Concert review: Billy Joel entertains at Amalie Arena, Tampa

The Piano Man treated a sell-out crowd to a night of hits, rarities and humor this past Fri., Jan. 22.

click to enlarge Billy Joel serenaded a packed Amalie Arena on Fri., Jan. 22, 2016. - Tracy May
Tracy May
Billy Joel serenaded a packed Amalie Arena on Fri., Jan. 22, 2016.

For nearly two-and-a-half hours at a jam packed Amalie Arena, veteran piano man Billy Joel reminded his hordes of fans what it is that keeps us coming back, tour after tour. Although Joel hasn't released an album of new, original material in quite some time, his drawing power as a top grossing live act is as strong as ever and his spectacular performance this past Friday night proved that the man is every bit worth it. [Text by Gabe, photos by Tracy.]

Performing without the aid of an opening act, Billy Joel and his superb backing band hit the stage shortly after the scheduled start time. Joel took his place at a grand piano situated atop a revolving pedestal at center stage and without further ado, kicked things off in fine if unorthodox style, opening with an early number from his 1976 Turnstiles album, "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)." A favorite among his most loyal fans, sadly, the slowly-building rocker seemed to go over the heads of the rest in attendance. In fact, the usual concert proceedings — anxious attendees leaping to their feet when the headliner makes his entrance, cheering loudly once he launches into the first number — was curiously absent on this night; most attendees occupying the floor remained seated despite the grandiose opening and gorgeous montage of New York City snapshots playing across the massive video screens. It took the more familiar opening strains of "My Life" — the next selection on the setlist — to get them stirring.

From there, Joel cycled through a variety of hit singles, more lesser-known cuts (played for the diehards, no doubt) and some apropos tributes to other musicians who've recently passed away.

Clad in classy black suit and tie, Joel, now 66, sounded strong, commanding, confident and sharp, and seemed to be in good spirits as he addressed us several times with comical between-song banter. 

click to enlarge Billy Joel - Tracy May
Tracy May
Billy Joel
Acknowledging how grateful he was to be in Florida, Joel lamented about his road crew, snowed out and incapable of returning to their Northeastern homes due to devastating weather conditions."But I have a place in Palm Beach, so I'm going home tonight!" Joel chided. 

The sell-out crowd of 20,032 got to hear rarities like "Everybody Loves You Now," a nugget off Joel's 1971 little-known debut Cold Spring Harbor. "I don't even have a copy of that one!" Joel joked, referring to the obscurity of his first release.

In a playful mood, Joel referred to that "other piano player" he sometimes tours with (Elton John) and played a few lines from John's signature "Your Song" while conjuring a dead-on impression of Elton's distinctive vocal style.

While not as spry or youthful as he once was, Joel reasoned with the crowd "Hey ... gimmie a break! I'm 66!". But the non-stop two-and-a-half hour bonanza of material he delivered proved that his age does little to hamper his entertaining abilities.

Joel also paid his respects and tributes to the "great musicians who aren't with us anymore," delivering a couple verses of Bowie's "Rebel Rebel" and a verse from Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful" (again offering up a dead on vocal impression), and tipped his hat to his late contemporaries. But his homage to Frey proved more substantial, and found Joel performing a gorgeous, poignant version of Eagles hit "Desperado" along with a foray into "Take It Easy" later in the set that was intertwined with his own monster hit, "The River of Dreams." 

At a few points in the night, Joel let the warmed-up crowd choose between two song options. Crowd response dictated which ones would be performed in what he called "kind of a fielder's choice." He seemed surprised that the doo-wop throwback "For The Longest Time" (from his 1984 An Innocent Man album) won a toss-up. He exercised his vocals by tossing around snippets of oldies "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "I Do" before sailing into a flawless delivery of the song that showcased some amazing vocal harmonies from the members of his fantastic eight-piece band.

click to enlarge Billy Joel - Tracy May
Tracy May
Billy Joel
Throwing in some political satire, Joel facetiously dedicated his early biographical tune "The Entertainer" to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his love letter to the Big Apple "New York State of Mind" to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who made headlines recently for condemning New York values. "These are my values, Ted," Joel declared before throwing down an impeccable version of the gorgeous ballad amid images of the Manhattan skyline dancing across the massive video screens. 

And then came the barrage of hits, a whole lot of them in a row that got a feverish response from the now-revved-up crowd. Stepping away for the piano to take the mic at the center of the stage, Joel strapped on a guitar to deliver his rapid-fire history lesson song "We Didn't Start The Fire" and shadow-boxed with the mic stand leading into "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me." 

A lengthy encore was punctuated with a tasteful version of Led Zeppelin's 1969 hard rock classic "Whole Lotta Love" featuring faithful Robert Plant-channeling vocals from guitarist Michael DelGuidice. Another Led Zep nod came later in the encore as Joel incorporated a snippet from the anthem "Rock and Roll" into his own rocker, "You May Be Right." 

Ending the long night with the classic "Only The Good Die Young," Joel looked spent and rightfully so; the man worked the crowd and gave us every bit of our money's worth throughout the memorable night.

In a shift from his more common normal parting sentiment of "Don't take any shit from anyone," Joel instead imparted the following topical words of advice before leaving the stage: "Turn the news off once in a while".

And with that, the piano man wrapped up another wildly successful performance and left us eagerly awaiting his next trek through the area.