Life is a little weird sometimes. It has a funny way of coming full circle, and it’s often completely unexpected events which create the most memorable experiences. The last 18 months have held quite a few of those unexpected events for me, not all of which resulted in positive memories. Another unexpected memory was created for me on Friday night, but this time, it was one of the good ones.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin. My grandfather was an Iron Worker in Milwaukee and helped build some of the buildings that remain an integral part of the city’s skyline. Shortly after my mother was born, he moved the family to Janesville but continued to play a big role in his former union, Local 8, even designing the logo which they still use to this day.
When it was announced in the late 1990s that the Milwaukee Brewers were going to be building a new stadium, and that my grandfather’s close friends from Local 8 would be part of the crew who would erect the stadium, his excitement was unmeasurable. I still remember the long car rides to the construction site just to check on the progress that had been made from the last time we went.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck during the construction of the building, and three members of Local 8 were killed when a crane collapsed. The days following the accident were less enjoyable, with my grandfather grieving the loss of his friends and everyone wondering what could have been done differently, and what would be done differently, to avoid such a catastrophic failure in the future.
To commemorate the fallen members of Local 8, the Milwaukee Brewers erected a statue on the concourse outside home plate, which still stands. Additionally, after the crane collapsed in the summer of 1999, the Milwaukee Brewers reached out to my grandfather and wanted to turn his Iron Workers Local 8 logo into a patch, which they would wear on their uniforms for their remaining games of that season.
My grandfather passed away in 2009, but Miller Park has continued to play a big part in my life. I’ve probably seen a season-worth of games there in person, as well as Paul McCartney who performed there in 2013. The Milwaukee Brewers playoff run last season helped my family and I get through a couple of other tragedies as well, but that’s for another time…
Why am I telling you all of this? I’m not really sure, but I guess it’s to give you a little glimpse into just exactly what Miller Park and the Milwaukee Brewers mean to my family and me, and why I was willing to put my entire life on hold when I got less than 24 hours notice that I needed to make the trip from Minneapolis to Milwaukee to see an absolute legend perform there on Friday night.
It’s hard for me to properly put into words just how incredible this performance was, and it almost felt like I was cheating the system a little bit even being there. Who am I to judge the career of Billy Joel?
I don’t throw around the term “legend” very often, but if there is a Mount Rushmore of Pop Music, it’s hard to argue why he wouldn’t deserve a spot. I mean, the first song of the show was “Big Shot” which could theoretically be the closing song for dozens of other performers, which is insane.
While I could certainly go on about the impressive amount of #1 songs he performed on Friday night, it would feel like a waste of time, because we already know all of that. What really stood out to me was the sheer enjoyment he seemed to be getting out of performing these songs.
Billy Joel could be on what you call the “victory lap” years of his career. No one is expecting him to still be churning out top forty hits (although I don’t doubt for a second that he could), so the pressure is sort of off him. Because of this, he could, for instance, just set up shop in Vegas, do a couple shows a month, continue to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, and put in minimal effort.
That’s not what he did, though. He not only booked a tour of baseball stadiums across America, but he also brought a fresh setlist, an incredible attitude, and some fresh antics that you would certainly not expect from a Billy Joel concert.
What kind of antics, you ask? Well, about halfway through the performance, Billy stood from his piano, grabbed an electric guitar, and mentioned that he had a “very special guest singer” who is going to come and sing a “sacred” song. Suddenly, Billy started strumming the chords to ACDC’s “Highway To Hell” and his longtime roadie/stagehand came out doing a spot-on rendition of the song, with 30,000 people singing along to every note.
Another very unexpected example would be during the performance of what ended up being the final song of the night, “You May Be Right.” Toward the end of the song, during a pretty damn impressive “jam-session” from the band, out of left-field (ha!) they mixed in a little bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” with Billy banging on the piano keys like a madman.
While it’s certainly fun to see a singer/songwriter of Billy Joel’s caliber, who has so many hit songs that I kept turning to my mother and asking “what else can possibly be left?” only to be left speechless when another #1 song that you totally forgot about starts playing, it’s just as fun to see someone of his stature actually give a shit.
I know tons of people who have paid ridiculous sums of money to see someone of Billy Joel’s stature leave shows utterly disappointed because they seemed disengaged. Hell, I’ve left shows where I didn’t pay a dime feeling disappointed.
And all of this goes without saying that he still sounds extraordinary in a live setting! I have no idea what sort of regimen he has been on for the last thirty-plus years, but whatever he is doing is working. He can still hit every single note of every single song, back-to-back-to-back without and issue at all.
This show meant a lot to me, and it was a bit difficult to view it from an unbiased standpoint. One thing I feel like I can say, which I confidently feel will speak for the entire crowd was that not a single member of that audience at Miller Park left feeling disappointed on Friday night, and that’s the mark of an incredible night of live music.
Billy Joel Setlist: Miller Park, April 26th, 2019
- Big Shot
- The Entertainer
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Edward Meeker cover)
- New York State of Mind
- The Downeaster Alexa
- Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel cover)
- Movin’ Out
- Don’t Ask Me Why
- She’s Always a Woman
- My Life
- Highway To Hell (AC/DC cover)
- Only The Good Die Young
- The River of Dreams (w/ Eagles’ “Take It Easy”)
- Nessun Dorma (Giacomo Puccini cover)
- Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
- Piano Man
- We Didn’t Start The Fire
- Uptown Girl
- It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
- You May Be Right (w/ Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll”)