FOXBOROUGH — When the pugilistic pop composer Billy Joel and the bewitching singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks announced their joint tour earlier this year, it took a second for the pairing to click. Joel’s blend of classical training and punky New York attitude seem at odds with Nicks’s West Coast mystic visions, but the two share a theatricality — not to mention packed back catalogs — that made their show Saturday night at Gillette Stadium a top-to-bottom joyride.
The hit parade was a bit waterlogged, with rain falling steadily throughout the show. But the weather — which was also marked by decidedly autumnal temperatures — added a sense of drama to the proceedings while also proving that those filling the stadium were committed to seeing the whole night through. Nicks’s set spotlighted both her work with the tumultuous hitmakers Fleetwood Mac and her solo material, with a stunning extended run-through of the world-weary Mac track “Gold Dust Woman” and a fiery take on her grief-stricken solo hit “Edge of Seventeen.”
Mourning ran through the set, with Nicks’s former duet partner Tom Petty being paid tribute through versions of the tug-of-war duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (with Joel more than ably handling what Nicks called “the argument part” of Petty’s vocal) and the modern American standard “Free Fallin’.” Her former bandmate Christine McVie, who passed away last November, was given the spotlight during Nicks’s set-closing version of the yearning Fleetwood Mac smash “Landslide.” That song and “Free Fallin’” have both become modern touchstones of American pop, and Nicks’s presentation of both showed how crucial she and her collaborators have been to the modern pop firmament.
Joel opened his set with a take on his 1978 outta-my-face anthem “My Life” that he blended into Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which succinctly summed up at least one facet of his appeal. His musical chops straddle the old and new worlds; his piano playing, as evidenced by the frequent close-ups on his keyboard that blazed across the video screens, hasn’t missed a beat, and he can still hit the high note that marks the yearning title track from 1983′s street-corner-music homage “An Innocent Man.” He’s able to channel that talent and knowledge of pop into songs that speak from a perspective marked by hunger, whether it’s for basic respect from the system (the chugging “Allentown”), bridge-and-tunnel transcendence (the strivers’ anthem “Movin’ Out [Anthony’s Song]”), or something more carnal (the New Wave-y chronicle of frustration “Sometimes a Fantasy”). Joel’s been in music’s upper echelons for four-plus decades, but his wisecracking, fighting spirit still shines through — and his pop craftsmanship makes joining in via singing along even easier.
Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.
BILLY JOEL AND STEVIE NICKS
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Saturday