Billy Joel Entertains at the Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. But then, we knew he would.
Yes, Billy Joel is a sure thing. Guaranteed to sell out any venue he plays. His superstardom has reached and breached the Chandrasekhar limit, becoming a black hole that sucks in money and acclaim. One could even question the point of reviewing any performance of his. The man could essentially pick his nose for an hour and people would pay to see it. So, it’s refreshing to see that he still cares about putting on a good show. And, more to the point, generally succeeds in doing so. And indeed, did so Friday, Nov.3.
A Brief History Lesson
Billy Joel’s career did not start smoothly. In fact, it almost didn’t happen at all. Joel’s career as a musician actually stretches back to the ’60s. Billy Joel began as a sometime studio musician, and keyboards man for a band that primarily played British Invasion covers.
In 1971 he released his debut “Cold Spring Harbor” with Family Productions. Unfortunately, two things went wrong. First, the album wasn’t mastered at the proper speed and as a result was basically unlistenable. Second, Joel’s boss at Family Productions, Artie Ripp, wasn’t in the habit of being fair to his artists. While the album bombed, the tour that promoted the album was a success and Columbia took an interest in Joel. However, Joel was still technically under contract with Family Productions. This left Joel in limbo as the President of Columbia negotiated with Ripp. It wasn’t all bad though, during this period Joel composed “Piano Man.” His signature song, with which he has closed all concerts since.
From there on, Billy Joel went from a minor pop sensation to something of an institution. Sticking with Columbia, he quickly became popular with the mainstream and a radio mainstay. The rest, as they say, is history.
Billy Joel merges the softer aspects of the British Invasion with Doo-Wop and pop. Though, I must stress, ’50s and ’60s pop, not the bubblegum pop we’re familiar with. The resultant sound is predictably unadventurous, but never bland. Plus, Joel’s skill as a songwriter and his unpretentious, down to earth lyrics redeem any musical transgressions. The emphasis, especially at the beginning of his career, is generally on the piano, but he also has several songs which have no piano part at all. Taken in full aspect, Billy Joel represents the best of rock ‘n’ roll’s softer side.
Now that we’ve gotten all the infodump out of the way, why don’t we talk about what the concert was actually like? Okay? Okay.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this concert, it’s that Joel may have missed his calling as a comedian. Heck, he might have been able to hold the audience for a full hour with his wit alone. He was primarily self-depreciating, mocking his own old age or the poor performance of some of his early albums. This isn’t surprising really, Billy Joel is an entertainer above all else. Yes, even above his avocation as a musician. And being an entertainer, Joel has to be entertaining. Even between songs.
But anyway. Joel opened with the appropriately dramatic “Miami 2017.” Which, despite its demi-apocalyptic lyrics, whipped the audience into a proper concert mood. And I’m here to tell you, the roar of a thousand people cheering at full volume is a sound you never forget. Then Joel did something democratic. After the opening number, he let the audience determine his set list. Fortunately, it wasn’t complicated. All Billy Joel did was offer the audience a choice between two songs from a particular album. The determining factor? Which option got the most cheers. Basically, policy by volume. True democracy, brothers and sisters, whoever yells the loudest and brings the most friends makes the rules.
Billy Joel’s live sound isn’t wildly different from that of his albums. That said, neither are they identical. Granted, It may just be a quirk of arena sound-systems, but his live style emphasizes bass and percussion. In practice, this creates a heavier sound than you generally associate with him. Not that this detracts from the music’s quality in any way. To quote ol’ Bill himself, it’s still rock and roll to me.
The concert ended with “Piano Man,” of course. As I said at the beginning, Billy Joel’s a sure thing. Guaranteed to fill venues wherever he goes. A safe choice. But, seeing as his shows are generally top notch, is that really so bad?
Keep listening everybody.