remains very much at the top of his game. The piano man is the epitome of an entertainer; one that should not be missed should the opportunity to see him arise again.

Were you there at Eden Park for this classic rock and pop gig? Or have you seen Billy Joel perform live somewhere else? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:
  1. A Matter of Trust
  2. My Life
  3. The Entertainer
  4. Vienna
  5. An Innocent Man
  6. Zanzibar
  7. Just the Way You Are
  8. Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
  9. She’s Always a Woman
  10. Pressure
  11. Allentown
  12. Don’t Ask Me Why
  13. Modern Woman
  14. All for Leyna
  15. Sometimes A Fantasy
  16. The Downeaster Alexa
  17. Only the Good Die Young
  18. The River of Dreams
  19. Nessun dorma (Sung by Michael Delguidice) [Giacomo Puccini cover]
  20. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
  21. Piano Man
  22. We Didn’t Start the Fire [encore]
  23. Uptown Girl [encore]
  24. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me [encore]
  25. Big Shot[encore]
  26. You May Be Right [encore]

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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