All the searchlights were pointing to The Hollywood Bowl twice in the past week. They will do so again tonight as the elusive Billy Joel will once again perform the best of his 40 year songbook. I say elusive, as I’m told these three shows were Billy’s first ever at The Bowl.
Hard to believe as he wrote his first hit and signature song ‘Piano Man’ just down the street in a small bar at the corner of Wilshire and Western in 1973. It has become a classic as have dozens of others in his long career. Billy not only plays his big hits, like ‘My Life,’ ‘Movin’ Out’, and ‘She’s Always A Woman,’ but digs deep into his rich catalog of jazz textured ballads including ‘New York State Of Mind,’ ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,’ and ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ which I will also always remember as the final song played after the last day of racing at ‘Hollywood Park’ last December.
An early Billy song, ‘The Entertainer,’ covers the life of a pop star who when he falls off the charts, his career is finished. This is not the case for Billy Joel who hasn’t even been on the charts since the early 90’s, and can still pack The Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden. In his 40 year career, Billy has surprisingly only released 15 studio albums. Quality is the word, not quantity for Billy.
Billy added humorous anecdotes about touring with Elton John (who he said has “too many hits”), taking a swipe at NRA darling Ted Nugent, and adding creative stories to many of his favorite songs. Is Billy a Pop star, a Jazz artist or a Rock n’ Roll icon? He is all of those things.. His slick tight band featuring three saxophones can play anything, and take it to a classical height, as they did with ‘River Of Dreams.’ Crystal Taliefero is a standout on percussion and backing vocals.
Curiously missing from the show was Billy’s enormous hit ‘Just The Way You Are.’ Who knows, maybe he is sick of performing it. Billy perfectly positioned his high energy Rock n’ Roll hits for the encore. ‘Uptown Girl,’ a song thought to be about then girlfriend (future wife) Christie Brinkley, was also a tribute to Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons. Followed by Billy’s best rockers ‘It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me,’ ‘Big Shot’ (my personal fave), ‘You May Be Right, I May Be Crazy,’ and ‘Only The Good Die Young.’
Now 65, Billy humorously said he is afraid to look in the mirror, as he now resembles his father. But, I think he looks and sounds great, and has been a wonderful troubadour for his own and younger generations. Sold out shows at The Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden (where Billy is appearing all year) don’t lie. This was a very special evening for me. I just can’t believe it took me 40 years to see him, after first playing ‘Piano Man’ way back in 1973.