Billy Joel at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

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MGM Grand Garden Arena

This might be hard to believe, but in the thirteen years I’ve been traveling to Vegas, I’ve only ever been in town once when there were concerts I actually wanted to see (who weren’t resident headliners).  You may remember from my “sneak peek” post before my last trip that I had a smorgasbord of concert choices, and ultimately decided to see Billy Joel. Because….BILLY JOEL.

Billy’s Glass Houses album was one of the first I ever owned. I played it ’til I wore it out, long past the time when most people got rid of their record players and made the switch to cassettes. (I’ve gone digital now; I’m not a total dinosaur.)

Arena Crowd

Waiting for the show to start.

I waffled for awhile on the price, because I was trying to make this a cheap trip, but finally went for a mid-range seat for $162. As far as I knew, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see him. Once I bought my ticket, I started to get excited.

The concert was held at MGM Grand Garden Arena. I arrived 45 minutes before showtime, only because I miscalculated how long it would take to get there from the Monte Carlo and to get past security to go inside. (They checked bags at entry, of course.) I bought a bottle of water in case I got thirsty during the show. But then this weird thing happened that I’ve never experienced before:

At the counter where I bought the water, they took the bottle cap from me so I couldn’t seal it up again. Apparently, this is policy because they’re afraid people will throw bottles or bottle caps up on stage. WTF? Is that really a thing? I mean, I can understand wanting to throw bottles at Justin Bieber, but who would throw a bottle at Billy Joel? That’s just crazy.

Water bottle

No caps allowed.

The water thing sucked, because it’s not like the seats have cup holders, you know? So I spent the whole concert with the bottle between my feet, distracted by my paranoia that it might get knocked over and spill all over the place.

On the bright side, it was much easier than I thought it would be to find my seat, thanks to the ushers. I don’t know when this arena was last renovated (if ever), but it could use some refreshing. The hard plastic chairs weren’t the most comfortable, and they need cup holders. The no-slip tread on the stairs is wearing off, and they are metal stairs.

Stairs and seats

Could use a little refreshing.

This makes for a dangerous situation when you think about all those open bottles of water people have to place between their feet (because there’s nowhere else to put them). Someone kicks a bottle of water over, it goes down the stairs and next thing you know, someone slips, falls, and there’s a lawsuit. So, think about that, MGM Grand.

But overall, it’s a fabulous venue for a concert and much bigger than any venue I’ve ever been to. It seats 16,800 people. By comparison, our performing arts center here in Burlington seats less than 10% of that: 1,411. (Though our seats are much nicer.) So you can imagine how mind-boggling this was to me. To my layperson’s ears, the acoustics were terrific (which you can hear in the video clips below), as were the technical capabilities (for light shows and multimedia).

Even though my seat was about twelve miles away from the stage (approximately), I could see the people on the stage, though of course they were very tiny and I would never have been able to say with certainty “Oh, that’s Billy Joel.” Thankfully, they project the performers up on screens so everyone could still feel like we “saw” them.

Gavin Degraw

Gavin Degraw was Billy’s opening act. I know, you can’t see him. Neither could I.

Gaven DeGraw was Billy’s opening act. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know who he was when they announced him, though once he began singing, I recognized his songs from the radio. He came out into the audience during his performance, walking down the aisles, partway up into the stands, shaking hands with people, etc. He’s a good showman. Even he is a big Billy Joel fan.

Finally, it was Billy time.

Billy Joel is THE MAN. At 65, he’s been doing this for 40 years and hasn’t lost a thing (except his hair). His voice is still strong and clear, he can still shred the keyboards when the song calls for it, he’s got tons of energy, and he’s a fabulous storyteller, in a very down-to-earth New York style. He told us this very funny story about how his Billy the Kid song is complete BS, with utterly inaccurate historical information that just sounded good or rhymed. Ha!

The concert was two hours long and he played an additional seven songs after the encore. The audience sang along to his songs, most of which we all knew by heart. At times, the stands shook beneath the feet stomping. For a brief moment, I wondered what the weight load was.

Billy Joel

Billy is somewhere in that beam of blue light.

He does a terrific Elvis impersonation (he sang Fools Rush In). I was impressed. At one point, he invited one of his roadies up on stage to sing a song and called him Chainsaw. Chainsaw came out on stage and he looked more like a rough-and-tumble biker dude than a singer, but he absolutely killed ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” (I mean that in a good way–he sounded just like the lead singer from ACDC). He had the entire arena singing the chorus with him, clapping and cheering.

It was so unexpected a departure from Billy Joel’s music that it was a real hoot. (I thought this was a one-time or first-time thing, but when I got home, I googled it and saw a video on Youtube of him performing the same song from 2011, so apparently, this is a regular part of Billy’s concerts. It’s brilliant.)

Billy played most of his popular songs and a few lesser-known ones, too. Pick a song, and I’m sure he sang it. In short, it was the best concert I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a single moment during the two hours that I was bored or wished I hadn’t come. Remember how pained I was to pay $162 for that ticket? Well, having now seen him in concert, I would pay twice that. So if I ever get another opportunity, I may just have to get a seat right up front. He’s worth it.

Here’s a little video I shot during the concert:

I now understand why some people schedule their Vegas trips around a concert for a favorite performer. I’ve always planned my trips around when I can get reasonably-priced airfare and hotel rates and a week off from work (and sadly, that’s not likely to change until I retire). I envy people like the couple seated next to me at the concert, who told me they live in San Francisco and decided to just head to Vegas for the weekend to see Billy. They got a cheap room at the Monte Carlo, cheap flights on Southwest and it probably only took them a couple of hours to fly each way.

If I lived that close to Vegas, I’d be there all the time for concerts. So I guess my point is, if you have flexibility to travel whenever you want and you’re not sure when to go, try looking at the upcoming concert listings for Vegas. Seeing your favorite performer in your favorite city is a great reason to go. And the MGM Grand Garden Arena is a very good venue for it. You certainly won’t feel alone with 16,799 of your fellow music fans sitting all around you.

11 thoughts on “Billy Joel at the MGM Grand Garden Arena

  1. Shawn P

    Billy Joel reserves the front row for himself, then has the arena randomly distribute the tickets to the people in the cheap seats, just so he’s playing to true fans in the front row.

  2. E

    As much as I love Vegas, there is only one place to go see Billy: Madison Square Garden in New York. He does a residency there once a month until demand dies down, which, being New York, will probably never happen.

    One thing he usually does that I like is he usually has the back of the stage open to those seats, without a curtain, so that what seems like really bad seats all of a sudden become really good seats.

  3. Andrew

    You saw one of your favorite acts of all time in Las Vegas, and you obviously loved it.
    No downside and all worth it, based on your review….
    That is the same reason I love seeing musical and comedy acts in Vegas, several hundred miles from home, and will always keep coming back….

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  5. Matt C.

    I saw him many moons ago at the Joint at the Hard Rock. It was a special show in conjunction with his Hall of Fame admission. The Joint held between 500 and 1000 people at that time (who knows how much now). What an amazing show. I can’t imagine going to see him in an arena after there. I think they still have the $25 chips commemorating it.

    1. Gray Cargill Post author

      Oh, Matt, I am so jealous! Seeing him in a more intimate concert venue would be amazing. It’s tough in an arena, because if you’re nearsighted (as I am), you can barely make the performer out on stage! LOL. Thank God for the video projections they do. 🙂

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