12 Gardens Live

Billy Joel

Columbia, 2006


REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


We last left intrepid hero Billy Joel in December 2005 with the release of his career-encompassing box set My Lives. While the quality of that set can be argued, it accomplished its goal of demonstrating Joel's artistic range. 12 Gardens is in many ways an extension of that idea, with the exception of being performed in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd.

Joel’s previous live releases, while having their moments, failed to truly encapsulate his career. Songs From The Attic was intended to show off album tracks from Joel’s early work. 2000 Years: The Millennium Concert was in my eyes just a stopgap release, putting Joel product out there on the market for the sake of simply getting more to the people. 12 Gardens, thanks to its stellar song selection, actually has a viable reason to exist.

There are 32 tracks on 12 Gardens, and it’s hard to argue with any of the selections. The classics (“Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” “Movin Out,” “Piano Man” etc), the less famous (“Miami 2017, I’ve Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway, “Vienna,” “The Entertainer”) and the obscure (“Great Wall Of China,” “Zanzibar,” “Everybody Loves You Now”) are present and accounted for, presenting the listener with a wide variety of Joel’s material. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Piano Man himself is also in fine form. Considering that Joel retired from the pop scene over a decade ago, he still retains an enthusiasm for the genre. The opening flurry of notes on “Angry Young Man,” prove he’s still got the chops, and his vocals are much better than those from the New Year's Eve concert. My biggest thrill was hearing him hit those high notes on “An Innocent Man.”

As I’ve mentioned countless times in any live review that I’ve written, one critical aspect to the success of the live album is energy, or the opposite of Chicago XXVI. Energy is certainly not lacking here on 12 Gardens. Joel was playing to a home crowd, and that affection is sent right back at him. With the exception of the rarer cuts, you can hear the crowd singing along to the songs; hell, they practically carry “Piano Man” and “She’s Always A Woman.”

Not everything quite works out for Mr. Joel, though. I said earlier it’s hard to argue with the selections made for the track list. However, after seeing the songs that were left off this particular edition of the album, some tracks here should have been replaced with the others. “The Night Is Still Young” wouldn’t be missed if it were switched with, say, “All For Leyna” or “Stiletto.” However, this is still a minor gripe and a case of me being greedy.

With 32 tracks, it’s hard to pick a few favorite performances, but a few just stand out above the rest. “Matter Of Trust” rocks about ten times harder than it did on The Bridge. The guitar riff to open things up isn’t complex but is played so powerfully it grabs your attention immediately. The underrated “The Downeaster 'Alexa'” follows suit, capturing a wide, sweeping epic feel. And, of course, “Piano Man” took me right back to the night when I saw Joel and Elton John perform together. That night, “Piano Man” was the closing number, and to hear 20,000+ sing along was a magical moment.

12 Gardens Live encapsulates a Billy Joel performance almost flawlessly; there is something here that anyone can enjoy. Whether you are a hardcore or casual fan, this is a must-listen.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia, and is used for informational purposes only.