‘Piano Man’ Billy Joel Electrifies Bryce Jordan Center
In an interview with Howard Stern this past summer, Billy Joel discussed the beginning of his career, explaining that he never thought of himself as anything more than a songwriter. Joel entered the music industry as just that, composing tracks for other artists, but he quickly caught on with audiences when he began recording his own music. Even so, to this day, Joel says that he doesn’t think of himself as a good singer or as anything more than a decent piano player.
I’m here to tell you that he’s wrong. On Friday night, Joel played his third ever concert at the Bryce Jordan Center in front of a sold out arena, captivating a crowd that had a more even mix of students and adults than one would expect from a man who wrote most of his hits in the 1970s. From the moment that Joel opened the concern with the piano riff from “Miami 2017,” the crowd was his.
The set list was a greatest hits mix — basically the same show that Joel has been playing for decades but that no one ever gets tired of. After he finished playing “Pressure” to follow up the fan favorite intro track, Joel talked about his history in Happy Valley.
“It’s been 12 years since I’ve been here last time,” he said. “I know what you’re thinking: Where the hell have I been? But hey, if you’re still going to school here after 12 years, you’ve got problems too.”
Joel was chock full of witty quips like that throughout the night in-between songs, littered with occasional curses to keep everyone attentive. He dove into funny renditions of songs like “Ode to Joy” and “Jingle Bells” in between his own tracks, keeping things interesting over the course of a set that ran just over two hours.
When Joel paused to use some sort of spray for a “throat strain”, he told the crowd that he once saw Ted Nugent use the same sort of remedy.
“It didn’t make him sound any better, but than again, he wasn’t spraying it up his ass,” Joel joked.
From “The Entertainer” to “Vienna” to “Allentown” to “New York State of Mind,” Joel powered through plenty of his best songs at the BJC. The Piano Man even played an AC/DC hit, bringing out a member of the crew to sing “Highway to Hell.” The guitar tech, who went by the name Chainsaw, finished off his lone vocal performance by spraying the crowd with a fire extinguisher.
Joel didn’t play “Captain Jack,” but when a guy screamed out the title of the song, Joel said that the fan only wanted to hear it because he “likes the part about jerking off.”
I’m going to pretend that the encore didn’t happen, mostly because the main set finished with an absolutely electric rendition of “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” before ending with “Piano Man.” The horn player, who took center stage for plenty songs, was on fire for Scenes, lighting up the crowd with a few beautiful solos.
But for those who want closure, the encore started with “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and “Uptown Girl.” Joel then went into “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “Big Shot” before concluding an amazing performance with “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.”
Don’t get me wrong. The encore was incredible. But for me, “Scenes” was too perfect for even Joel’s most popular song, “Piano Man”, to top it. I wrote down notes for most of the songs he played, most of them extensive enough to describe what I had just heard, but all I could muster after hearing Joel sing about red, white, and pink wine was “holy shit.”
There’s no doubt that Joel is one of the best musicians still alive in 2014, and he more than proved that on Friday night at the Bryce Jordan Center. Hopefully he doesn’t take 12 more years to come back.
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The Penn State Thespians are bringing “Young Frankenstein” to Schwab Auditorium for a spooky and comical set of shows.
Remember: Penn State’s made of sunshine, rainbows, football, and good grades.
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