Recently I went to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Guess what? I’m going to tell you about it. Just to review, Billy Joel is my fave. He has been since I was about 9 years old, but you already knew that. I’m telling you this to let you know that seeing Billy Joel is important to me. Of course I’ve seen him several times now, but each concert is special to me. Alright, now let’s get on with the show.
First of all, I’d like to point out how difficult it is to get to Wrigley Field. What a horrible venue for a concert. The parking is ridiculous. We paid $40 for parking, which isn’t horrible, I guess, but we had to get there hours early to secure a decent space. We walked around the area to find a bite to eat before the show. That was quite the disaster. Every restaurant was packed with folks who had the same idea. After walking and walking and then walking some more, we happened upon a bar close by. All of the seats were taken save one. Steve let me sit while we waited for another chair to open up. Our fellow patrons were ever so kind about stealing the chair before Steve could sit. People were very stealth. We, on the other hand, were not. We decided to order some food and waited more than 30 minutes for chicken fingers. The service was pretty awful. If I could remember the name of the place, I’d tell you, but I don’t. It’s right across the street from Wrigley Field. That narrows it down, right? I’m telling you all of this to get to our celebrity sighting. Steve kept staring at this guy several feet away. He claimed that the man in the Hawaiian-themed T-shirt was Tom Thayer of Chicago Bears and WGN fame. He had a hat on, so I wasn’t sure. I was urging Steve to say hello instead of creepily staring at the poor man. He was suddenly uncharacteristically shy. I told him I would do it, but he said no. It was finally time to leave to get to the concert. Steve walked just passed this mystery man and turned back to me and gave me the sign to talk. What? Oh, okay. I guess I’ll say something.
“I don’t want to sound like a total dork, but are you Tom Thayer?” I asked.
“Yes I am!” he replied, “What’s your name?” Mr. Thayer has a hearty handshake.
I introduced myself and oh yeah, this is my husband Steve. Tom was very gracious and nice to us. I’m sure he’s used to people staring at him in a bar. At the end of the conversation Steve and I walked away giggling. Looking back, we should have gushed a little more, maybe we could have gotten some better seats with the cool people.
Back to the concert. I need to mention that a week before this concert, I saw NIN and Soundgarden at First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. I was thoroughly frisked upon entering. Wrigley Field is quite a bit bigger and we were let right in. But we needed to get in a huge long line to get a wrist band signifying that we indeed had seats on the field. Luckily we didn’t have to show our tickets to get one. Of course we had field seats! Why is it that whenever there’s a long line in a small space someone decides to fart? That is so rude and it always happens. I checked with Steve, it wasn’t him.
It was almost 8 o’clock and I was in a panic to get to our seats. I didn’t want to miss a second. There’s an opening act? Ugh! Gavin DeGraw isn’t a bad singer and the kids seem to like him, but when I’m waiting for Billy Joel, I don’t want to sit through anyone else. Plus I could have had another $7 beer instead of the $9 beer I was about to buy. Our seats were pretty good. 12th row way on the side. Being a not rich person, I’m usually stuck in horrible seats way up high longing to be with the crowd on the field. This time I splurged and got the best tickets I could.
As the seats filled up, Gavin wrapped up his set. I’m sure he did a fine job. Randy Newman’s theme from “The Natural” started playing. No, I didn’t know Randy Newman wrote that, Steve told me. Finally Billy Joel takes to the stage and he’s wearing a guitar? Wha? Well, that’s different. “Matter of Trust” started off the show at a rather slow tempo. BJ usually opens with “Angry Young Man.” I need to pause here for a moment of honesty. Ha! Get it? I’ve seen BJ a lot, pretty much every time he’s been in Chicago for the last 15 years. I have seen him perform the same songs in the same order several times. I get the feeling that BJ is totally sick of singing the same old hits. I rarely see any joy in his face when he’s singing “Movin’ Out” or “You May Be Right” and it makes me sad. A few years back, he added “Zanzibar” into the set and I saw that joy again. I wish he would delve into his deeper cuts for the true fans and for himself.
So, “Matter of Trust” was indeed a surprise, but a weird surprise. I’m not sure if I loved it, but it was interesting to see BJ play guitar. Usually he only plays guitar on “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The rest of the show pretty much consisted of the standards he usually plays like, “She’s Always A Woman,” “Movin’ Out,” “New York State of Mind” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I was thrilled he decided to sing “Innocent Man.” I’ve seen him perform this song before, but someone else hit the high notes for him. At this show, he warned the crowd that he was going to give the song a try, but he wasn’t promising perfection. It was perfect. I loved it.
“Innocent Man” was early in the show which led into other slower tunes like “Vienna” which I had never heard live. The people around me all started to sit down. Not true fans. I stood up for the entire show. The great thing about the fair-weather fans sitting down was that I had a straight line to see BJ face to face. It was quite dreamy, I must say. I’d like to think he saw me standing by myself and appreciated my fierce loyalty. Let me think that!
Another surprise tune was “Sometimes A Fantasy” from Glass Houses. I’ve never heard Billy perform it before and it was flawless. I’m not sure how many people were familiar with the song, but I thought it was totally cool. Billy explained that this song was a bit risqué for the time, but it’s rather tame today by comparison. Unfortunately while I was rocking out to this song, Steve was waiting in line for the elegant port-o-pots they had set up for fine people on the field. Eww…just eww.
Well, of course he did “Piano Man!” I can’t believe you even asked. I think the crowd would rip the stage down if they didn’t hear that song, yet again. Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s cool that everyone puts their arms around each other and sways to this iconic BJ song. I’m glad to see people enjoying themselves. It’s always a thrill when Billy stops singing and the crowd does a chorus on their own. Some people are too cool to sing along, but I promised Steve I would not name those people.
The first song of BJ’s encore was “Uptown Girl” which I have only heard him perform one other time. Although this is not my absolute favorite BJ song, I was really excited that he performed it. Whenever I’m sad or angry I listen to “Uptown Girl” and it makes me feel better. Sometimes I have to listen to it twice, but it does work eventually. I was so surprised and pleased to hear this song, that something got caught in both of my eyes and they got all watery.
Like I said, all of the staples were performed including “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” which he always performs at Wrigley and “My Kind of Town.” The past few times I’ve seen Billy he has let his roadie, Chainsaw perform AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” which I thought was funny the first time I saw it. I thought it was cool that BJ would let one of his people perform who is usually not in the limelight, but after the third time it wasn’t funny anymore. It’s not special if it happens every time and it’s always the same song.
Another minor complaint that I have had for a few years is that BJ’s band is just too slick. This may seem like a weird complaint, but there just isn’t any spontaneity left. The backing vocals are Vegas-like perfect and the songs can sound rather “canned.” Perhaps that can be fixed by choosing deeper cuts to perform or by changing up the set list. Every time I pay an exorbitant amount of money to see BJ, I think to myself, this is the last time I’m doing this, but every time he comes to Chicago, I’m there. I am holding out hope that he will eventually do smaller tours where he performs full albums. I suppose there’s not as much money in that. I think Billy Joel would find happiness in performing again if he could actually see and interact with his fans.
I should also mention that Billy Joel’s mother Rosalind had passed away just days before the Wrigley show. I didn’t know that at the time and I don’t think anyone would have known that based on his performance. He never mentioned it as I get the impression that he’s trying to be a more private person nowadays. I am grateful that he went on with the show as he could have easily postponed it. I’m sure it was tough for him to be upbeat in front of thousands of people, but perhaps he needed us just as much as we needed to see him. Overall, I had a great time and even though there were only two or three songs I hadn’t heard him perform a million times, it was worth it. Maybe someday I’ll actually get front row tickets. That is where I belong, after all.
Perhaps you can imagine the chaos of a sold-out Wrigley Field suddenly pouring into the streets. It can be a little frightening if you don’t have your wits about you. Steve was certainly witty and got us back to the car in record time. He was nice enough to stop at a nearby McDonalds to get me a Diet Coke because I was so thirsty. He’s a keeper, alright.