Live Review: Billy Joel, Tina Arena @ The MCG

11 December 2022 | 11:21 am | Guido Farnell

After 'My Life,' Joel is settled at the piano, and being brutally honest with the crowd, he confesses that he has not released any new material since 1993. "So you are just going to have to listen to the same old shit," he laughs.

(Pic by Andrew Briscoe)

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This evening the weather gods smiled down on Melbourne, and despite all the recent La Nina wet, we were treated to a pretty perfect summer's evening for tonight’s gig. Billed as the concert event of the year, 76,300 ticket holders, including the State’s premier Dan Andrews, were shuffling into the Gee as Tina Arena took to the stage at twilight to warm up the crowd. Arena and her six-piece band delivered solidly rocking versions of her best-known songs for an hour. The MCG is next-level enormous, and Arena and her band more than capably project themselves through the entire venue. 

Andrew Briscoe

It's difficult to disassociate Arena from the somewhat cheesy Young Talent Time school of entertainment in which we watched her, but in retrospect, her most loved songs are redolent with a certain heartbroken melancholia, and the YTT of her youth is long gone. Arena is a class act and dressed in the purest shade of white; she cuts an elegant and dignified figure. Reflecting on the roller coaster ride of the past few years, Arena reveals she used the downtime to record an album of new material and treats fans to the unreleased tune and future hit House. Proving that she can rock as hard as the rest of them, Arena cheekily places a cover of The Divinyls’ Boys In Town in the set. She takes us to Church as the Sorrento Moon rises in the evening sky. Predictably, it's Chains that concludes her set. The crowd roars with approval as she leaves the stage.

Andrew Briscoe
Thirty minutes later, there is a similar roar of excitement when the lights go down in the MCG. An orchestral overture fanfares the arrival of Billy Joel and his band. Out of the darkness, we hear the familiar, ‘1,2,1,2,3,4’ that kick starts Matter Of Trust. It's one of the first songs that saw Joel trade piano for the guitar, and when visuals on the big screens kick in mid-song, we finally see Joel strutting his stuff. Exclaiming "Hello Australia", Joel greets fans who have travelled to be here and reminds us just how lucky Melbourne is to have scored this gig just for one night only. What follows is over two hours of greatest hits. Whether you are a diehard fan or casually listen to Gold FM in the car, everyone knows at least a verse and chorus to pretty much all of these songs. It is incredible how they have inserted themselves into our lives over the years.

Andrew Briscoe
After My Life, Joel is settled at the piano, and being brutally honest with the crowd, he confesses that he has not released any new material since 1993. "So you are just going to have to listen to the same old shit," he says to a delighted crowd who are more than ready to immerse themselves in a greatest hits show. Many musicians over the years have told us that they really only get better with time. In Joel’s case, his voice is as commanding as ever. This matched with the confident gloss of tight musicianship pumped crystal clear through a massive sound system. Age has not diminished his capacity to deliver a red-hot live show. Being one of the great piano players of pop music, Joel really does tickle the ivories. He also owes plenty to the band of highly skilled players that support him. Tonight is less about searing guitar solos, and the arrangements feature plenty of wistful sax and wild horn solos. Although best filed under rock and pop, Joel's songs are imbued with plenty of soul and folk influences.

Andrew Briscoe
The crowd cheer when he introduces The Entertainer as the single song choice from the album Streetlight Serenade. Joel looks in amusement at the audience and tells that we couldn’t possibly know anything off that album as hardly anyone bought a copy. The Entertainer feels like an odd choice on a set list studded with hits but didn’t include Say Goodbye To Hollywood. But Joel aims to entertain, especially when he later tells us that he didn’t expect to be singing An Innocent Man in his seventies and that he might not be able to hit the high notes like he used to, but to the crowd’s joy, he does. "Calm down, I’m no Mick Jagger," he says to the crowd in between songs as the band plays a snippet of Start Me Up. It seems like a joke, but they played a fair chunk of the song while Joel did an amusing impersonation of Jagger. "And then she divorced me," he sighs after Just The Way You Are but then enthusiastically tells the crowd that the tour is a family affair, bringing his young kids onto the stage for a quick selfie.

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Andrew Briscoe
The classy ode to the big apple, New York State Of Mind, is a sentimental favourite and one of the evening's many highlights. Weirdly, River Of Dreams broke into the classic River Deep Mountain High, led by powerhouse vocals from Crystal Taliefero, who has been Joel's percussionist since 1989. Joel’s guitarist, Mike DelGuidice, unexpectedly contributed to the set list with a cover of Nesum Dorma, with Joel ever so slightly slipping into Richard Clayderman territory.

Predictably the intro to Piano Man brought a deafening cheer from the crowd, who sang along to the entire song. It was the last song before encores which delivered; We Didn’t Start the Fire, Uptown Girl as a duet with Tina Arena, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, Big Shot and You May Be Right which was presented as a medley with Led Zeppelin’s Rock And Roll in rapid-fire succession for maximum effect.

Tonight is a joyous celebration of Joel and his career. He is a consummate entertainer who has crafted a fine body of work that has been engineered to have the broadest possible appeal. Thousands of people leave the MCG beaming and looking very satisfied.

 Andrew Briscoe