Note to readers: Apologies for the shift between a review to a note to Billy. Too much work to fix it.
Went to see Billy for the 99th time on New Year’s Eve, 2016. My wife, who came to the show last year, isn’t a big Billy fan so she sat this one out. She understands my passion for seeing Billy and was OK with me going by myself. Is she the best wife in the world or what?
Tonight exemplified why I see so many Billy shows. Despite the shortcomings of the show, it ranks in the top 10 Billy shows I have seen (can’t touch the Montauk “Back at the Ranch”, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium, or Fenway shows based on venue alone or the show I tied Billy’s shoe for him or when I sang the last line to It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me). Let’s start at the beginning.
For the past few weeks, I have been meaning to write a set list for the New Year’s Eve show explaining the reasoning for each song. I never got to it, but some of my suggestions were followed. Such as:
- Opening with Prelude/Angry Young Man: Is there a finer moment in live music than when Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated score from The Natural crescendos, the venue goes dark, the crowd is on their feet cheering and the white-hot spotlight shines on Billy poised to play the opening to Prelude/Angry Young Man?
- Playing Miami 2017 right after Auld Lang Syne. OK, this one may have been obvious, but it was fantastic to hear Miami 2017 as the first Billy song of 2017. Has anything ever been so perfect? And we got “rats”!
- Playing Souvenir. Haven’t heard this live in a while, and while it was rushed and abbreviated to conclude in time for midnight, it was still greatly appreciated.
Now, what made this night so special was the fact that Billy played Until the Night. It wasn’t a “fielder’s choice” (more on that later), but was on the set list. I nearly fell out of my chair. Was I really hearing this live? One of my favorite songs of all time. I figured I had as much of a chance of hearing this live as I did of hearing Tomorrow is Today (my all-time favorite song – the revised Cold Spring Harbor version with just piano, not the original with the rest of the band). It was incredible. When I heard the sax solo reverberate throughout the arena, I trembled. It was incredible. Thank you so much for playing this. I saw everyone take their bathroom break during this song, but it was their loss. Wow. Please continue to include deep cuts from your albums – it’s what makes seeing you so special.
So, as for the rest of the show, here are my thoughts:
- As mentioned above, every show should open with Prelude/Angry Young Man. There really is no other option. Miami 2017 isn’t great as an opening number. Thankfully you stopped doing A Matter of Trust as an opening number years ago.
- Everyone missing the cue to play You May Be Right the first time and the late glass break were hilarious. Don’t know how many people noticed, but I did and I was laughing throughout Big Shot.
- Thank you for not playing Only the Good Die Young. I realized you replaced it with Uptown Girl, which isn’t any better, but at least it was different.
- Nessun Dorma? Wow! Totally awesome! Keep that in the show.
- Keeping the Faith – excellent song – was great to hear it live.
- The Longest Time – better than This is the Time, so can’t complain too much.
- Pressure needs to be part of every show. It is such a powerful concert song – get rid of River of Dreams or, even better, We Didn’t Start the Fire (talk about a song that is devoid of anything musical). I realize you aren’t going to run across the stage from keyboard to keyboard like you used to, but the energy from Pressure is palpable and it needs to be in the first third of the show.
- If you do play River of Dreams, it really always needs to be preceded by Lullaby. It is such a natural segue from the tender Lullaby into the sleepy stream of consciousness River of Dreams.
- No surprise guests for a New Year’s Eve show, which was a bit surprising, and the same tired joke about Elton, which wasn’t.
- Thank you for the tributes to Joe Cocker (which didn’t appear to be any easier on Crystal this year), Glenn Frey, and George Michael. Well done.
My 100th Billy show will be in Orlando on 1/27. Here are my suggestions for the set list:
- Prelude/Angry Young Man
- See above – there really is no other viable option.
- Fits here perfectly to keep the crowd pumped up
- My Life
- Great song to get the crown going again after the pause
- Beethoven’s 9th should be mandatory during intro – it works so well.
- I love Tommy as I do everyone in the band but the sound mix needs to emphasize the piano at all times. When was the last time you really listened to the piano part on My Life or Allentown? They are both phenomenal but on these two tracks the piano is notably drowned out by Tommy’s guitar. Please adjust the sound mix – the crowd will love you for it.
- Sometimes a Fantasy
- Not the greatest song, but a crowd-pleaser that works well live.
- Don’t Ask Me Why
- Great concert song
- Summer, Highland Falls
- Better than The Entertainer.
- NY State of Mind
- I realize you need a break after that (we are all getting older), so this fits in here. Always get goose bumps during this song. Never remove this from the show.
- The “fielder’s choice” needs to stop – you know everyone is going to pick the second song so why pretend like they have a choice? And you are dismissing some phenomenal concert choices with this tactic.
- Miami 2017
- No explanation needed.
- Stop in Nevada
- Never heard this live and would love to. Great song.
- She’s Always a Woman/She’s Got A Way
- Has to go somewhere – why not here?
- Big Man on Mulberry Street
- This track always gets cut in favor of Vienna or Summer, Highland Falls. I love both of those songs, but you have such a phenomenal brass section with Karl, Mark, and Crystal – why wouldn’t you use them to their maximum and include this in every show? It is fun, upbeat, and has such a great horn arrangement.
- See comments above under My Life.
- Why did this ever leave the set list? Such a great concert song and great improv opportunity.
- Half a Mile Away
- OK, since you went for Until the Night, I have to assume that almost nothing is off limits. This is so much better than Zanzibar as the featured piece from 52nd Street (though would be nice to hear Zanzibar and Stiletto at every show – again, you have Karl, Mark, and Crystal – use them). The crowd may not know it, but they will love it. Try it in Orlando and let’s see what happens.
- Perhaps the greatest song you do live. Do not change a thing. This is perfect as is and the closing is as close to perfection as possible – the best way to end the main set.
- Movin’ Out
- As part of the closing package, this song is perfect and the ending with Crystal, Mark, and Karl joining together walking towards center stage is sublime and such a great lead-in to Only the Good Die Young.
- Only the Good Die Young
- As much as I am not thrilled with this song, I realize its place in history and it works well in the show as part of the closing package. I miss you running around during this song, but hey – none of us can do what we did 20 years ago.
- Big Shot
- Again, great song for this part of the show. I miss your antics on this one, too.
- Rock & Roll
- Not a huge fan of this, but it’s a crowd pleaser and fun.
- You May Be Right
- One of your best songs live and a great way to end the closing package.
- Piano Man
- Every show should end with this. The moment when the band stops and the house lights are turned on during the final chorus is extremely powerful – don’t change a thing.
- The best way to say good night to everyone. A short nugget you can play alone which gives everyone just a little bit more when they thought it was all over.
You will notice that some songs are notably absent:
- You can easily dispense with this – insipid, boring concert song with no musical value. The Wonder Bread of your catalog.
- Uptown Girl
- When did this creep back into the rotation? Ugh. See notes on Fire.
- Lullaby/River of Dreams
- Only redeeming qualities are if you play Lullaby as the intro and whatever you play during the River of Dreams pause (Hard Day’s Night is played out – Led Zep/Eagles has been fun the past few shows)
And here are a few songs which need to be kept/thrown into the rotation:
- When did this get the boot? Such a fun song, especially live.
- Streetlife Serenader
- Wow – what a powerful song live (listen to the Attic version, especially the bridge and closing). Really should be included from time to time.
- If Sleeping with the Television On and Laura made it into a few set lists, this should as well.
- I’ve Loved These Days
- Given that we are all getting older, figured this would be a staple by now.
- Great song, especially live.
- A Room of Our Own
- Same as Leyna
- And So It Goes
- Great short rest song and your current vocal tone fits this piece perfectly
- Famous Last Words / 2000 Years
- Figured one of these would be on the New Year’s Eve set list, but neither was. Famous Last Words is a better song live if I had to choose.
See also equestrian blogs. If you read this far, thank you. I look forward to the Jan. 27 show. See you in Orlando!