Review: Billy Joel Brings a Few Surprises to Target Center in Minneapolis
Sometimes life picks some very interesting times to remind you that things aren't always as they appear. Billy Joel's recent stop in Minneapolis was one of those times for me.
When the music legend took the state at Target Center, it was obvious this was not the same high energy guy who bounced around on stage and in music videos in the 1970's and 1980's. Most of Billy's hair is gone, and what's left is gray. Billy himself even pointed out the transformation. Catching his image on the arena's big screen, he bemoaned how much he looked like his dad, which is something he said he never wanted to do.
None of that mattered when Billy started to play and sing. His piano work and vocals are still strong, even if he does need an occasional shot of throat spray to keep things properly lubricated. His first use of the spray gave him a chance to get a swipe in at Madonna. Billy mentioned he first heard about the spray from the "Material Girl", although he said the "entertainer's secret" (it's official name), didn't seem to work for her.
Another revelation for me came early on in the show. For the first few songs, I thought Billy seemed very subdued, acknowledging applause with a simple "thank you", before calmly setting up the next song. What I soon realized that what I took as apathy was actually a level of comfort on stage that I had rarely seen before. Billy was there to be with us, not just perform for us.
That ease showed when Billy reminisced about opening Target Center in 1990 (or so he thought) and worked in a mini-tribute to one of Minnesota's most famous musicians when he and the band launched into a few bars of Prince's "1999". Billy even let us pick the playlist on two different occasions, giving the sell out crowd a pair of chances to choose between some album cuts. The audience picks: "The Downeaster 'Alexa'" from 1989's Storm Front and "Zanzibar" off of 1978's 52nd Street. Billy also did a great job of working in most of his biggest hits throughout the night.
The evening also featured a few surprises, including a story about playing alongside Elton John the last time Billy was in Minneapolis, complete with Billy's spot on impression of Elton signing the first few lines of "Your Song", a few bars of ZZ Top's "Tush", one of Billy roadies, "Chain Saw", ripping thru AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" (with Billy on guitar), and Billy strapping on the harmonica for what everyone in the building thought was going to be "Piano Man", but instead was his second tribute of the night to Minnesota music: Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone". "Piano Man" soon followed and featured the entire crowd joining in on the chorus - a real goose bump moment!
Thank you Billy Joel for reminding me that growing old doesn't have to mean giving in.