Sunday, June 01, 2014

Billy Joel at the Hollywood Bowl, May 27

Okay - review time.

Billy is old, 65, and looks like he needs to take better care of himself. His voice, thankfully is about 90% of what it was - which is great for his age. He's also still an expert at the piano, though he bonks plenty of notes, it all works and seems effortless. He is a consummate professional musician and artist. He's also hilarious in between songs. He did a spot-on Elton John impersonation and sang a good chunk of "Your Song" before cutting himself off at the line "I don't have much money..." "Bullshit!" he exclaimed.

The band is as tight as I've ever heard at one of Billy's concerts, but theirin is part of the problem. Though technically far more perfect than the original line up, this bunch does not have the propulsion and energy, the emotion, wrought by drummer Liberty DeVitto and the other Long Island boys that Billy grew up with and played with until he got rid of them. I really miss those mooks and the passion that they brought. They were born and bred of Billy's music, and it really shone through. Don't get me wrong, the band now is very, very good - Mark Rivera and Crystal Talifero in particular have been with Billy a long time (the former since Nylon Curtain and the latter since Storm Front) and bring some of the old spirit. The two guitarists and the bass player are all tremendous vocalists, which really makes for a fat clean sound. Still, I pine for the immediacy and the energy of Billy's old gang. A smaller group, no horn section, but somehow more urgent than the polished veneer of the 2014 crew. Search YouTube for Billy Joel: Live from Long Island and you'll see what I mean.

Over the three shows at Hollywood Bowl I think the setlist on our night might have been the best. You can click on the "Related Concert Setlists" links for the 17th and the 22nd to compare and contrast. Yes, the shows were all very similar, but we got We Didn't Start the Fire and Uptown Girl, the other two nights did not. Uptown Girl was truly amazing - the vocals were phat! It was also great to see Billy strap on the old guitar for that old dentist drill of a song "We Didn't Start the Fire" - never one of my favorites, but it works very well live with 17000 people singing along word for word.

Songs we missed out on: "Pressure", "And So It Goes" and "Sometimes a Fantasy". I've seen Pressure live many times, ASIG is one of my favorites that I didn't get on the Storm Front tour. I've also seen "Sometimes a Fantasy" (on the Bridge tour) and I agree with the description of it as the least sexy song about phone sex ever. We also didn't get "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." or "Summer Highland Falls" both of which I still have yet to see live. No one got to hear "Goodnight Saigon" - which is fine, or "Angry Young Man" which is sad. It was the only song I really missed, even though I've seen it live more than a few times.

All for Leyna, Zanzibar, Where's the Orchestra, Everybody Loves You Know and Say Goodbye to Hollywood, all blew my mind as songs that I absolutely did not expect to hear over the course of the evening. I loved that Billy dug a bit deeper, as I think the bulk of his album tracks that were not singles are where the real gold is in the catalogue. Say Goodbye to Hollywood was actually a minor am radio hit, and on his greatest hits record, but I read in a review of Billy's concert at the bowl on May 17th that it was the first time he had played the song live in almost 30 years. He had retired the song long ago because it is at the top of his register - I'm glad he dusted it off for LA, it sounded great.

The venue was great, the sound was pristine, one of the best sounding concerts I've ever been to, and by far the cleanest Billy Joel show I've ever heard. The mix was awesome, the visuals were very good. The lights were what they needed to be and the occasional video footage worked beautifully with a very polished I-Mag camera operators and director. (IMag is the video image magnification, the video of Billy and the Band on the screens for those of us with 43 year old eyes and not in the $2500 seats).

All in all, it doesn't get much better than Billy, even old Billy who stays at the piano through Big Shot and You May Be Right - he did strut a little bit for It's Still Rock and Roll to Me, but stayed put in all the other songs that he used to run around to. Inevitable I suppose, and truly no less enjoyable in it's own context - just a reminder of his and our own mortality.

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