Detroit, MI

Billy Joel calls on Def Leppard's Joe Elliott for surprise appearance in Detroit

Andrew Roth

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Billy Joel performs at Comerica Park on July 9, 2022.Andrew Roth

It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and Billy Joel had Detroit feeling more than alright during his first ever solo stadium concert in the city July 9.

Joel took the stage at Comerica Park right around 9 o’clock on a Saturday, as the sun set over the Detroit skyline on a beautiful Michigan evening with temperatures in the mid-70s, dressed in a black suit, black shirt and black tie, quickly launching into a set that lasted more than two hours.

Joel – the sixth best-selling recording artist of all time – performed a mix of his biggest hits like “Piano Man,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” and “Allentown,” as well as deeper cuts like “A Room of Our Own.”

“I know most of you didn’t know that song. We don’t know it that well either,” Joel joked after performing “A Room of Our Own” with his band, bringing Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott on stage as his special guest to “try to make it up to you.”

Elliott performed Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” with Joel providing backing vocals.

Def Leppard had a joint concert with Mötley Crüe at Comerica Park the following night, capping off the first ever three-night run of concerts in the stadium’s 22-year history.

Both concerts were taking place more than 700 days after they were initially scheduled to roll through the Motor City due to multiple COVID-19 delays.

“I would like to thank those of you who bought tickets two years ago to see the show,” Joel said. “Who the hell knew that was going to happen?”

Joel frequently joked with the audience during his set that lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes, occasionally waving a flyswatter through the air to try and clear bugs from his area in the outdoor venue.

“There is a high note in this song (“An Innocent Man”) that I worry about,” Joel told the crowd, “because if I don’t hit it, it’s a real cringe fest. You’re going to be embarrassed for me. But I will do my best. If I don’t hit it, I will accept your boos.”

Joel knocked it out of the park, successfully hitting the note to thunderous applause from the more than 30,000 fans in attendance.

The crowd also cheered when Joel introduced “The Entertainer,” noting that it was “from an album that came out in 1975. The album was called “Streetlife Serenade.”

“Don’t bullshit me,” Joel responded. “You don’t have that album. Nobody bought that album. I don’t even have a copy of that album.”

Joel paid homage to Motown’s history throughout the night, with a shortened version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” and an interlude of Martha and the Vandella’s “Dancing in the Street” during “River of Dreams,” performed by multi-instrumentalist and backup vocalist Crystal Taliefero.

“A lot of great music came out of this town,” Joel said. “We all grew up in bands playing those songs. So we’re mighty glad to be here.”

Joel teased the crowd with the piano intro to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” before telling his band that they were instead moving on to “Only the Good Die Young,” in a seemingly improvised moment that was not included in his handwritten notes on the setlist for the night as posted to his Instagram after the show.

Last time Joel played a stadium in Michigan, it was at the Pontiac Silverdome in the 1990s with Elton John as a co-headliner.

But while John – who will return to Detroit next week for his own performance at Comerica Park, his last stop in the city, as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour – has continued producing music over the years, including having a song on the charts right now with Dua Lipa, Joel stopped creating new music in the early 1990s (and has criticized John’s decision to continue).

Still, in a sign of his timeless icon status, Joel attracted a diverse, multi-generational audience, with his younger fans jumping up to dance as he performed “Zanzibar,” which was used in a viral TikTok trend last year.

Billy Joel previously told Rolling Stone in 2019 that he was baffled by his continued popularity on the road despite having not released new music in nearly 30 years. “I’ve gone onstage and said, ‘I don’t have anything new for you, so we’re just going to play the old shit,’” he said. “And the audience goes, ‘Yeah!’ I’ll be sitting in the stadium looking out at 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 people, thinking, ‘What the hell are they all doing here? Why now?’ I guess, in a way, I’m an anachronism. There aren’t that many of me left. There’s a rarity to it, which gives it value.”

Fans of all ages waved their phone flashlights in the air as Joel performed “Piano Man” to close out the show, awarding the performance with more than three minutes of sustained applause before Joel returned to the stage to perform a homerun five-song encore.

After an energetic run through “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (which Joel could write an entire sequel for just about the period since the concert was first announced), “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “Big Shot,” and “You May Be Right,” the adoring Detroit crowd thanked the Piano Man with another round of more than three minutes of sustained applause for helping them “forget about life for a while.”

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Andrew Roth is a reporter and photojournalist in Michigan covering politics, technology, culture and their intersection. Andrew has had bylines in news outlets like the Detroit News, Michigan Advance and Flint Beat. He was named one of the best political reporters in Michigan by the Washington Post and his work has been cited by outlets like Bloomberg, Endgadget, Daily Kos and others. You can follow him on Twitter at @RothTheReporter and @RothsReviews, and on Instagram at @RothTheReporter.

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