Billy reaches out to a new audience.
Review and Photos by Barry Brecheisen"You must bite your teeth into the ass of life," Billy Joel expressed to a packed house of students at the University of Chicago's Mandal Hall last night. As part of a six college tour, five-time Grammy winner surprised us with his human side, forgetting his carnival side shows with Elton John recently. The show was part performance, part Q & A and a helluva of a lot of one-man Broadway show. Tonight he would tell jokes, tap dance and do celebrity impressions. Dressed in his standard black suit, Billy took turns playing the piano and answering questions from students. Some questions were creatively answered with his piano. "Is there a song I regret playing? Oh, let me do it," Billy responded as the crowd laughed while he ran to his piano. "Now I like this song," as he began the opening of his well-played hit "Just the Way You Are." "But right into the second verse my mind wanders. I'm thinking she got the house, she got the car and pretty soon I don't even know where I am in the song." This is candid and as real as Joel can get. It's refreshing to watch a performer of his stature be so open to the public. He even took us back to his early piano lessons and his desire to play his own music. He would actually create his own songs by playing in the style of Mozart or Chopin to fool his mother. Speaking of classical music, he has recently released his first album of new material since 1993's River of Dreams. As I've started to suggest, it's not a collection of pop songs but 10 classical music pieces.
Tonight he would also introduce us to several tracks from Fantasies & Delusions performed by the pianist that performs them on the CD, Richard Joo. "He plays them much better than I do," Billy declared. One of the new tracks Richard Joo's performed is entitled "Waltz 3 for Lola." A rather infectious and melodic number. Most of the talk tonight has been about regret and writing songs about the many women that have wandered in and out of Joel's life. Jokes on us though as this song is apparently about his pug dog. Still, it's a very serious toned piece that had Beethoven looking over his shoulder. The mood would soon shift again as Billy announced, "I'm 52 years old and I have a big zit coming!" The kids bursted out in laughter at the familiar malady affecting someone their father's age. Taking a page from George Carlin's playbook, Joel stated "I didn't graduate high school because I skipped gym. I was called into the principal's office. This is 1966. Are you on pot?" "What do you mean am I on pot? Are you shooting pot? You don't shoot pot. Ah Ha!" These are some of the funny stories we were privy to this evening.
The song that has recently brought Billy Joel back into the spotlight is his classic from 1976's Turnstiles, "New York State of Mind". It has become a favorite since the devastation of September 11th. "Songs have a life of their own," Billy began as he started to perform the classic. "I did a duet of this song with Tony Bennett once. When Tony sings he smiles," as he released a near perfect impression of the legend. Rich Little would have been proud. Halfway through the song he paused, "I wonder what it would sound like by Sinatra"? The crowd goes nuts as again delivered a believable impersonation of the first true lounge lizard. He slid into "My kind of Town" with all the aplomb of a freshly signed contract at the Aladdin. "I met Sinatra once," he revealed as he broke from song. "I was in Sydney, Australia and we were staying at the same hotel. I bumped into his wife, Barbara and she asked us to stop by their room. Frank would love to see you. So Frank doesn't show until 1 in the morning. In walks Frank and he looks at us and states 'who the f*ck are these people?'" Again doing a great Sinatra. "It's Billy Joel (a short pause)? What the f*ck are they doing here? Maybe it's not a good time. The next night Barbara gives me a call and tells me Frank's in the bar. He's in a good mood, he's drinking and we should come down and I'm thinking he wasn't too happy to see us yesterday, but I went anyway. He's singing in the bar (to the melody of "Love and Marriage"), Christie Brinkley, Christie Brinkley...you can't have one without the other. I'm not going near him" Billy concluded.
Of course, the evening would not be complete without the song that gave him his first Top 20 single way back in 1983. "Well, it's time to wrap this up with an old chestnut." With that Billy jumped into "Piano Man." The familiar song took on a new life with Joel's mood elevated by the positive feedback generated by the audience.
Tonight we had a rare look inside the piano player born William Martin Joel from Long Island. Zits and all.
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