Billy Joel performs to a sold-out crowd of 40,000 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Billy Joel had no trouble making a warm summer evening in the nation’s capitol feel downright historic. The veritable hit doctor offered up his catalog’s very best offerings and delivered them with the precision of a surgeon.
From the outset, it was clear Joel was in a fun mood.
He began the show not at the piano, but at the guitar for a souped-up version of “A Matter of Trust”. The song was timed nicely to coincide with this year’s release of his 1987 concert in Russia – borrowing the same title.
From there he was off to pound the keys, and he gave them a rough handling for the jarring “Pressure”.
Halfway through that song, Joel had grabbed a red flyswatter and was whacking insects against his piano. The humid evening combined with the bright spotlights was drawing the flies toward the singer in swarms.
Just as if it was a requisite part of playing the gig, he seemed to take great joy in swatting the bugs.
Once he had dispatched the insects, at least momentarily, the hit catalog cometh.
“Movin’ Out”, “The Entertainer”, “Allentown”, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.
He sang each with the intensity of the original recording, only now he was joined by the echo of 40,000 fans in a sold-out baseball stadium under the stars. If that’s not the definition of magical, we’re not sure what is.
A real highlight was “An Innocent Man,” introduced with a caveat by Joel.
“If you hear my voice crack on the high notes, you’ll know it’s not a recording,” he quipped.
He handled the upper register with no issues, and the quiet break in the middle of the song was brilliantly done. The stage lights turned down to only reveal Joel snapping his fingers in the air.
Always a class act, Joel brought a chorus of military veterans on stage for a moving rendition of “Goodnight Saigon”, and even allowed time for one of his talented, long-time roadies to sing a song.
“It’s a religious song,” Joel teased before “Chainsaw” the roadie emerged to perform “Highway to Hell”.
He teased the audience not once or twice but at least a dozen times with misleading piano riffs before introducing “Piano Man”, but the harmonica on his neck allowed no question as to where he was going with it.
A five-song encore was the thing that sealed the deal on a show that ran over two hours. A legend like Joel no longer needs the dollars or the adoration that come with playing for fans, and up until last year it appears he might have been planning to give it all up for good.
But we’re glad he hasn’t, and here’s hoping for many more years of entertainment from the Entertainer.