Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Stevie Nicks "The propulsive energy of her solo back catalog was infectious"

Billy Joel and Stevie Nicks Defy Time, Bring the Hits to AT&T Stadium
Fans turn out for an emotional recounting of hits from two pop icons.

By Preston Jones

A little less than midway through his main set Saturday night, Billy Joel, a Dallas Cowboys hat parked atop his bald pate, sat at his gleaming black grand piano and cast a sideways glance at the many thousands packed into AT&T Stadium.

“This is usually the part where I say I don’t have anything new,” the 74-year-old superstar began, before feigning surprise: “We actually have a new song!”

With that, Joel, making his first North Texas appearance in five years, and the seven men arrayed on the stage behind him lurched into “Turn the Lights Back On,” a deeply wistful, gorgeous ode to lost possibilities and acting before it’s too late — whether on a personal, romantic, or even professional level.

The performance was, put mildly, a hash.

Joel seemed as uncertain about tempo and lyrics and feel as the band members and the song contrasted with the tunes on either side of it (“Don’t Ask Me Why” preceding; “Allentown” following), “Turn the Lights Back On” had the fumbling energy of a colt finding its legs.

Such a moment stuck out in an otherwise polished-to-practiced-perfection two-hour set purely because, well, at this stage of his career, finding his footing on a new single isn’t something Joel really does.

The track is his first such effort in 17 years, a formidable stretch of seasons, and the veteran singer-songwriter defied expectations to deliver a song that is of a piece with his beloved catalog.

That catalog was selectively roamed Saturday (the concert was a make-good from an April 2023 postponement, owing to an illness in the touring party), as Joel heavily favored his 1980 LP Glass Houses and 1977’s The Stranger, declining to offer up any real rarities. (Of his 1974 album Streetlife Serenade, Joel cracked: “You don’t have that album — no one has that album. I don’t have that album.”)

he crowd, well-lubricated and ready for a Saturday full of hits, was, at least where I sat, utterly indifferent to deeper cuts like “Zanzibar,” which featured a volcanic trumpet solo from Carl Fischer.

Joel was also backed by drummer Chuck Burgi, guitarist-vocalist Mike Delguidice, guitarist Tommy Byrnes, saxophonist Mark Rivera, keyboardist David Rosenthal and bassist Andy Cichon — Crystal Taliefero, a long-time Joel collaborator, was oddly absent Saturday.

Yet perhaps Joel was somewhat invigorated by the challenge of new material. He seemed quite lively throughout and in shockingly strong voice — he reached for, and appeared to mostly hit, the sky-scraping high notes in the chorus of “An Innocent Man” (the contorted look on his face certainly suggested he was in the vicinity) — and playfully goofed around with the stadium’s cavernous echo, even yodeling at one point (“I like the acoustics in here”) and its enormous video board, fully operational on Saturday (“You’re watching a drive-in movie over there”)

The closing run of songs did build up a relentless, pile-driving energy: “Sometimes a Fantasy” into “Only the Good Die Young” into “River of Dreams” (complete with a Delguidice interpolation of ZZ Top’s “Tush”) into “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (again, Delguidice teeing it up with Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”) and, finally, as mandated by law, “Piano Man.”

The shock of the new isn’t a common sensation in these settings, but its effects were, ultimately, pleasing. Being forced to reckon with fresh energy after many, many years created some pleasurable ripple effects — whether Joel will submit himself to additional such shocks remains to be seen.

Joel was joined as co-headliner (the evening was billed as “Two Icons, One Night”) by Stevie Nicks, whose opening 90-minute set marked her first North Texas performance in eight years.

The 75-year-old singer-songwriter was likewise in fine fettle, her dusky contralto relatively undimmed by wear and tear. She was backed by an incredibly tight band: guitarist Waddy Wachtel, drummer Drew Hester, bassist Carlos Rios, keyboardists Ricky Peterson and Darrell Smith, and backing vocalists Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin. (“We’re just road dogs,” Nicks explained. “We really, really enjoy doing this.”)

As with Joel, Nicks was concerned with the hits and little else (Joel did join her early in her set, to duet on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”) — although in fairness, Nicks hasn’t released any fresh solo material since 2011, so the set list was always going to be full of the familiar and the popular

The propulsive energy of her solo back catalog was infectious: “Stand Back” giving way to “Bella Donna” before detouring into Fleetwood Mac (“Gold Dust Woman,” which built up to a furious climax, full of smoldering guitar and whirling shawls). Nicks even trotted out her long-time vocal coach, Steve Real, for “Leather and Lace,” as Real gave a startlingly approximate recreation of Don Henley’s singing voice.

For her encore, Nicks leaned heavily into sentimentality and was richly rewarded. The three-song run (Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” and “Landslide,” the latter featuring a deeply moving photo montage of Nicks and the late Christine McVie) was as beautiful as it was poignant — “Landslide” even did the impossible: silencing the entire stadium as Nicks, backed only by Wachtel on acoustic guitar, sang of getting older too.

It was an emotional moment that drove home the point of the entire evening, even before Joel wrestled with the disruptive energy of the new.

Time is an inescapable element in these settings. You’re measuring the arc of a career in decades, the depth of impact in generations and the number of records sold in the double (or triple) digit millions. (Nicks has sold 65 million copies as a solo artist; 120 million as a member of Fleetwood Mac — Joel has sold over 160 million copies worldwide.)

These are weighty, substantial, and meaningful statistics, yet they recede somewhat in the light and locomotion of a stadium-sized concert. Still, there is that unquantifiable feeling, lurking in the edges of the spotlight, the sensation of witnessing an endurance of impressive magnitude, but also, of looming mortality, a sense of days dwindling.

Each of these artists has made a profound impact upon those who piled into AT&T Stadium Saturday, and for a moment, sharing the space together drove home the value of what they do and the songs they sing. New or old, familiar or obscure, what matters most is the act itself: By standing tall in the light, everyone on the stage or in front of it helps delay the inevitable just a little longer, preserving the thrill and the joy of being alive in the moment, lost in the comfort of a melody.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Preston Jones is apparently unaware that Stevie Nicks HAS released new material since 2011, notably "Show Them The Way" in 2020.

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