The San Diego Union-Tribune: Billy Joel and Sting light up Petco Park on a cool, sometimes wet Saturday night…

April 14, 2024

The weather remained dry for Sting’s terrific opening set, but it began to rain shortly after Joel’s performance began. ‘We’re from New York -- this is nothing!’ he told the cheering audience of 42,000.

Take a bow, mother nature!

Thanks to some uncharacteristically wet April weather during Billy Joel’s sold-out concert with Sting at Petco Park on Saturday night, pop-music’s famed piano man has achieved an elite — if not entirely coveted — distinction. He now joins the Rolling Stones, Miles Davis and Tony Bennett on the very short list of legendary musicians whose open-air San Diego concerts saw them forge ahead in a noble quest to reign in the rain.

Happily, no precipitation marred Sting’s superb, 83-minute opening set, which included a propulsive version of his funk-fueled 1993 romp, “Heavy Cloud No Rain.” Alas, the song includes a couplet that proved all too prescient Saturday night at the downtown ball park: The clouds won’t go till their work is done / Every morning you’ll hear me pray / If only it would rain today.

The clouds started their work at 9:10 p.m., midway through “Movin’ Out,” the second selection by Joel and his brassy, one-woman, seven-man band. The light but steady rain continued through his next seven numbers, which included “Vienna,” “An Innocent Man,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” a truncated version of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” and the jazzy, finger-snapping “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” which featured Joel trading vocal lines with an umbrella-twirling Sting.

“Bring you raincoat!” Joel quipped as Sting strolled on to the enormous stage, which stretched across much of Petco Park’s right and center fields.

Before “Start Me Up,” Joel told the audience: “Don’t get all excited; I ain’t Mick Jagger.” Indeed, at 74, Joel is six years younger than the hyper-kinetic, age-defying Jagger (The Rolling Stones, incidentally, were the first rock act to perform at the then-new Petco Park in 2005, a year after it opened.)

When “Start Me Up” concluded, Joel and his well-drilled band playfully broke into a few verses of the 1964 Riveras’ chestnut, “California Sun,” which was memorably covered in 1977 by the Ramones. Raindrops were visible on parts of his grand piano, but Joel was undaunted.

“We’re from New York — this is nothing!” he told the cheering crowd. Even so, Joel’s stage attire was topped off with a black zip-up jacket, a cap and a wool scarf. The drizzle was constant enough that several of this reporter’s pens stopped working because of how wet the pages in my notebook had become.

The rain abated — for a while — shortly after Joel launched into his ninth selection, “New York State of Mind,” his signature song and one of the highlights of his set.

The air was alternately dry and moist for the 13 numbers that followed in Joel’s concert. It culminated with five sure-thing encore numbers — “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and’ Roll To Me,” “Big Shot” and “You May be Right,” which included a charged snippet of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic, “Rock and Roll,” sung by Joel band guitarist Mike DelGuidice.

The show ended at 10:55 p.m., five minutes before Petco Park’s curfew. It was Joel’s second appearance at the stadium, where he delivered a memorable, 26-song performance in 2016 to a sold-out crowd.

Then, as on Saturday, Joel’s grand piano periodically rotated on the stage to afford the audience on either side of the packed stadium a better vantage point. Saturday’s concert was shorter by five songs than in 2016. What also differed is Joel’s singing voice, which has lost some of its range and impact.

He acknowledged as much when introducing “An Innocent Man,” the title track of his 1983 album. “I didn’t realize when I recorded this that I was saying goodbye to a lot of my high notes,” Joel said. “If I hit a lot of flat notes, you’re allowed to groan.”

He was thoroughly engaged and his singing was warm and resonant on winning renditions of “Vienna,” “Only the Good Die Young,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man.” And his keyboard work was rarely less than sparkling. But on other numbers, he repeatedly strained to hit notes, despite singing them in lower keys than they were originally recorded.

Of course, the rain and cool night air could have been factors for the veteran troubadour, who tonight at 9 will be featured on the CBS TB concert special, “Billy Joel: The 100th — Live at Madison Square Garden.”

But indoors or out, his crowd-pleasing Petco Park concert was marred by inconsistent pacing, no more so that when “The River of Dreams” segued into Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” — a good, but not great, showcase for singer and multi-instrumentalist Crystal Talifero. This was followed by guitarist DelGuidice’s vocal rendition of the storied Puccini opera aria, “Nessun dorma” — which translates as “Nobody’s Sleeping” — as the lead-in to “Piano Man.”

Say, what? Even if this was meant as an inside joke, clearly nobody was sleeping on such a damp, cool evening. And the enthusiastic audience, which sang along and danced en masse, left not doubt of its devotion to Joel and the songs that many attendees grew up hearing.

Pacing and vocal power were no problem for Sting, whose 16-song opening set was a master class in how to structure, balance and deliver a concert that soared from start (a spirited duet with Joel on “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”) to finish (“Every Breath You Take,” likely the most memorable rock song ever about stalking).

Sting, who performed with equal elan in October at his SDSU concert here, was in excellent voice throughout Saturday. No matter how many times he has prebviously sung “Roxanne,” “Message in a Bottle,” So Lonely” and “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free,” he made each sound wonderfully fresh and vital. Sting’s songs are durable and flexible, enabling him to modify their keys, time signatures and arrangements in a manner that simultaneously saluted and extended them.

His exemplary bass playing was, likewise, a marvel of taste, concision and musicality that added welcome dimension to the songs at hand. He was matched, note for note, by his very talented, one-woman, five-man band. It included Ben Butler, very ably subbing for longtime Sting guitarist Dominic Miller (who is now embarked on a solo tour in Europe).

Sting consistently injected fresh vigor into such favorites as “Message in a Bottle,” Brand New Day,” “Fields of Gold,” and “King of Pain,” adding welcome new twists while remaining true to each song’s essence. Rather than rush through songs, he extended a number of them — including “Walking on the Moon,” which lasted 12 minutes but was not a second too long — the better to build dynamic tension and release.

No stranger to stadium concerts, Sting commanded the stage with an inviting combination of authority, wit and good-natured bonhomie. Even more so that Joel, he repeatedly engaged the audience in spirited, call-and-response vocal exchanges. Sting also delivered a few well-timed asides. (Introducing The Police’s 1981 gem, “Spirits in the Material World,” he deadpanned: “I can assure you it’s not a Madonna song,” a wry allusion to her 1984 hit, “Material Girl.”)

After the harmonica-led “Brand New Day,” Sting commented on the inclement weather, saying: “Man, it’s cold! I come from England, where it’s (now) sunny and warm. You can’t trust the weather anymore, which is what this next song is about.” He and his band then delivered an expertly calibrated version of “Heavy Weather No Rain,” during which he ad-libbed some extra lyrics: “You’re in San Diego — my ship just came in!”

Sting wisely let his music speak for itself, most notably on “Desert Rose.” Its snaking, Arabic-inspired melody seemed all the more poignant at a time when, sadly, war is again rife in the Middle East.

At 72, Sting remains an arresting musical force. The bar he set for Joel to follow Saturday was, ultimately, a bridge too far — although that may reflect the fact Sting tours constantly, while Joel currently averages just two concerts a month. Either way, on Saturday neither of them let the rain dampen their musical parade.

(c) San Diego Union-Tribune by George Varga


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