Yes, you read it right!
I was recently on the East Coast, after some time in Colorado for a couple weeks on a reconnecting journey with friends and family. I had always wanted to see a show at Madison Square Garden and Billy Joel happened to be playing whilst I was going to be in town. So my cousin, simply made a call and got us tickets in a posh private suite at MSG for Valentines Day to see the concert. The suite was amazing. It had a bar and a beautiful array of food all hosted for us by the venue. And the private bathroom at a concert was a very cool added bonus indeed! The halls of the suite level were lined with beautiful iconic photos from events through the years shot by legendary MSG resident photographer George Kalinsky. Although I wanted to shoot this show, apparently no outside live music photographers were allowed. So I did not photograph the show with my gear other than my phone (pictures below). I didn't see even one photographer there covering this particular gig. Going as a guest with my cousins and sitting in this suite was a fantastic experience that I'm very grateful for and I wont soon forget it!
This night was Billy Joels' Valentines Day show. From the time he began his set, he wanted to give the audience a Valentines Day experience prefacing nearly every song, he mentioned if the tune he was about to sing had the word "love" in it. And as I am a romantic, I was good with that! He executed every song well and even threw in a handful of surprises along the way. Such as some very unlikely tunes one would never expect to hear at a Billy Joel show, such as Led Zeppelins' "Whole Lotta Love," stunningly sung by band member Mike DelGuidice. His voice was superb, and later on in the show he even sang, a Puccini cover, "Nessun Dorma". Billy Joel also did cover tunes such as, Creams' "Sunshine of Your Love," beautifully and The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up". Sounds bizarre I know, but with the help of his band, it worked and sounded amazing. The incredible sound system at the Garden shone through the whole night, and the band members were all pro. The perfection Joel has honed throughout the past 50+ years was apparent. Billy Joel sat at the piano which was on a rotating platform on the stage. The only other time I saw a single artist rotating was Lars from Metallica. With he and his drum kit rotating center stage at the Chase center.
Billy Joel, is an artist I have not seen since February 20, 1977...46 years ago almost to the day! Joel had a full head of hair back then, and in the 70s he didn't play anything that sounded even remotely like Led Zeppelin! That show in '77 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was not sold out by any stretch of the imagination and he was just getting started in his career on the West Coast. In '77 I went with a friend from New York who had heard of him on the East Coast when us Californians had not yet known of this emerging young NY artist. A few months earlier, in September of '76 she also turned me onto another performer from the East Coast, a guy called Bruce Springsteen! We saw Springsteen prior to Billy Joel, also at the Santa Monica Civic. So you can imagine after she took me to see Bruce, 5 months prior...I listened to her recommendations from then onward! But this blog isn't about these artists in the 70s this is about the show at Madison Square Garden in 2023. My first time to MSG!
A few interesting things I learned about MSG...Firstly, Madison Square Garden is not a garden nor is it a stand alone venue as I thought. It's actually a round venue in a square office building in the middle of New York City! It occupies 8 of the 45 floors in this office building and the other floors are regular offices unrelated to the venue itself. You'd never know from the street whats inside this somewhat normal looking high rise. It first opened its doors way back in 1879 at its original location different to where it is now. The current Madison Square Garden complex, located between 31st and 33rd Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues on Manhattan’s West Side, opened on February 11, 1968. From a structural standpoint, the Arena was considered an engineering marvel for its time, including its famous circular shape and unique, cable-supported ceiling, which contributes to its intimate feel. In October 2013, The World’s Most Famous Arena became the world’s most state-of-the-art with the completion of a 3-year, top-to-bottom transformation, ensuring that Madison Square Garden will continue to be the site of historic, unforgettable live experiences for generations to come. It was named the “Coolest Arena” in the United States by Rolling Stone and “Venue of the Decade” by Billboard. Madison Square Garden hosts major sports including the New York Knicks and the Rangers as well as massive events such as the Ali v Frazier fight, and concerts such as “The Concert for Bangladesh” in 1972, as well as “The Concert for New York City,” held after the events of 9/11. Many top artists have played at MSG including, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Madonna, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, The Who, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and loads more. In January 2014, Billy Joel became Madison Square Garden’s first-ever music franchise with this unprecedented MSG residency, “the Piano Man” entertains sold-out crowds of fans with one concert each month. In July 2015, Joel played his 65th show at MSG—setting a new record for the most performances by any artist at The Garden. This February 2023 show has marked Joel’s 88th monthly and 134th lifetime show at MSG.
Billy Joel has sold out arenas and stadiums across the globe. He's sold 150 million records and scored 33 consecutive top 40 hits. The singer/songwriter/composer is the sixth best-selling recording artist of all time and the third best-selling solo artist.
This Valentines Day show was way better than I had expected. He played for just under three hours ending close to 11. The last half hour was the encore and took it over the top for me. It was 30 minutes of reliving my teens through the music coming through this excellent sound system at this wonderful New York City venue, shared with people that I love. ❤️❤️❤️
The set list that night:
My Life (Ode To Joy intro)
Everybody Loves You Now (My Funny Valentine snippet)
An Innocent Man (Start Me Up intro)
Zanzibar (Sherry snippet)
Don't Ask Me Why (Lawyers, Guns and Money intro)
A few of my iPhone photos of the show, including some of the iconic George Kalinsky photographs that were lining the walls.