Billy Joel performs at the Hollywood Bowl
Photo: The Recording Academy
Billy Joel At Hollywood Bowl
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By Steve Baltin
When most people think of the song that sums up five-time GRAMMY winner Billy Joel it's "Piano Man," the autobiographical tune he introduced May 27 at the last of his three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl as being about "a situation west of Wilshire." But on this night it was "The Entertainer," another Joel song title that best described his performance.
Opening with "Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)" Joel and his note perfect band ran through more than 40 years of hits, from "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)," "My Life," "Don't Ask Me Why," and "The River Of Dreams," to deeper cuts.
This is where the entertainer portion came in. A superb storyteller, Joel explained that he was excited to perform deep cuts because on his tours with Elton John he listened as John rolled out hit after hit, so he felt the need to match. On this night he could dig into his own catalog. The fun he poked at John, clearly in jest and obviously good-natured, delighted the crowd as Joel referred to his piano-playing friend as "that guy" and played a snippet of John's "Your Song." When he got to the part that says, "I don't have much money," Joel cut the song off and said, "Bulls***," prompting the adoring crowd to crack up.
Obvious hits such as "Just The Way You Are" and "Honesty" were omitted, making way for the lovely "Where's The Orchestra?" from 1982's The Nylon Curtain, a horn heavy "Zanzibar" from 52nd Street and Glass Houses' "All For Leyna," a song Joel introduced by joking, "Remember 1980? I had hair in 1980."
While the well-received catalog tracks added an element of freshness, Joel's classics got the crowd on their feet. There were several favorites, including "New York State Of Mind," "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" and "The River Of Dreams," during which Joel and his band broke into the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."
But the highlight of the night was the one-two punch of the rocking and lyrically deep "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" and a gorgeous rendition of "She's Always A Woman," which featured shots on the giant video screen of the crowd singing along. Somehow, with the romantic nature of the song and the crowd shots, Joel turned one of the biggest venues in L.A. into what felt like an intimate club sing-along.
While Joel is known as a troubadour and balladeer, this night was dedicated much more to his rocking side, as he even brandished a guitar for the raucous "We Didn't Start The Fire." That was followed by an equally upbeat "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" and magnificent "Big Shot."
The encore also found Joel rocking out, starting with "Uptown Girl," which he dedicated to Frankie Valli, "You May Be Right" and the finale, "Only The Good Die Young."
As the crowd filed out of the Bowl, I heard someone say, "That was unbelievable." It was that good, but you would've expected nothing less than absolute mastery from a brilliant showman and tunesmith flipping through four decades of songs that have become the soundtrack of our lives.
"Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway)"
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"Everybody Loves You Now"
"New York State Of Mind"
"All For Leyna"
"Where's The Orchestra?"
"Say Goodbye To Hollywood"
"She's Always A Woman"
"Don't Ask Me Why"
"Keeping The Faith"
"Scenes From An Italian Restaurant"
"The River Of Dreams"
"We Didn't Start The Fire"
"It's Still Rock And Roll To Me"
"You May Be Right"
"Only The Good Die Young"
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)