Fresh from his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Billy Joel made his first foray in six years to Southern California with a satisfying show that had nothing new to offer, but the graybeard made up for his lack of fresh material with amusing self-deprecating stories on his failed marriages and how his height-challenged physique makes it tough to date supermodels.

Fresh from his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Billy Joel made his first foray in six years to Southern California with a satisfying show that had nothing new to offer, but the graybeard made up for his lack of fresh material with amusing self-deprecating stories on his failed marriages and how his height-challenged physique makes it tough to date supermodels.

Although the Long Island, N.Y., native son put together a song list that almost everyone in the nearly sold-out cavernous Arrowhead Pond had heard before, the 19-tune set contained several that seem to have held up extremely well over the years.

“You May Be Right,” from the “Glass Houses” album, and “My Life,” from the 1978 hit disc “52nd Street,” were songs that could easily have been discarded by Joel when putting together his show and replaced with newer material from his last album, 1993’s “River of Dreams.” These tunes, however, have survived the passage of time and were actually more vibrant than in years past.

The older material was well received by the crowd that’s not as spry as it used to be. It was tough to find a concertgoer less than 30 years old, which, considering the length of Joel’s career and his upcoming 50th birthday, shouldn’t be all that surprising. His days as a reckless youth jumping on pianos are long gone, but his showmanship and storytelling make up for that.

Joel began things with his standard opener, the piano-driven “Angry Young Man,” before heading into the somewhat stale “Movin’ Out.”

Joel’s voice sounded fine, and the band (which included longtime drummer Liberty DeVitto, who ventured around the stage during the encores after being sequestered behind his drum kit for the majority of the night) was as tight as ever, but by now they easily could play these numbers in their sleep.

It was evident that the highlight for the musicians was the medley that incorporated songs from the 1940s through the ’80s, logical book-ends for the 1989 hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” In offering a couple of verses of each, Joel and the band broke into imitations of Sinatra, Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and the Police. Obviously not as polished playing these tunes as their own material, Joel and the band seemed to relish the moments of spontaneity.

The show closed with “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” Joel then played two encores, “Only the Good Die Young” and the sing-along “Piano Man,” which made all the Orange County baby boomers feel young again.

Billy Joel

Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim; 18,000 seats; $39.50

Production

Presented inhouse. Reviewed April 8, 1999.

Cast

Band: Dave Rosenthal, David Santos, Michael Mellett, Mark Rivera, Liberty DeVitto, Crystal Taliefero, Tommy Byrnes.
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