Michael Jordan spent six seasons getting pummeled by the Celtics and Pistons before Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause finally surrounded him with the right pieces to win an NBA Championship. While MJ was always “The Man,” the contributions of Scottie Pippen, John Paxson, Horace Grant, and Bill Cartwright were invaluable en route to creating one of the greatest dynasties the league has ever seen.
In the case of Billy Joel, he released three albums to modest success from 1971-1974, but it wasn’t until guitarist Russell Javors, bassist Doug Stegmeyer, saxophonist Richie Cannata, and drummer Liberty DeVitto became regulars that his potential for greatness was realized. 1976’s “Turnstiles” kickstarted a run of releases that cemented his legacy and made it possible for him to continue selling out stadiums to this day.
This parallel came to mind during The Lords of 52nd Street’s sizzling set inside The Riviera Theatre on Saturday night, because there’s a certain alchemy to “The Stranger,” “52nd Street,” and “Glass Houses” that Joel was never able to replicate within the latter half of his catalog. The songwriting was inspired, the playing was dynamic, and the interpersonal relationships appeared to be functioning at a level that went beyond just putting in the work to earn a paycheck. Acrimony can lead to great music, but genuine respect and admiration for one another can do the trick, as well, which is what we saw when Javors, Cannata, and DeVitto hit the stage with the rest of their band in tow.
Not only did we get renditions of “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” “My Life,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” that rivaled the recordings in execution, we also got prime deep cuts such as “Summer, Highland Falls, “Captain Jack,” and “Until the Night” to demonstrate how tight this current lineup really is.
Vocalist/pianist Dan Orlando found himself in the hot seat by essentially having to play the role of Billy Joel for the evening, but he was ready to meet that standard note for note. He snarled his way through “Captain Jack,” showed off his chops on “New York State of Mind,” and lent just the right touch of tenderness to “Just the Way You Are” to prevent things from getting maudlin. There were even a few moments in which Cannata could be seen hyping up Orlando from the opposite end of the stage, a tactic that appeared effective given how his performance grew stronger as the set wore on.
As impressive as all of their surrounding musicians were, the original Lords were the reason that 1,400 people came out on the coldest day of the year to see a show. Signature moments included Cannata’s sax on “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” DeVitto’s drumming on “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” and Javors’ impeccable rhythm playing at every turn, all of which suggested that age should have no bearing on one’s drive to keep doing what you love.
It’s only February, but The Lords of 52nd Street have already raised the bar for what we should expect out of the Western New York concert scene in 2023.