ATLive 2022 with Billy Joel
also featuring Sheryl Crow, Lionel Richie
Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta • November 11, 2022
by Roi J. Tamkin
Early in Billy Joel’s set, he played the song “The Entertainer.” Although a cynical look at the music business, the term truly applies to all of the night’s performers. ATLive (powered by Ticketmaster) was two nights of entertainment at the Mercedes Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. I attended the first night featuring Sheryl Crow, Lionel Richie, and Billy Joel. The second night had Katie Pruitt, Miranda Lambert, Dwight Yoakam and Chris Stapleton. Something for everyone.
A little before 6 pm, as people were filling in the stadium, the opening guitar riff of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” filled the concourse. Sheryl Crow’s portion had begun. Sheryl’s opening set of songs featured her on acoustic guitar. She generated an easy-going, laid-back vibe and admitted during “Leaving Las Vegas” that she was 60 years old, so don’t expect much dancing from her. Her voice was perfect, and the band expertly recreated the songs just as they are on vinyl. She followed with a Cat Stevens cover, “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” then switched to bass guitar for “My Favorite Mistake.” After, she explained that her bassist sometimes doubles on keyboards, making her pull double duty as well. She did another Stones cover, “Live with Me,” then onto “If It Makes You Happy.” While changing guitars, she quickly flashed a Warnock sign attached to the back of her acoustic. This generated 49% cheers and 49% boos (for those not following Georgia run-off politics, I’m joking here. Seriously, it was a lot of boos!). She closed with “Every Day Is a Winding Road,” ending an hour-long set that generally was warmly received despite the quick political statement.
After a quick change of the stage, it was on to Lionel Richie. He opened with “Running with the Night,’’ and at first, I thought someone else was singing. The voice sounded coarse and off-key. I noticed that his portion of the show was heavy on graphics displayed on the jumbo screens that surrounded the stage. Was this to divert the fact that Lionel has lost his singing voice? If something was clogging his throat on the first song, he got it cleared out by the second. He sat down at the piano and announced he was going to do an old Commodores piece, and the crowd went nuts. He broke into “Easy” and just moved the souls of everyone in their seats. He was in perfect form. Sharp voice and looking good, too. Later, he “joked ‘’ that he wasn’t going to do most of the singing, but told the audience it was up to them to bring it. I noticed for his more livelier numbers, Lionel would start a verse and leave to the backup singers to carry the song through to the chorus before picking it up again with his own vocals. But this did not detract from the show at all. Lionel Richie is a professional performer. He was the show in his sparkly red blazer moving across the stage. He had the audience eating out of his hands. Yes, everyone in the audience was doing most of the singing, and loved doing it. Lionel, we love your songs and we know the words. You relax; we’ll take it from here! Lionel started the party off going through the songs that made him a superstar. He returned to the Commodores with “Brick House” from 1977. Even little kids were dancing and singing along right next to grandma. He even pointed out a little legion of fans that were near the front calling out his name. “They all know me from American Idol, but they don’t know who I am,” he commented. Well, we know! He did another Commodores number, “Lady,” then “We Are the World” and closed the party with “All Night Long.” People were on their feet, couples dancing, everyone groovin’ to the tunes. At the end, 60,000 fans gave him a standing ovation.
Finally, it was time for the piano man to take the stage. Looking a little leaner than the last time he was in Atlanta, he began with a series of songs that were not the hits, but deeper cuts from his early albums including “Vienna” and the aforementioned “The Entertainer.” One thing I like about seeing Billy Joel live is that he jokes with the audience. He’s blunt and to the point in his remarks. He makes comments like,” the reason these aren’t hits is because you didn’t buy the album.” Then he’d say “here’s another song from an album you didn’t buy.” Well, we did buy them because we know the songs. The Stranger and 52nd Street are just as famous as Glass Houses and River of Dreams. He moved through his hits, giving a brief intro to each song. At the end of each song, he gave credit to a musician who stood out, such as the trumpet player or saxophonist. I noticed a lot of his band musicians were all from New York City, except for the bassist from Australia. Getting back to Billy Joel’s no-pulling-punches attitude, he ended his most beautiful song “Just the Way You Are” by saying “Now they are divorced. I couldn’t love you any better. I should have said I couldn’t love you any longer.” Yikes. Still bitter over Christie Brinkley? Before breaking into “An Innocent Man” he explained that getting older means not hitting those high notes anymore. He warned us that if his falsetto fails him, we’re going to hear some awful screeching. Thanks for the warning, Billy. Thankfully, all notes were hit on key.
Every member of the band was extraordinary, and everyone had their moment to shine. Multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero sang a little ditty towards the end of “River of Dreams.” What followed was a treat. In the middle of a rock concert, the guitar player stepped up to a microphone and sang an aria accompanied by Billy on piano. No one was expecting opera at the Mercedes Benz stadium, but that’s what we got. I believe that’s the key to a successful concert: the backup band is more talented than the singer, and you let them show off their talents. After running through his big hits from the ’70s and ’80s and finally landing on “Piano Man,” the band left the stage to get their second wind. Minutes later they returned for a five-song encore ending with “You May Be Right,” leading to the night’s second standing ovation. Two hours of running through memory lane with a superb band led by a great American songwriter. I doubt the second night of ATLive could top that.