Piano Man

Billy Joel - Rosemont Horizon

November 22, 1998

First Appeared in The Music Box, January 1999, Volume 6, #1

Written by John Metzger


It seemed as if Billy Joel's return to Chicago was never going to happen. Tickets for his concert at the Horizon in Rosemont, Illinois went on sale an excessive seven months before the originally scheduled date of the show. Plagued with vocal problems for most of this year, Joel was then forced to delay his appearance for an additional month.

On November 22, Joel finally did arrive in Chicago, where he put on a playful, high-energy retrospective of his entire career. He did his best impression of Elvis Presley, and between songs he frequently chatted with the audience apologizing for his health problems and reflecting on humorous stories from his past. Along the way, he mixed in snippets of other songs like The Beatles' Oh Darling, Yes's Long Distance Runaround, and Frank Sinatra's My Kind of Town, and before launching into a rambunctious We Didn't Start the Fire, he memorialized the assassination of JFK, which had taken place exactly 35 years ago.

Having no real product to push other than re-mastered releases of his extensive catalog Joel was at ease as he moved from song to song, touching on all but two of his albums over the course of his fun-filled two-hour set. There's no question that all of the songs that he did perform certainly belonged in this show, but it's also truly amazing that he could have doubled the length of the concert and still not run out of familiar material worthy of a live performance.

Backed by a band that featured the powerhouse drumming of long-time band mate Liberty DeVitto, Joel tore through his up-tempo numbers like Movin' Out (Anthony's Song), Sometimes a Fantasy, and Big Shot with a vengeance. On Prelude/Angry Young Man, he pounded his piano with frantic, bilious rage, and he fitted My Life with Beatle-esque harmonies on the song's bridge. In addition, the ambient feeling of the nervous breakdown of Pressure was enhanced by the adrenaline-pumping rhythms, maniacal synthesizers, and swirling light show.

But it's the ballads that have always been Joel's strongest songs and have packed his greatest emotional punches. Sitting alone at his piano, Joel made the cavernous Horizon a more intimate venue as he delivered a stellar rendering of She's Got a Way a song that draws from the same spirit as Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed. On a stirring rendition of An Innocent Man, Joel donned a pair of shades and visited his '50s doo-wop roots, and Tommy Byrnes added a gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment to the anthem Goodnight Saigon. In addition, you could feel how much Joel missed his daughter as he crooned a beautiful, touching Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel) and filled it with the presence of a classically-trained musician.

Scenes from an Italian Restaurant perfectly bridged the gap between Joel's up-tempo numbers and his ballads. In its own way, the song is both Joel's rock opera and his contribution to the progressive-rock era. He smoothly led the band from the song's reflective, atmospheric opening into its brisk tale of Brenda and Eddie, while Mark Rivera laced the melody with fluid soprano and tenor saxophone solos.

While the final encore of Piano Man may have been predictable, Joel brought new life to the song as he donned his harmonica and turned the venue into a cozy piano bar. At times he turned the lyrics over to his adoring audience, who handled the song with passion and conviction. They truly meant it as they radiantly sang, "We're all in the mood for a melody, and you've got us feelin' alright."

The Essential Billy Joel is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!


Copyright 1998 The Music Box