For many in attendance, the lasting memory of Billy Joel’s concert at the cavernous Sports Arena Tuesday night will be the final encore: Joel, seated at a grand piano, center stage, as the audience sings most of “Piano Man” for him. More appropriate, though, would be the image of Joel in his black suit, writhing around the floor during “Only the Good Die Young,” jumping atop his piano for “Big Shot” and musically or visually invoking the Doors, Gene Vincent, Rod Stewart and Elvis Presley during “It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me.” Now 44 years old, Joel is not about to go gentle into middle age.
Nor is his audience, evidently, many of whom spent much of the show on their feet, light reflecting from the men’s receding hairlines to illuminate the stage.
Though the demographic was toward the high end, Joel must have been encouraged by the roar that greeted his reference to people in their 20s.
Tuesday’s show was notably lacking in romance, as Joel thundered through about two hours’ worth of material beginning with the powerful “No Man’s Land” from his current, double-platinum Sony Music/Columbia album “River of Dreams.”
Moving back and forth among the four pianos scattered across the stage — two on risers — Joel kicked his piano stool aside several times, bashed the keyboard with his butt in emulation of Jerry Lee Lewis, and put “You May Be Right”– currently theme of the CBS sitcom “Dave’s World”– into hyperdrive.
Set featured Joel’s socially conscious songs, like “Allentown,””Goodnight, Saigon” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” delivered with so much energy that the audience didn’t seem to miss mellower or more pop-styled hits like “Just the Way You Are,””The Longest Time” or even “Uptown Girl.”
In a good move, Joel showed off at the concert grand with brief, throwaway renditions of “Hooray for Hollywood” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” and threw in a bit of “Angels We Have Heard on High” in his lengthy intro to “It’s My Life.”
Joel’s terrific band mixed longtime sidemen, including drummer Liberty DeVitto and saxophonist-guitarist Mark Rivera with recruits from other name groups (bassist T-Bone Wolk from Hall & Oates; percussionist-vocalist Crystal Taliefero from John Mellencamp’s band) and some newcomers.
Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash joined group to solo on Joel’s “Shameless,” a song the composer claimed had been written with Jimi Hendrix in mind, but which was recently a major hit for country star Garth Brooks.
Joel has been claiming that this may be his last such major lengthy tour. With luck, he means that in the future he’ll be concentrating on more comfortable rooms; certainly, he still has plenty to offer audiences. In the meantime, he’s set for the Anaheim Arena Saturday.