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A New (York) State Of Mind: Billy Joel in Concert

Blogkeeping: Congrats to entry 8, Kim for winning the Uncorked giveaway. Please reply by the end of today to confirm you can attend.
Scott and me seeing Billy Joel for the first time at the Q in Cleveland

Our first Billy Joel concert at the Q in Cleveland

Last week, I fulfilled 10-year-old Amanda’s dream of seeing Billy Joel in concert. Although I initially had to drag Scott with me, Billy Joel had a new lifelong fan by the end of the concert.

I had never been to a Billy Joel concert before last Tuesday night. In fact, before then, any significant exposure to Billy Joel I’d had was what played on the radio in my formative years, when my only indicator of “what successful music sounds like” was nothing more than “it played on the radio.”

All the more I knew of Billy Joel was that “Weird Al” Yankovic did the It’s Still Billy Joel To Me spoof (and if “Weird Al” spoofed you it meant you were pretty damn important) and that, during my time in chorus, we had a lot of very hoity-toity vocal adaptations of Billy Joel songs which had some very deep – or at least intricate – lyrics. So I never formed my own opinion of Billy Joel, instead carrying on a concept that was formed over decades from other people’s reverence.

It was this conception of a lauded and serious artist that I took into the concert. As Billy Joel entered the Q’s performance stage and sat down at the piano under a single blue spotlight, I was 100% prepared for the show to be little more than Billy Joel dutifully playing each of his hits, with nay but a pause between for a sip of water. I’ve seen the same from lesser-known songsters.

Let me be perfectly blunt upfront – Billy Joel in concert was amazing. Basked in a soft glowing light while seated at his piano, the man pointed out at the people surrounding him in the fully packed Q and observed that while he hadn’t released a pop album in two decades he was still touring to massively sold-out crowds.

This wasn’t ego talking. He’d brought it up so that he could proudly announce his own career was proof that he was “full of crap and lies.”

This was in reference to lyrics he had written for his song The Entertainer, “I won’t be here in another year; If I don’t stay on the charts.”

This statement made it clear from the start that Billy Joel had an acute self-awareness of himself that allowed a very a unique attitude to show through during the concert.

I have no idea if Tuesday night’s performance is reflective of the concert experience across his entire career, but I know that it certainly shattered my expectations of him.

Subtle aspects of this unexpected mindset popped up throughout the night.

Billy Joel performing at Cleveland's Q

Billy Joel performing at Cleveland’s Q

There were the intermittent segments Amanda and I began to call “Story Time With Uncle Billy” where the audience was regaled with tales of being stranded and cursed at on Ohio freeways, and his claims that Ted Nugent needed to aim his throat spray “up his ass.

There was the lengthy explanation of every factual inaccuracy and “complete bullshit” to be found within The Ballad of Billy the Kid. Or the alternate lyrics for She’s Always a Woman: “She’ll ruin your face with her powerful thighs.” And yes, I heard that right.

But the pièce de résistance was yet to come. As the show’s three-quarter mark ticked over, Billy Joel stood up and was handed a bright red electric guitar.

I didn’t know that he was introducing the defining moment of my existence on this planet, when I would realize I had now lived a Complete Life.

Billy Joel told the audience that he hoped the next song would be a religious experience, and that he would be welcoming to the stage a roadie that had been with his crew for many years.

At this point, imagine if you will, a middle-aged Al Lewis stomping out onto the hardwood. His many arm tattoos were visible thanks to the black Guy Harvey t-shirt that had the sleeves cut off with a deep V of fabric that ran down his ribs. He had in his hand, pressed firmly to his mouth, a microphone.

Billy Joel introduced him to us with his given Christian name of “Chainsaw.”

Chainsaw then broke into Highway to Hell, with Billy Joel rocking out on the guitar. And I do mean the full, 3-minute and 29-second song. Chainsaw stomped around the stage shouting at camera men, instrumentalists, and front row audience members. Billy Joel dug deep into that guitar. Red lights and spectacle flashed around them. It was a fantastic rendition.

Billy Joel performing at Cleveland's Q

Billy Joel performing at Cleveland’s Q

When the song was over the soft lighting once again came up. Chainsaw retired to the back, and Billy Joel handed over his guitar while retaking his seat at the rotating piano.

The expected lyrical repertoire earnestly resumed with the same energetic humor displayed earlier in the night, punctuated now and then by the odd rendition of Uptown Girl.

But nothing quite matched the “What the Hell did I just see?” moment that had arisen when Billy Joel shared the stage, and an AC/DC cover, with Chainsaw.

So, my friends, that is what I wished to share of our experience. After the other night, any of my thoughts of a “stuffy songwriter nearing the end of his career taking for granted the endurance of his work” were blanched out.

I have mixed feelings about whether or not to recommend that you go see Billy Joel in Concert, should he tour near you:

On one hand it’s an amazing experience orchestrated with great love by a talented man who clearly wants you to have as much fun in the audience as he’s having on stage.

On the other hand, as you leave the concert, your mind may be completely blown by the realization that Life will be all downhill from there forward.

Largely thanks to a man called Chainsaw.

Holiday Hoops: My first Cleveland Cavaliers game

Cleveland Cavaliers vs Chicago Bulls

I am continually humbled by the loyalty of Cleveland sports fans. Raised on the Philadelphia Eagles, I would lament year after year when we would make it to the playoffs just to blow it at the last second (trust me, given the Eagles’ current record, the irony of that statement is not lost on me).

I really don’t think I understood what a die-hard fan is until I moved to Cleveland and witnessed a city who continues to support their teams regardless of the challenges and betrayals of the past. Quitting just isn’t in the vocabulary.

And that’s incredibly admirable. While Cleveland fans aren’t pushovers and give critical feedback when it’s justified, there’s still a sense of hope and rebuilding. A celebration at all victories – large and small – never taking for granted the good times.

I was struck by this when I went to my first Cleveland Cavaliers game last week.

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Lake Erie Monsters: My First Cleveland Hockey Game

A bit of blogkeeping: Have you entered the Clue Into Cleveland giveaway to win two tickets to Market at the Foodbank? You have until next Thursday for a chance to attend Harvest for Hunger’s annual benefit.

Scott and I at our first Lake Erie Monsters game, as they battled the Chicago Wolves

It’s hard for me to believe but it was 5 years ago this month that Scott and I moved to Cleveland. While there was some apprehension, a newly-engaged Scott and I were mostly excited to start a new adventure, meet new people, and explore the hidden treasure that is Northeast Ohio.

Of course, there were things I was going to miss about Philly – one of them being the Philadelphia Flyers, the city’s NHL team.

I’m a huge hockey fan and always fascinated by the contrast between the players’ grace on skates and the sometimes brutal nature of the sport. Growing up watching the Flyers, I will confess I was a little downhearted to learn Cleveland hadn’t had a NHL team since the 70s.

The Monsters bench

Hockey seems to have a troubled history in Cleveland – with over ten years of no hockey between 78 and 92 and then two teams coming and going in just as many years.

However, the hockey gods heard my call because only a few months before we moved, they answered it in the form of the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters.

On October 6, 2007, the Monsters — the Colorado Avalanche’s affiliate team – took the ice for the first time and have been bringing Northeast Ohio professional hockey for the last 5 seasons.

Showing off my Cleveland and St. Patrick’s Day pride at the Q

It’s only taken me five years of watching them on tv and reading about the games online, but this past weekend I finally made it to my first Monsters game at the Q.

Green ice and themed jerseys were enough of a draw to make the Monsters game perfect for our St. Patrick’s Day plans.  After braving the battlezone of post-parade partiers, Scott and I made our way through downtown Cleveland to the Q.

While I knew I had picked pretty good seats when I purchased tickets, I was downright giddy when I saw how good they were – second row, right next to the penalty box. Even with the best seats I’d ever had at a Flyers game, I’ve never sat so close to the ice. And at only $39 each, the tickets were an incredible price.

The Monsters make their entrance

Because this was also our first visit to the Q, as soon as we checked out our seats, we perused the stadium on the hunt for some concessions.  With a variety of options including BSpot, Bar Symon and Quaker Steak and Lube, it took awhile to decide. In the end, we went with Chef Rocco Whalen’s new Rocco’s Nachos & Tacos.

My choice was a great one because Rocco’s braised beef brisket tacos were fresh and delicious – much higher quality than what I would expect when purchasing a taco at a game. Next time, I’ll also be ordering their crispy potato nachos with goat cheese fondue.

With food and Guiness in hand, Scott and I headed back to our seats to settle in for the game. As the lights descended and the Monsters’ intro video cued up, I was on the edge of my seat — the game hadn’t even begun and this hockey fan was in a frenzy!

We even had a leprechaun on our side:

The Monsters’ leprechaun, overseer of the penalty box

But would he bring good luck to the Lake Erie Monsters and Cleveland fans?

Although it was a hard-fought game between the Monsters and Chicago Wolves, in the end the Monsters weren’t able to break through Chicago’s defense to score a goal.

Monsters goalie Cedrick Desjardins tied a team season-high with 41 saves; however, in the second period Chicago’s Steve Reinprecht got one through and scored the only goal of the game – giving Chicago a 1-0 win over the Monsters.

Despite the loss, the Monsters had made a frenzied fan out of me by the end of Saturday’s game

Although the luck of the leprechaun wasn’t with the Monsters Saturday night, they definitely won me over as a fan. With second-row seats costing only $39, Monsters games are a fantastic deal. The most expensive Cleveland hockey tickets are only $63 for first-row seats – a similar seat at a Flyers game would cost close to $200.

And despite the loss, it was an entertaining evening. At the end of the 2nd period, “a hard-fought game” took on a literal meaning when the Monsters’ Brad Malone scuffled with Chicago’s Tim Miller. I’m not going to lie – I love a hockey fight on occasion and Malone did not disappoint. While it took him off the ice for a good part of the 3rd period, it got the crowd riled up.

Fans were also treated to an amusing game of slingshot human bowling between periods and some fine skating by Sully and the “Mullet Brothers” Ice Crew.

The Mullet Brothers sling a lucky contestant across the ice

There are 7 home games left including tonight’s last Thirsty Thursday of the 2011-2012 season.  With tickets as cheap as $10 and maxing out at $63, make sure you check them out at least one more time before the season closer on April 14.

Purchase your Monsters hockey tickets here and keep up-to-date on the team by following @MonstersHockey or facebook.com/lakeeriemonsters.