Billy Joel and Lambeau prove to be perfect match
He was a little off on the hour, but, otherwise, it was Billy Joel’s own words that incomparably captured the mood at Lambeau Field.
“Sing us a song you’re the piano man/Sing us a song tonight/Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody/And you’ve got us feeling all right.”
It turned out to be closer to 11 o’clock on a Saturday when that stadium-sized “Piano Man” sing-along moment came. The 68-year-old music legend saving his first song for last, the lyrics from 1973 a timeless testament to how good music can sweep you away to forget about life for a while, whether you’re sitting in a piano bar with a tonic and gin or on the 50-yard line with a Miller Lite.
The crowd of about 40,000 to 45,000 — a pretty good crowd for a Saturday indeed — knew every word. Of course.
When Joel stopped singing to let the audience carry the chorus, he turned from the piano and surveyed the masses spread out before him. It was hard not to wonder how many times he’s done that in the last 40-plus years, and if the night at Lambeau, in that instant, felt as special to the man on the stage as it did to the people in the seats.
It was the native New Yorker’s first visit to Green Bay and only the third major concert in Lambeau’s 60-year history. He talked about that after he and his phenomenal eight-piece band opened with “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Pressure,” both accompanied by an electrifying light show.
“So this is where the Packers play ...” he said. “I’ve seen you guys freezing your ass off.”
That was all it took for the crowd, which happily did The Wave during Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’ buoyant and vibrant 35-minute opening set, to hit Joel with a spontaneous round of “Go Pack Go!”
“Who’s Pat?” Joel deadpanned. “Welcome to Lambeau Field, the holy grail of football.”
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From then on, it was clear everybody was going to get along famously for what would be an impeccable and nearly 2½-hour performance by a man who epitomizes what it means to be a consummate pro. Keeper of one of the best-selling catalogs in music, Joel doled out a generous 26 songs — mostly monster hits, a few B-sides and a pair of covers that spanned The Beatles to AC/DC. Rock, pop, doo-wop, jazz ... all accounted for in the evening's seamless mix.
Name another artist who can preface what he’s going to play with, “Neither of these were hits,” and still have the crowd go wild. He did several of what he called a “fielder’s choice,” in which he let fan response determine which track off the same album he would play next.
“Can’t do ‘em all, so you guys pick,” he said.
That's one way to take the pressure off when you're an artist who needs three volumes just for your greatest hits.
If you’re keeping track at home: “Vienna” handily beat out “Just the Way You Are,” “For the Longest Time” (with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” serving as Joel’s vocal warm-ups) trumped “An Innocent Man” and “All for Leyna” edged out “Sleeping with the Television On.” He worked in live show staple “Zanzibar,” featuring Carl Fischer on jazz trumpet, a cover of The Beatles “A Day in the Life” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and “New York State of Mind” as massive images of New York City swirled on the video boards behind him.
It was a conversational, relaxed and often playful Joel during the first half of the night, frequently chatting between songs and wielding a large yellow fly swatter to do battle with the bugs that were bothering him. Rain held off during the show, but it was still and sticky, and he said he was worried not about getting bit but about swallowing one. Bug spray was eventually delivered onstage, and he sprayed himself down while singing “Sometimes a Fantasy," never missing a beat.
There was a beautiful “And So It Goes” with a single spotlight on Joel at the piano, and for the many couples in the crowd, it was a collective arms-around-waists/heads-on-shoulders moment when he sang “She’s Always a Woman.” But when Joel got up from the piano — set on a rotating platform and carefully polished by a stagehand between acts — and strapped on a guitar so a member of the road crew named Chainsaw could channel his inner Bon Scott on a mind-blowing “Highway to Hell,” it felt like the NFL stadium version of the seventh-inning stretch.
The pace of the show shifted gears for the remainder of the night. There was a dizzying “We Didn’t Start the Fire” with Joel on guitar. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” showcasing saxophone ace Mark Rivera, got some of the biggest love of the night. By the time Joel returned for the encore — fly swatter in hand — to lead the crowd in “Uptown Girl,” show he can still rough up a mic stand on “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and mop the river of sweat from his face on "Big Shot," Lambeau was rockin’ all right.
On a night in which the Piano Man took requests, here's one for the Packers: More concerts like that at Lambeau Field, please.
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“Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”
“The Longest Time”
“All For Leyna”
“A Day in the Life” (The Beatles cover)
“New York State of Mind”
“Don’t Ask Me Why”
“And So It Goes”
“Sometimes a Fantasy”
“She’s Always a Woman”
“Highway to Hell” (AC/DC cover sung by road crew member Chainsaw)
“We Didn’t Start the Fire”
“The River of Dreams” with “Heat Wave” (featuring percussion/sax player Crystal Taliefero on vocals for the latter)
“Nessun Dorma” (Puccini aria sung by guitarist Mike DelGuidice)
“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”
“It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“You May Be Right”