Headliner Joel, now 73 and three decades removed from releasing original music, was in fine vocal form Friday night even as his backstage tech staff struggled to get the visuals working properly the first few songs. There were times the oversized screens would show overly tight shots of speakers and guitars, as if the cameras were being held by a late-night drunk who had fallen down and couldn’t get up.
Unlike his last appearance in Atlanta at Truist Park in 2017, Joel didn’t offer any localized song choices. At Truist, which was called SunTrust at the time, he boisterously played covers from the Allman Brothers Band, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, James Brown and Gladys Knight.
He did make an amusing reference about once performing at the old Atlanta venue the Great Southeast Music Hall in the 1970s in front of 300 people with Jimmy Buffett and Jackson Browne for $3.50 a ticket. That price, he noted, is never coming back.
Friday night’s 24-song set list was more in line with what Joel has played in other cities this year or at his long-running residency at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The only non-Joel tunes this time around were a segment of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High” in the middle of “The River of Dreams” by Joel’s incredibly adept back-up singer Crystal Taliefero, rhythm guitarist Mike DelGuidice’s operatic cover of “Nessun Dorma” and a brief snippet of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” during the final encore song “Big Shot.”
The early part of his set is typically smattered with some of his lesser-known cuts to entertain his more hardcore fans. This time around, he chose “The Entertainer,” his sardonic critique of the music biz from 1975′s “Streetlife Serenade,” TikTok favorite “Vienna” from 1977′s “The Stranger,” super jazzy “Zanzibar” from 1978′s “52nd Street” and his ode to obsession “All for Leyna” from 1980′s “Glass Houses.”
Joel also performed two songs he used to actively avoid but has since reluctantly embraced given their popularity: 1977′s treacly ballad “Just the Way You Are” and his 1989 No. 1 baby boomer educational lesson plan “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The latter was given some visual oomph on screen where every reference in the song (”Buddy Holly/Ben Hur/Space Monkey/Mafia”) was depicted as a finger “swiped” left and right as if it were a dating app.
And while he spent most of the concert at his piano, he did get up to play guitar twice (”A Matter of Trust” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”) and to gingerly twirl and toss his mic around (”It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”). He is decades removed from being a wild man on stage, when he used to do back flips off his piano, a practice that ultimately messed up his hips ages ago.
Most impressive was his vocal performance on 1983′s “An Innocent Man,” a doo-wop song that features a super high note he would often pawn off to Taliefero. But this time, he was able to hit it twice with no problem, eliciting big cheers from his discerning fans.
Lionel Richie, less than a week removed from being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ran a victory lap of sorts. With just an hour allotted, he made the best of his time on stage, pumping out 11 massive hits, three from his time with the Commodores, seven from his solo heyday of the 1980s and one written for that big charity group USA For Africa.
In fact, right after the first song “Running With the Night,” Richie informed the crowd he wasn’t going to offer any surprises.
“You came to hear me sing,” he proclaimed. “Look around. Everyone will be singing much louder than I’m singing.”
Indeed, he encouraged people to sing along on all his songs, from “Dancing on the Ceiling” to “We are the World,” in which he sang the verse Joel had done during the original version from 1985.
Dressed in glittery orange jacket with the words “All Night Long” on the back, the ageless 73-year-old between songs would soak in the adulation, offering up one of two poses: Super-Man (open leg stance, arms on hips) or Arms Open Wide.
His band filled the stadium with a robust energy and his team created a vibrant visual package, providing those sitting in the worst seats close-up shots of Richie on the big circular screens on the ceiling as well as around the stage.
He made a couple of references to “American Idol,” the show he judges, jokingly pointing out some younger people in the crowd who “have no idea who I am” except for that.
The highlight of the show was his Commodores funk classic “Brick House,” where he interpolated the Ohio Players song “Fire” and ended with actual shots of fire from the stage.
The crowd fully embraced his 1984 No. 1 ballad “Hello,” which encapsulated Richie’s sweet vocal stylings and penchant for cheese.
And when he ended the song with the line, “I love you,” he sounded like he meant it.
The relative young’un of the trio, the singer-songwriter remains an endearing presence, a woman at ease in her own being and fully aware of her ability to entertain.
When she came on stage at 5:55 p.m. with her band with “A Change Will Do You Good,’ she was unfazed by the fact 80 percent of the seats were still empty on a Friday night in Atlanta. Many attendees who had purchased tickets had clearly decided to sacrifice Crow given the length of the entire concert, which wouldn’t end until 11 p.m.
Dressed in a white tank top that showed off her sculpted arms and whimsical black pants with a flower print, Crow gave the fans who came to see her a clinic in rock and roll efficiency. Over a single hour, she fit in nine of her biggest hits on top of that aforementioned “Cars” soundtrack song and a Rolling Stones cover “Live With Me” after noting that she saw the band at this stadium exactly a year earlier.
Crow, more a vocal stylist than a vocal powerhouse, at times evoked a more intimate honky-tonk ambience while never trying to do too much. She also gave her band space to rock out when the moment was right. Crow’s songs provided a lovely mélange of mid-tempo vulnerability (”Strong Enough”), optimism (”Soak Up the Sun”) and fun (her breakthrough hit ”All I Wanna Do”).
And she momentarily mocked her own Lilith Fair guitar-driven reputation by offering up comically basic “choreography” during “Leaving Las Vegas.” The moves were more school traffic guard, less Britney Spears. “I’m 60,” she cracked. “This is as good as it gets.”
Crow, an unabashed Democrat, didn’t utter anything political at all but on the back of one of her guitars, she taped a name for the cameras to capture for a few seconds: “WARNOCK.” She grinned and winked before moving on.
Before her final song “Everyday is a Winding Road,” she offered this bromide: “”No matter what we go through, we go through it together. We’re all looking to find kindness and love and respect. ... There are good people all around us looking for ways to help each other.”