2022, Music

Riley Goes to Detroit to See Billy Joel Live at Comerica Park, July 9, 2022

You may be wondering, why did I see Billy Joel? I have made my feelings about him pretty clear. But Jenn really likes Billy Joel, so we went to see Billy Joel in Detroit. I had only ever gotten lost in Detroit and Dearborn many years ago, and I’d never actually been there.

We got stuck in a traffic jam in Oakville, which is a normal occurrence now and just maddening. Fortunately, it didn’t follow us on to the 403. I hadn’t done this drive in so long I had convinced myself it was longer than it actually was. So we fortunately made the border in pretty good time. But then we had some bad customs luck and sat at the border for over half an hour. (I shouldn’t complain, I have incredible customs luck.)

Downtown Detroit

Our hotel was right in downtown but took a bit to get there due to the traffic and roads in Detroit which do not go straight. Then, when we got to the hotel there was a line for the parking and a line for check-in, so we didn’t get going until 5.

The hotel was in a perfect location, and was decorated in a quirky and unique way. But whatever appealing style they might have on their website and in their lobby wasn’t really in the room. Instead, the room was just really, really small, with a TV on the wall next to the bed, instead of at the end of the bed. Fortunately, we weren’t planning on using it, but it was still weird and I wouldn’t want to stay there for a long period where I ended up watching some TV. Weirdly, the bathroom was quite nice and something like a 1/3rd to 1/2 the size of the rest of the hotel room. It was bizarrely large and had the largest shower I think I’ve ever seen in a hotel room. This building used to be the Wurlitzer Building and I guess there were maybe some residences but it sure felt like it had been converted to a hotel, which accounted for the strangely shaped rooms.

We walked right into downtown and wandered around. Eventually, we found our way to the famous Guardian Building:

The Guardian Building lobby
Guardian Building elevators

Then we walked more around the downtown and down to the water (well, almost).

Forgetting to fist-bump Joe Louis

We headed back towards our hotel to try to find something to eat. We didn’t have enough time to walk up to Midtown to check out the breweries up there but we didn’t have enough time so instead we found our way to the Detroit Beer Exchange. I’ve read about these places before, and scoffed, and it was just as weird as you would expect. (The beers are “dynamically” priced.) Why you would want to drink anywhere where the prices change constantly, I don’t know. However, the beer selection was decent and the food was excellent.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel so Jenn could drop off her purse because we were going to a sports stadium in the United States. Though we only saw a tiny bit, downtown Detroit is really nice. The stories you grew up with are no longer true.

Comerica Park

We were a couple minute walk to the field. It was extremely busy and there was a bottleneck on the sidewalk. Once we got inside, we found a modern, open-air baseball stadium with incredible views of the Detroit skyline. It was only the third Major League ballpark I’ve ever been to and it’s really nice. However, the food and beer were not as good as the minor league parks I’ve been to. (I’ve been to more minor league parks than MLB parks.)

Nothing in the communications for the show led us to believe there was an opener. So we got there for 8 and actually worried we were missing the opening of the show as we got beer. But, alas, there was an opener: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. They played some fairly inoffensive, vaguely “indie” piano rock. They also performed a very faithful cover of “American Girl” by Tom Petty that made people happy.

Billy Joel, Live at Comerica Park, Saturday July 9, 2022

Billy Joel is 73 years old but he played for well over 2 hours, including a nearly half hour encore. There are performers half is age who would play for an hour, maybe just even 50 minutes. Hell, there are people 1/3rd his age who would only play for that long. He may only perform once a month, and he may limit where he performs, but he really seems to get that people have come to see him perform. This man hasn’t released an album of new (pop rock) material in nearly 30 years and he performs for over 2 hours. Whatever else I may think of the man and his music, he clearly cares about his audience and he is clearly enjoying himself.

He’s also pretty funny. I think I knew that already, but he is funny and his banter is pretty good, whether or not he’s used it before.

He played the vast majority of his US hits – I knew nearly every song – and a few deep cuts. (One appeared to be unknown to everyone.) He failed to play only two songs on Jenn’s list of songs she wanted to hear, and one of them he cannot physically sing any more. He teased a few songs by other artists – “I Heard it Through the Grape Vine,” “Start Me Up” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” – which is apparently something he does all the time. But, at least in this case, that seemed to be to a purpose.

Most of his touring band got featured showcases, everyone except the bassist and the drummer. The main sax player got an extended solo (possibly during my least favourite song, I don’t remember), the trumpet player did as well, and the lead guitarist got a number of solos.

Seemingly at random, Joel said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the lead singer of Def Leppard, Joe Elliot.” And Joe Elliot walked on stage and sang “Pour Some Sugar One Me.” The crowd went absolutely insane. He then left with a fist bump. We later learned they were playing Comerica the next night. If I liked Def Leppard, I would have been impressed, even though it was a very straight version. Everyone around was very happy. It was extremely random.

His rhythm guitarist’s showcase was to sing “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot while Joel played piano. I can honestly say that I’ve never been in any venue that has played Billy Joel, Def Leppard and Puccini while I was there. So that was something. That being said, if you’re going to arbitrarily play Italian opera during your set, “Nessun Dorma” is about the safest thing I can imagine. That’s not fair to the guitarist, who has an incredible voice. You have to be able to sing to pull it off. But if there’s one piece of modern Italian opera that most pop rock fans will recognize, it’s “Nessun Dorma.”

During “River of Dreams” his percussionist/backing vocalist/saxophonist sand “Dancing in the Street.” And then the opera-singing guitarist sang Zeppelin during the final song of the encore.

It was a long, impressive show. Joel is entertaining. If I liked his music, I probably would have really enjoyed it. Certainly everyone around me had a great time. He played the hits, and he fooled around just enough to keep us on our toes without scaring anyone. He was better live than on record, as I imagined.

“Just the Way You Are” is still, like, my least favourite hit song of the 1970s. And I still do not like Billy Joel’s music. I can still never really imagine putting on a Billy Joel album for fun.

But I respect anyone who seeks to entertain their audience as much as he did during this show. As I said earlier, there are tons of musicians who would not give this much at far younger ages.

After the show, I was thinking we’d go to the brewery next to our hotel. But it was way later than we had thought. Also, it took forever to leave Comerica. Listen, the Dome is not a great ballpark. But one thing I can say about it is that it is way easier to get out of than Comerica. If I suddenly have Covid this week. It’s because of that stupid ramp.

Anyway, even though our hotel was only a couple minutes away, we decided to go up to bed instead of going for a drink.

Sunday July 11, 2022

Downtown Detroit has gentrified but it is loud on a Saturday night. Despite being on the eleventh floor, I was woken up multiple times by speeding cars and cars blasting music so loud it sounded like it was in our room. Then, in the middle of the night, there was a fight. I don’t think it was a physical fight, but it was a loud argument. At one point, the woman who was yelling for what felt like half an hour screamed “I’m not being loud.” Remember, I was on the 11th floor. I think the hotel needs newer, better windows.

Our room also needed better curtains. Unfortunately we had a southeast facing room and the sunrise woke me up. Jenn eventually woke up too and since we were up so early, we decided to just check out and get breakfast.

We headed to Grosse Pointe for a meal and Trader Joe’s. I was disappointed to learn that Grosse Point Blank was filmed nearly entirely in LA and we couldn’t go on a location tour. Anyway, our American diner breakfast was exactly what we were looking for and we got what we wanted at Trader Joe’s. We then got gas and crossed the border early, this time using the tunnel. There was one car in each line.

We made pretty good time and were back in Oakville not long after 2.

We’d absolutely go back to Detroit, it looks like a great place to spend a weekend. And there are a bunch of breweries I didn’t get to try.

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