“I just wanted to let you know I don’t have anything new for you — it’s the same old shit,” the 70-year-old singer-songwriter informed us all up front.
Such a dismissive sentiment might sound cynical or glib in someone else’s mouth, but lacerating self-deprecation is part and parcel of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s well-honed shtick.
The prospect of a perfectly temperate fall evening under the stars spent listening to the “same old shit” made an eclectic audience (estimated by on-site security at around 40,000 people) roar as though a game-winning home run had just cleared the right-field fence.
On its face, the decision to enlist Joel, making his first North Texas appearance in more than four years, as the final act to perform at Arlington’s Globe Life Park (Joel assiduously thanked Dallas twice) might seem curious. (Take it with a grain of salt that this will be the “final concert” forever and ever, amen, at Globe Life Park; life always finds a way.)
There undoubtedly were and are those who will grumble — perhaps rightly — that a Texas-born or -bred act should have been tapped to close out the stadium’s quarter-century as home to one of the Lone Star State’s two professional baseball teams.
“I just wanted to let you know I don’t have anything new for you — it’s the same old shit.” — Billy Joel
But in the moment, Billy Joel’s presence made sense: Nostalgia on a grand scale was the order of the evening, and Joel’s awards-bedecked catalog provided the foundation for a satisfying two-hour excursion into the past.
Joel was backed by an airtight eight-piece band: drummer Chuck Burgi (sporting a customized Texas Rangers jersey for the occasion); multi-instrumentalists Mark Rivera and Crystal Taliefero; guitarist-vocalists Mike DelGuidice and Tommy Byrnes; bassist Andy Cichon; keyboardist Dave Rosenthal; and brass player Carl Fischer.
Together, they worked their way through the audience-preferred list of smash singles (“The hits — comin’ at ya!” Joel intoned, in the cadence of a Wolfman Jack-era radio DJ), sprinkling in a few surprises along the way, not least of which was a rendition of 1986’s “Modern Woman,” which Joel and his band dusted off for the first time in three decades last month at Madison Square Garden. (“We may screw this up,” Joel admitted beforehand, “but at least it’ll be an authentic rock 'n' roll screw-up.”)
Joel also ceded the spotlight to DelGuidice, who took lead vocals on an admirable run-through of ZZ Top’s “Tush” (and delivered a vigorous rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” as a lead-in to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”), as well as stitching a faithful cover of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” into an extended “River of Dreams.”
Sounding sharp and engaged — the stadium’s sound system was in fine form throughout, with the music sounding just as vibrant a few rows from the stage as it did near the back of the field or in the stands — Joel donned a black cowboy hat to perform “Shameless” and toggled easily between ballads (“Just the Way You Are,” “Honesty,” “She’s Always a Woman”) and bops (“I Go to Extremes,” “Only the Good Die Young,” the entire five-song encore).
It was a blissful cascade of pleasure that threatened to obscure the much-hyped reason everyone was piled into the place: This was the end of something. As much as anything can end in an age when things are endlessly revisited, retooled and rebooted, Saturday night did have a feeling of finality to it.
That’s perhaps why a line in “Piano Man,” which Joel has sung 10 million times if he’s sung it once, landed with a particular resonance: “He says, ‘Son, can you play me a memory/I’m not really sure how it goes’ …” That instant, as I stood in what was once center field, gazing around at those lost in the moment alone or with each other, a chorus of strangers loudly singing words we’d known for years, I understood why bringing Billy Joel to North Texas to say goodbye to a baseball stadium was a sneakily brilliant move.
Globe Life Park belongs to our collective memory now — a shrine to and repository of so many millions of fond remembrances and past glories. The Texas Rangers aren’t going far — the team’s new home amid the Texas Live! development glowed with a neon ferocity directly across the street Saturday night — but there’s a symbolic departure that’s taken place over the course of this final season of baseball and the three concerts that have likewise filled the stadium these last few months.
So it is with Billy Joel: His songs, whether lauded or derided, are deeply embedded in the American consciousness, and each means something, conjuring particular memories, to every person who stood or sat inside Globe Life Park on Saturday.
Like the man onstage and the building in which we all gathered, there have been euphoric highs and crushing lows over the last 25 years. But in life, for good or ill, we are left only with what we remember — holding tight to what we cherish, long after the lights have finally faded.