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Billy Joel, the monthly neighbourhood gig

billy joel

By Julius Grafton. October 20, 2017.

iPhone picture

It could have been a small venue, it sounded like silk, and the 18,666 punters were vibed like only a local crowd are. Billy Joel is in residency in New York – his town – and the monthly gig just keeps on selling out. Since 2014, every month, one night only, grossing well over US$2 million a pop.

By now the production is Broadway musical slick. Honed, tweaked and finessed well beyond what you get on an arena tour where each venue has its quirks. Madison Square Gardens is not the easiest arena, but the crew and designers figured out how to present Billy Joel in here a very, very long time ago.

Brian Ruggles at the SD5. (Pic couresy of AV Network)

Performing in the round, stage at one end, the audience behind are part of the backdrop. Designer Steve Cohen has an absolute blast with a show that evolves around a huge songlist, changed each time. Eight vertical LED screens hang at random heights and distances, with the i-mag crystal clear and interesting, split and slightly overlapped. Behind that you see the crowd at the rear, sometimes lit in shuttered slices. A true visual treat.

But that sound. The piano is impossibly textured, and cunningly a Kawai digital built into a Long Island Piano Company grand frame. Six channels are allocated on Brian Ruggles SD5 console and piano is the centrepiece of the mix – after Joel’s strong distinctive voice.

The 8 piece band are made up of two horn players, percussion, drummer, bass, keyboardist and two guitarists. Four of these do background vocal duties and wow- can they sing.

Sipping a warm drink, Joel offers the audience a choice of two songs from each of his albums – knowing which one will get the roar. This imbues the first hour with a tour of the catalogue, much familiar, some not.

There is an avalanche of hits for the final hour.

Steve Cohen. (Pic courtesy Billyjoel.com)

While the sound is clear, full, nuanced and actually sonically almost beautiful, it is the exquisite precision of the production that impresses the hell out of me.

Getting the show in, up and ready is helped by positional markings for the delay rings and racks of amps and processing left up the gantry by Clair Global.

This show keeps selling, and Joel says he’ll keep doing it while it does. They are now selling shows in 2018, as of the show I saw, this makes 45. If you plan a trip to the Big Apple, try to plan around seeing this show.

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