A Florida State of Mind

Billy Joel Orlando Concert Review – Amway Center

Billy Joel OrlandoI was born on Long Island and have spent most of my life surrounded by longtime fans of Billy Joel, but until this weekend, I had never caught the legendary performer in concert.  Friday night, in a hit-filled two-hour set, I had my first chance.  So, does Billy Joel enter my pantheon of all-time great “Can’t Miss” rock performers?

With the house lights down, a single spotlight flickers on, illuminating the solitary figure of Billy Joel sitting behind his piano.  Seconds later, his fingers dashed across the keyboard, delivering the impeccable opening of “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”, and the show was off to a rousing start.  It’s a fantastic opening song, spotlighting Joel’s piano, and then his distinctive voice for a full minute before the rest of the band kicks in.

The night was filled with classics from across his long and storied career, and it included more than a few nice surprises.  He celebrated being in Orlando with snippets from several Disney classics, the “Mickey Mouse Club Theme” and even an Orlando version of Abba’s “Fernando.” Definitely a fun vibe.

He also let the audience tweak the seltist with three “fielder’s choices” where we determined which song to perform based on fan response.  For my perspective, the fans typically made the wrong choice – particularly “Keeping the Faith” instead of “Don’t Tell Me Why.”  The set was heavy on his pop hits and a bit weak on the classic rock album tracks and the fan choices certainly contributed.

As he tends to do, he left off his best song “Captain Jack,” and other classics like “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” and “You May Be Right.” Instead we were saddled with tracks like “Zanzibar,” “”Big Shot,” and a slowed down mediocre version of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Despite the heavy pop slant to the set, Joel still delivered a memorable and exciting night.  He performed for two hours and twenty minutes, magnificently played the piano, and offered up his timeless distinctive vocals.  There were numerous times where he channeled the spirit of that struggling piano man hoping to break through five decades ago.  It was just Billy the Kid and fifteen thousand guests sharing a drink at the local dive bar, while he regaled us with stories and music.

Florida State of Mind
Outside of Harry Buffalo on Church Street. Photo courtesy of Allison Day.

He joked and interacted with the crowd, and even mentioned how Elton John has ridiculed him in the past for being lazy. But, he wound that into a little piece of “Your Song” and a fun little poke at Sir Elton.  Joel shared interesting stories about the songs, his life and his recording career throughout the night.

Early highlights included “New York State of Mind,” “The Entertainer” and a rollicking singalong version of “Piano Man.”  He also threw in a few other cool surprises, like the piano outro to “Layla,” a cover of The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” and a little AC/DC with the help of his guitar tech Chainsaw.  Another highlight was “Nessun dorma” a Giacomo Puccini cover sang perfectly by guitarist Mike DelGuidice, which was the perfect intro to another highlight, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

The night closed with a rousing five song encore that had the Amway Center crowd at a fever pitch, kicking off with a boisterous version of “Uptown Girl” and closing with a fun, extended offering of “You May Be Right.”

He sent the happy fans away after 140 minutes, 25 songs and countless fun little tidbits. Me? I left quite satisfied, and glad that I had finally seen the legend in person.  But, from my perspective, once might just be enough. I think Elton may have been onto something.

“Ah, but what the hell
You know it’s just as well
‘Cause after a while and a thousand miles
It all becomes the same”

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Setlist (from Setlist.fm)

Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
My Life (with “Ode to Joy” intro)
Vienna (with “Mickey Mouse Club Theme”… more )
Zanzibar (with “When You Wish Upon A… more )
New York State of Mind (with “Can You Feel the Love… more )
The Entertainer
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song) (with “Your Song” intro)
Piano outro from Layla (Derek and the Dominos cover)
Keeping the Faith (with “It’s A Small World”… more )
Sometimes a Fantasy
She’s Always a Woman
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover) (roadie Chainsaw on vocal,… more )
We Didn’t Start the Fire
The River of Dreams (with “Take It Easy” (Eagles) interlude)
Nessun dorma (Giacomo Puccini cover) (Mike DelGuidice on vocal)
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Piano Man

Uptown Girl
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
Big Shot
Only the Good Die Young
You May Be Right (with “Rock and Roll” (Led Zeppelin) snippet)


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