Stevie Nicks and Billy Joel a powerhouse pop tandem at rainy Gillette
By Maura Johnston
FOXBOROUGH — When the pugilistic pop composer Billy Joel and the bewitching singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks announced their joint tour earlier this year, it took a second for the pairing to click. Joel’s blend of classical training and punky New York attitude seem at odds with Nicks’s West Coast mystic visions, but the two share a theatricality — not to mention packed back catalogs — that made their show Saturday night at Gillette Stadium a top-to-bottom joyride.
The hit parade was a bit waterlogged, with rain falling steadily throughout the show. But the weather — which was also marked by decidedly autumnal temperatures — added a sense of drama to the proceedings while also proving that those filling the stadium were committed to seeing the whole night through. Nicks’s set spotlighted both her work with the tumultuous hitmakers Fleetwood Mac and her solo material, with a stunning extended run-through of the world-weary Mac track “Gold Dust Woman” and a fiery take on her grief-stricken solo hit “Edge of Seventeen.”
Mourning ran through the set, with Nicks’s former duet partner Tom Petty being paid tribute through versions of the tug-of-war duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (with Joel more than ably handling what Nicks called “the argument part” of Petty’s vocal) and the modern American standard “Free Fallin’.” Her former bandmate Christine McVie, who passed away last November, was given the spotlight during Nicks’s set-closing version of the yearning Fleetwood Mac smash “Landslide.” That song and “Free Fallin’” have both become modern touchstones of American pop, and Nicks’s presentation of both showed how crucial she and her collaborators have been to the modern pop firmament.
Joel opened his set with a take on his 1978 outta-my-face anthem “My Life” that he blended into Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which succinctly summed up at least one facet of his appeal. His musical chops straddle the old and new worlds; his piano playing, as evidenced by the frequent close-ups on his keyboard that blazed across the video screens, hasn’t missed a beat, and he can still hit the high note that marks the yearning title track from 1983′s street-corner-music homage “An Innocent Man.” He’s able to channel that talent and knowledge of pop into songs that speak from a perspective marked by hunger, whether it’s for basic respect from the system (the chugging “Allentown”), bridge-and-tunnel transcendence (the strivers’ anthem “Movin’ Out [Anthony’s Song]”), or something more carnal (the New Wave-y chronicle of frustration “Sometimes a Fantasy”). Joel’s been in music’s upper echelons for four-plus decades, but his wisecracking, fighting spirit still shines through — and his pop craftsmanship makes joining in via singing along even easier.
Double play at Gillette: Joel and Nicks offer a classic show
Craig S. Semon
FOXBOROUGH _ Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks’ limited-run, double-bill concert pairing is being touted as “Two Icons, One Night.”
No argument here.
While one of these legendary artists has enough star power, rich musical legacy, and a cavalcade of hits to play to a packed house on their own, two on the same bill is rock ‘n’ roll heaven sent as became quite evident during a rain-soaked, sold-out show Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
Despite having really nothing in common other than selling tons of records, composing some of the most memorable and beloved pop songs in the last 50 years, and emerging out of the ‘70s, Joel, who hasn’t played Foxborough gridiron since the summer of 2009 as part of the “Face to Face” tour with Sir Elton John, and Nicks, who has never played at the home of the Patriots, seems like an unlikely pairing indeed.
While they’re not quite as odd at each other as Elvis Costello hanging out with Burt Bacharach or as peculiar as Miley Cyrus fronting Metallica, Joel is New York brass/angry young man cool while Nicks is rock’s premiere earth mother/leather and lace enchantress.
And that’s what made this unlikely pairing so special and so much fun.
Joel, 74, who played roughly two hours, while Nicks, 75, who opened with an abbreviated hour-and-20-minute set, delivered two distinctly different and totally satisfying sets that were chock-full of nothing but great songs. And both delivered a killer encore worth the price of admission alone.
Early in his set, Joel braced the drenched crowd with some good news and bad news, starting with the bad news: “We don’t have anything new to play for you.” And then the good: “You don’t have to listen to any new (expletive).”
Despite the fact that he hasn’t released a new pop album in 30 years, Joel’s voice sounded great and his songs sounded as fresh and relevant as ever.
Perched behind a black baby grand piano on a rotating circular stage, Joel pounded out Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” before breaking into his first of many beloved hits and crowd singalongs, “My Life,” during his longer, headlining set. Delivered with the same youthful vigor as he did when the song was first released 45 years earlier, Joel stood up at the end of the number to soak up the admiration from the drenched audience.
While the rain was enough to give the most delicate in the crowd a heart attack, ack, ack, ack, ack, ack, Joel kept the hit parade coming with a rousing version of “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” one of his great slice-of-angry-young-man’s-life vignette songs from 1977’s “The Stranger.”
Although it wasn’t needed to sell the song, the stormy seas saga “The Downeaster Alexa” received an added visual boost with sheets of rain crashing down on the crowd during Joel’s passionate plight of the Long Island fisherman.
With Taylor Swift no longer being the only recording artist with a memorable rain show at Gillette, Joel _ after amusingly doing impromptu versions of the Beatles’ “Rain” and The Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain” _ cursed the Almighty up above with the defiant cries of “Is that the best you can do! Is that all you got!”
Retreating back to the standard setlist, Joel briefly lamented that he’s not in his 30s anymore, so the audience should pray for him to hit a couple of high notes on the falsetto favorite “An Innocent Man.” Brushing the sweat off his brow by song’s end, Joel nailed the crucial notes like a seasoned trooper.
Snippets of The Regents’ “Barbara Ann” and Solomon Lindi’s original Evening Birds’ cover of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” served as a warm-up exercise for Joel’s modern-day doo-wop classic, “The Longest Time,” which had the singer dragging the mike stage from one end of the stage to the other.
After the elegant piano masterwork on “Vienna,” Joel gave Bruce Springsteen a run for his blue-collar champion crown with “Allentown,” one of the happiest songs ever recorded about factory closings.
With its swirling keyboards and percolating rhythms, Joel’s naughty little ‘80s relic about the middle of the night, 900 phone calls “Sometimes A Fantasy” is still his strongest bid for new wave rocker status, while “Only the Good Die Young” served up the singer at his bad boy best.
The soul-cleansing, life-affirming “The River of Dreams” was not only enough to lift the crowd’s spirits, it turned into a killer showstopper when percussionist and blessed pipes extraordinaire Crystal Taiefero got up from behind her drumkit and unleashed her inner-Tina Turner on “River Deep, Mountain High.”
Joel and company delivered a spectacular version of “Scenes from An Italian Restaurant,” which ended with the crowd waving Brenda and Eddy (the two main characters in the song) goodbye.
After getting a stagehand to replace his rain-soaked harmonica with a dry one, Joel introduced "a pretty good crowd for a Saturday (which it was)" to a series of familiar bar regulars sharing a drink they called loneliness (because it’s better than drinking alone) on the autobiographical musical character study “Piano Man.”
Joel kicked off a killer, five-song encore with the chart-topping, history lesson “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” a true scorcher that every Baby Boomer should see performed once in their lifetime with the flickering images of the 118 pop culture references that the singer rattles off at breakneck speed.
Joel revisited the lovable bad boy with the blessed pipes of his youth (the same one that once won supermodel Christie Brinkley’s heart) on his lively ode to doo-wop, “Uptown Girl.”
After the snappy and irresistible “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (Joel’s first Number One), Joel went back to the piano for “Big Shot,” which was one of the heaviest rockers of the evening, followed by “You May Be Right.”
With her unmistakable raspy voice, elegant gypsy fashion sense, and spacy stage antics, Nicks proved she’s still an encompassing free-spirit who, despite the rain, is one with the cosmos but always seems to be at odds with affairs of the heart.
Whether it was the timeless, Fleetwood Mac classics (which included “Dreams” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Rhianna,” and “Landslide”) or her stellar solo hits (including “If Anyone Falls in Love,” “Stand Back” and “Edge of Seventeen”), Nicks proved she still has the power to conjure up the forces of nature.
Wearing a black, long-sleeve top, a grey frilly chiffon skirt, knee-high boots, a floppy hat, and donning a vast assortment of capes, scarves, and shawls throughout her set, Nicks' voice sounded youthful and robust and her teary-eyed ruminations and impassioned roars of defiance were vibrant and timeless.
One of the most distinctly female voices in pop, Nicks cast the audience under her spell immediately and often and nothing was going to rain on her hit parade, not even rain, even if she conjured up images of stormy skies with the appropriately titled opener “Outside the Rain,” which seamlessly segued into “Dreams,” the first of four Fleetwood Mac classics performed by her piping hot band led by guitar god and bespectacled rock legend Waddy Wachtel
Despite the golden-haired rock goddess calling the rain “awful,” the lines “Thunder only happens when it raining” and “When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know” (both from “Dreams”) became the unofficial mantra of the rain-soaked crowd that roared with approval.
Joel first popped up unannounced during Nicks’ set to fill in for the late Tom Petty in the Nicks-Petty duet smash “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Carrying an umbrella and wearing a bundled-up blazer, dungarees, sneakers, and a baseball cap advertising “Deux Ex Machina Custom Motorcycles,” Joel sang the song with gusto but the pairing was merely a nice gesture that lacked the infectious heat of the original.
Nicks adorned herself with a gold and black shawl for the showstopper “Stand Back” and while draped with a gold shawl showered the crowd with rock ‘n’ roll riches on the epic rocker “Gold Dust Woman.” With the pouring rain glimmering in the yellow stage lights, it looked like the audience was in the middle of a psychedelic gold rush.
After a heartfelt cover of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Free Fallin,’” Nicks closed her main set with a guitar-heavy, arena-rock version of "Edge of Seventeen," which turned into a lovefest with the diehard Nicks-ophiles in the audience pounding their fists in the air and shouting along with their idol.
During her encore, Nicks delivered the most tender and tortured number of the evening with her signature Fleetwood Mac ballad "Landslide." Paying tribute to her Fleetwood Mac bandmate Christine McVie, who died at 79 in November, this was Nicks at her emotionally unguarded best.