By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
You know, if you type “Billy Joel’s house” into Google maps, you get Madison Square Garden.
— Billy Joel in The New Yorker
We’ve never seen anything like him, have we?
This Piano Man phenomenon who’s made none other than the Garden his “house” with an unprecedented residency of 49 consecutive shows. This last-millennium hitmaker turned 21st century gold miner who sells out arenas and stadiums despite not having made a new pop album in 25 years. This superstar songwriter who followed up 33 consecutive Top 40 hits with a collection of classical compositions that, even though he didn’t play them, still topped the classical charts.
No, we’ve never seen anything like him, this New York force of nature known as Billy Joel.
Actually … we have. Joel’s no stranger to South Florida and, for the third year in a row, he’ll be ringing in the New Year with us at the BB&T Center in Sunrise on Dec. 31. He won’t have a long commute if he’s snowbirding at his nearly 4-acre Manalapan estate — unless someone comes up with the $27 million asking price before then.
Like the song’s piano man asked to play us a memory, the 68-year-old Joel has for the past several years reserved his formidable energies and now-baritone vocal chords almost exclusively for live performances of some of the last century’s greatest hits — his, of course. Getting a second wind at the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief concert at “his house,” he’s been knocking it out of the park with killer shows ever since.
That resurgence just might have a little something to do with a concert tactic Joel’s been employing for years now. He explained it in fairly hilarious fashion on a recent Jimmy Kimmel Live, coincidentally the night before his astonishing record 91st show at the Garden.
“I got tired of looking down at the first row, there’s always somebody who paid way too much money to be a big shot,” he said. “You see some guy … and he’s got the gold chains and he’s just sitting there like, [in his best Brooklyn accent] ‘Entertain me, Piano Man.’ I go, screw this. The real fans are in the back.”
So, he stopped selling the first two rows and, before each show, dispatches his crew to the cheap seats to fish for fans to fill them.
“The road crew is all guys, so who do they bring up? The cutest girls they can find. So we look down — what a good-looking audience! They’re all thrilled to be there, so the whole show goes voom!”
It’s apparently working. As the Garden’s first music franchise, the six-time Grammy-winner has performed a show at the storied venue every month since 2014.
“I thought things would taper off after four or five years, but tickets are selling faster now than in the beginning,” he said.
The holiday shows here have become a bit of a tradition too. Still rocking well into New Year’s Day, Joel’s 2015 show threw in a few surprises: Led Zeppelin covers, piano shtick with Kevin James and a midnight countdown with Kimmel and Howard Stern.
The following year he added Puccini’s Nessun dorma to the set list following the requisite Auld Lang Syne and his prophetic satire, Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway). Imagine the magic this year as he launches into it here — for the last time before it turns into a song about the past.