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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Billy Joel: 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert


1) Beethoven's Ninth; 2) Big Shot; 3) Movin' Out; 4) Summer Highland Falls; 5) The Ballad Of Billy The Kid; 6) Don't Ask Me Why; 7) New York State Of Mind; 8) I've Loved These Days; 9) My Life; 10) Allentown; 11) Prelude / Angry Young Man; 12) Only The Good Die Young; 13) I Go To Extremes; 14) Goodnight Saigon; 15) We Didn't Start The Fire; 16) Big Man On Mulberry Street; 17) 2000 Years; 18) Auld Lang Syne; 19) River Of Dreams; 20) Scenes From An Italian Restaurant; 21) Dance To The Music; 22) Honky Tonk Women; 23) It's Still Rock And Roll To Me; 24) You May Be Right; 25) This Night.

While River Of Dreams was slowly running dry into oblivion, Billy Joel was not doing much of anything — divorcing his next wife, putting on a little weight, growing himself a bit of a wise old man beard, losing some hair off the top of his head for compensation, and collecting enough ro­yalties to eventually become an institution. And who but a whole institution should have had the honor of welcoming in the new millennium at Madison Square Garden, NYC? It's been a long, hard, excruciating road all the way from JC to BJ, but here we are at last. At the center of the Uni­verse is Earth, and at the center of the Earth is New York City, and at the center of New York City stands Madison Square Garden, and in the center of Madison Square Garden sits Billy Joel, playing his piano and telling us that science and poetry rule in the new world to come, and what an amazing future there will be.

Naturally, it would not have been in line with Billy's usual modesty to appropriate this entire important mission all to himself, and the stage at MSG that night was shared by multiple guests, reflecting large, notorious parts of musical history. As you can see from the track listing, we also have here The Rolling Stones (brilliantly impersonated by Billy Joel on ʽHonky Tonk Womenʼ), Sly & The Family Stone (with Billy Joel subtly sitting in for the band on ʽDance To The Musicʼ), Robert Burns (impressively recreated by Billy Joel with a couple verses from ʽAuld Lang Syneʼ), and no less than Ludwig van Beethoven himself (I am not sure if Billy Joel himself is playing all the orchestra parts and singing all the choral parts on the intro sections of the 9th Symphony, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he were). A little extra research on the cuts that did not make it onto the 2-CD edition shows that Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin were there on that night, too, transforming the already unforgettable event into a completely supernatural phan­tasmagoria, but the No. 1 Recording Company in Heaven, for selfish reasons, would not release them from their Doomsday contract, so their contributions had to be scrapped from the official album. You can, however, ascertain their presence through various bootleg versions (beware, though, as they do not bear God's official seal of approval).

Needless to say, it would have been very surprising if all that star presence and the grandiosity of the occasion itself did not go just a teensy-weensy bit over Billy's head. And, as a matter of fact, it's a good thing they do, because The Millennium Concert can be quite hilarious in places. It is not up to me to guess the amounts of alcohol consumed prior to the show (and no matter what the amount, I would never blame the man for needing a little stimulation to overcome the nerves), but Billy's banter with the audience should probably be taken as a hint. «First of all, I wanna thank all of you for paying those ridiculously expensive ticket prices... I don't know who bought those $999 jobs, I might have gone for that if Hendrix came back, you know?.. How many people here are rich?... [boo boo boo]... Oh, so you paid, like, those scalper prices? Well, I'm sorry...» Allow me to refrain from further comments.

Oh yes, the music. Well, Billy's voice has deepened a little, which probably empowers him to do more of that «rock and roll stuff», or to sing some of the older tunes in a more hard-rock manner (the opening ʽBig Shotʼ, for instance), but every once in a while, champagne literally or figura­tively goes to his head, and he turns a certain song into an over-drawn, over-sung showpiece of the drunk variety — ʽNew York State Of Mindʼ was never a subtle masterpiece to begin with, but here it is turned into a screamfest, and then culminates in a grossly overdone coda where the man literally sounds as if he is taking a really painful dump, suffering from a serious constipation problem. Is that a typical thing for New Yorkers? Hopefully not. Does that mean that a «New York state of mind» is really just a bowel problem? Not a nice thing to suggest when you're sitting at the center of the Universe, surrounded by rich New Yorkers who'd just bought a bunch of $999 tickets for scalper prices.

Questions, questions, questions. Why does ʽDon't Ask Me Whyʼ become ʽDon't Axe Me Whyʼ? It's not as if we were in the deep South or anything. Why does ʽMy Lifeʼ open up with a bass-heavy, quasi-hard-rock introduction, when the song itself has nothing to do with this stylistics? Why is there only one song from Billy's pre-1976 period? (Apparently, ʽSouvenirʼ and ʽPiano Manʼ were cut from the final release, but that does not eliminate the question). And, most impor­tantly, did Billy really write ʽ2000 Yearsʼ seven years before the show with the secret goal of performing that particular song right before the clock struck twelve and the date changed to 2000? (And even more importantly, was he aware that only 1999 years had passed up to that point and, strictly speaking, we were still living in the old millennium?).

But questions aside, the show itself wasn't too bad. Even the «guest spots» were done professio­nally enough to carry their «symbolic» value, regardless of the general stiffness with which the band launches into Sly & The Family Stone's funky groove, or of the fact that Billy's guitar play­er for the evening, Tommy Byrnes, does not seem to get which particular licks make the guitar solo on ʽHonky Tonk Womenʼ into more than just another guitar solo. The setlist, or what of it made onto the album, is hardly problematic, predictably skewed in favor of classic hits, but what else are you expected to play before people who bought tickets for scalper prices? Play it wrong and they just might want to scalp you on their way out. The important thing is that the audience does seem to feel like they're getting their money's worth, and Billy sounds so drunk that he seems to believe he is having himself a good time as well, so everybody's happy, and the con­jured benevolent spirits were just enough in quantity to help us overcome the Y2K problem, and — get this — Billy Joel actually remembers all the lyrics to ʽWe Didn't Start The Fireʼ in the correct order even under intoxication, which might just be the major Herculean feat of the past 2000 years. How do you get to Madison Square Garden on the eve of the new millennium? Prac­tice... your history trivia.  

Check "2000 Years: The Millennium Concert" (CD) on Amazon
Check "2000 Years: The Millennium Concert" (MP3) on Amazon


  1. "The important thing is that the audience does seem to feel like they're getting their money's worth"
    You know what psychologic research has figured out: the more people have paid the more reluctant they are to admit it was a waste. So the simple fact that it was expensive increases the chances that the audience felt like they were getting their money's worth.

    1. I don't think you need really need to do a lot of "phsychological research" to figure that out. Some elementary knowledge of human behaviour will suffice.

  2. Ha, good review - probably the best form of celebration the millennial celebrations deserved.

    It's funny, "Uptown girl" was the first single I ever bought. I've since lost it and don't own a single Billy Joel album.

  3. In this context, "Axe" is a not-unique mispronunciation of "Ask", particularly in "urban" New York neighborhoods. Just another case of Billy trying to sound like a regular guy, and not doing himself any favors by ridiculing his own songs.