Although he’s played a few out of town outdoor dates, tonight (November 5th) is the night Billy Joel returns home to New York City to resume his ongoing residency at Madison Square Garden. The “Piano Man” last performed at the legendary venue on February 20th, 2020 — just before the massive covid shutdown.
Released today is Billy Joel – The Vinyl Collection, Vol.1. Focusing on Billy’s 1970’s material, the set features all the albums from 1971’s Cold Spring Harbor through 1981’s Songs In The Attic — with the exception of 1980’s Glass Houses. Released for the first time as part of the box is the double album, Billy Joel – Live at The Great American Music Hall – 1975.
Billy spoke to USA Today and explained the importance of MSG to him: “The Garden is our home. The crowd is always great; it’s New York. The acoustics are great. It’s just everything good about playing live. I never dreamed I’d have a residency at Madison Square Garden. We can’t believe people are still buying tickets to see us. I remember the first time I ever went there, I was a little kid and my parents took me to a Christmas show with Gene Autry. He had a big hit with ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ at the time, and there I am in the top row, probably the worst seats in the house. It seemed like the biggest place I could ever imagine. And Gene comes out and people start singing along and, he takes out his six guns in the air to get the crowd to sing along louder, so I start singing because I didn’t want to get shot!”
He went on to talk about how he dealt with putting his work on ice due to the pandemic, recalling, “The last gig we played before shutdown was in Mexico and that was outside. All of a sudden, everything stopped and it felt like it was the end of the world. No one knew when it would go away — when we could work again. It was very scary. I had hoped it would pass, but nobody knew. I talked to Don Henley — ‘What do you think?’ ‘I don’t know.’ I talked to (Bruce) Springsteen — ‘What do you think?’ — and nobody knew. Nobody was the voice of authority and (then-President Donald) Trump just made it worse. It was a scary time.”
Billy remembered the newly unearthed San Francisco concert from 1975 at the Great American Music Hall released as part of the new vinyl box set: “I remember the gig. I remember being in San Francisco, and we didn’t play the West Coast very often. I remember what the venue looked like; a bordello on steroids, like, this is where Abraham Lincoln would be shot. It was a good gig. The audience was good. We were eager to do the gig and we were good as a band. I don’t know why (the label) picked that particular show, but I’m glad they did.”
Over the course of his career, Billy Joel has played such legendary Manhattan venues as the Bottom Line, Carnegie Hall — as well as both Yankee and Shea Stadium. Upon announcing the ongoing residency back in December 2013, he explained why Madison Square Garden stands alone in terms of prestige and history: “Growing up as a young aspiring musician in Hicksville, New York, Madison Square Garden appeared larger than life. And like many other aspiring musicians, I dreamed of playing the Garden. But it was more than that — Madison Square Garden was New York to me. It’s the place where artists become stars and players become legends. I achieved my dream of playing this iconic venue. I thought it didn’t get any better than that moment.”