Entertainer Billy Joel with his collection of motorcycles at 20th Century Cycles in Oyster Bay, N.Y. He is standing next to a 2006 Harley Davidson Road King with Liberty sidecar.
(Photo: Eileen Blass, USA TODAY)
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. - Madison Square Garden, home to basketball's Knicks and Liberty and hockey's Rangers, is adding another New York institution to its collection of franchises: Billy Joel.
Joel, who had already announced four upcoming concerts at the storied venue - Jan. 27, Feb. 3, March 21 and April 18, all sold out - has added another, May 9. And he plans to schedule more, "as long as there's demand," the rock veteran and imminent Kennedy Center honoree says modestly. He'll even have his own MSG logo, like the aforementioned teams.
RELATED | Billy Joel, Carlos Santana among Kennedy Center Honorees
RELATED | Billy Joel Recovers From Hip Replacement Surgery
"Next year, I'll turn 65," notes Joel, chatting in the back office of 20th Century Cycles, the vintage-motorcycle exhibition shop he owns, a short distance from his Long Island home. "That's when a lot of people retire."
In contrast, Joel, who hasn't performed a solo concert in the USA since 2008, is "un-retiring" - but under choice circumstances.
"I've been touring almost all my life," he says. "The idea of being on the road for long periods of time isn't appealing to me at this point." With his new arrangement with the Garden, "I can commute to work, like everyone else does. You take the schlep factor out."
James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company, announced Joel as the Garden's "first music franchise" on Tuesday, describing the "new partnership" as an expansion of Joel's long relationship with the venue, where the piano man has played 46 shows since 1978. "We welcome Billy home and look forward to many unforgettable nights of music at the Garden."
Joel, who will also play Brooklyn's Barclays Center on New Year's Eve, began warming up for his new job earlier this fall, performing shows in England and Ireland. His last concert series before that, with Elton John, wrapped in 2010; later that year, Joel underwent double hip replacement surgery.
"They gave me the option of doing one hip at a time, but I said, 'Just hit me,' " Joel recalls. "The recovery was pretty painful. I couldn't walk - I had this little scooter chair to get around the house."
The concerts across the Atlantic provided both re-affirmation and a revelation: Joel showcased some less-familiar songs from his catalog, "and people really seemed to appreciate it."
Thus Joel plans to "mix it up" more at his Garden shows. "When I was on tour with Elton, we pretty much did the same show every night. That becomes rote; I don't want to be on automatic pilot. We're going to change the set list, and I want to do more obscure songs. I'd like to get to the point where at least 50% of the show is obscurities" and the rest hits.
Fans shouldn't expect new songs, as Joel has in recent decades focused on composing instrumental pieces for the piano. Asked if he plans to include any at the Garden, he insists, "I'm not good enough. I can write them, but I can't play like a classical virtuoso."
But he's not ruling the option out entirely. " I may take something out, if I think it will translate to people who have come to hear pop music. Some of the pieces are almost like hymns. If I spoke Latin, maybe I'd add lyrics."