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"Piano Man" sprinkles several
surprises into standard hits set

Billy Joel
Sears Centre
Hoffman Estates, IL
Dec. 1, 2007
Billy Joel Billy Joel

Story and photos by Andy Argyrakis

With over 150 million album sales under his belt and dozens of the most memorable piano-slapped singles in music history, Billy Joel can safely retire with billons of dollars in the bank. He practically has as a recording artist, only releasing one pop song ("All My Life") since his last full-length studio CD River of Dreams hit stores in 1993. But the living legend is still committed to concerts, which despite coming around less often than he did throughout the late 1970s into the 1980s, makes for a guaranteed sing-a-long every time.

At his encore appearance at the Sears Centre (following a spring visit), the fifty-eight-year-old was simultaneously supporting the rarities and b-sides box set My Lives, along with the concert collection 12 Gardens Live (taken from last year's sold out streak in New York). The new products seemed to light an extra fire under the troubadour, which aside from maintaining several regular (albeit, slightly predictable) tunes in the set list, motivated him to dust off just enough surprises to keep die-hards on the edge of their seats.

Joel started on familiar footing, meshing "Angry Young Man" straight into "My Life," which despite being obvious choices, were still vigorously displayed thanks to Joel's increasingly feisty demeanor and self-deprecating humor. (He thanked everyone for attending because every ticket purchased goes towards his "outrageously high car insurance," a pot shot at his recent recklessness). That extra dose of attitude worked to his advantage for surprises like the escalating "Everybody Loves You Now" (off 1971's Cold Spring Harbor) and the cabaret spunk of "The Entertainer." The piano player's pipes also seemed particularly well preserved come the charming ballad "Vienna," while he and the potent six member band kicked up the aggression level for "Allentown."

Throughout the next 90-minutes, Joel continued to rotate fairly regularly between radio giants and deeper album cuts, hitting on most of the necessary points casual fans likely paid for and humoring those who've seen his show several times before. For the radio-minded, "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "Big Shot" came through with just enough charm to warrant standing ovations, though Billy bounced around somewhat indifferently, almost as if he were on auto-pilot.

However, Joel truly perked up for the much less regular "Zanzibar," a joyous, piano bar worthy romp taken from the front half of 1978's 52nd Street. He also highlighted additional ivory tickling abilities during the boogie-woogie wallop "Root Beer Rag" and even introduced new artist Cass Dillon to deliver Joel's recently penned "Christmas in Fallujah" (benefiting Homes For Our Troops).

The home stretch settled back into the normal concert comforts like "It's Still Rock 'N' Roll To Me," "You May Be Right" and "Only the Good Die Young," though in each case, Joel presented them with renewed assertiveness and the crowd swooned with delight. While no new material may be in the forecast (and he'll probably never win a safe driving award), Joel's catalogue remains timeless, while his "Piano Man" title is still undisputed.

Billy Joel Billy Joel

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