The Angry Young Man Down Under: Billy Joel Live in Melbourne

Rod Laver Arena; Melbourne, Australia; December 1, 2008

by Mark Millan

Two years ago, Billy Joel brought his first solo tour to Australia after almost a decade.  The shows sold out fast, real fast, and a great time was had by all. He is currently back Down Under with pretty much the same show, the only difference being that he has dropped some later songs in favor of his earlier works. 

billyjoel_melbourne_512After taking our seats side-on to the stage (great view), we spent a little time talking about what to expect and what surprises BJ might have in store for us.  The arena (capacity 16,000) was filling quickly as show time grew nearer, and I was struck by the small stage and its rather simple settings.  No screens, no pyrotechnics, no risers.  Just like the old days. The stage was barely big enough to house the band and BJ’s grand piano.

A little after eight pm, the lights went out and Joel rose from under the stage seated at his highly polished black piano, the spotlight hitting him as he pumped out the distinctive intro of “Angry Young Man,” which then gave way to one of the night’s many highlights, a rocking version of “My Life.” The band was tight as ever and Joel’s pipes are still in fine form.  His ability to showcase his complete vocal range within a few lines is a rare talent.

Joel’s easygoing nature made for great in-between song banter about his life and career, and he even downplayed some of his biggest hits.  “The Entertainer” made an early appearance, as did his ode to the Big Apple “New York State Of Mind.”  The only real surprises of the night happened in the beginning with a stunning reworking of “Sometimes A Fantasy” and the ethereal “Summer Highland Falls,” while the majestic “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” sounded as inspired as ever.

Allentown,” “She’s Always A Woman,” and “Zanzibar” were all given extended workouts that kept them sounding fresh and vital as ever.  Joel then offered to drop a dud so whoever needed a bathroom break wouldn’t miss anything; some folks got up but soon turned back around in a hurry as the opening chords of his seminal love song “Just The Way You Are” filled the night air.

Having released no new material in fifteen years means the set list was absolute gold from start to finish. The only exception was his recent song “Christmas In Fallujah,” which found BJ up front on rhythm guitar (he’s pretty good, too); he then gave the lead vocal duties to his roadie Chainsaw, who belted out an emphatic version of “Highway To Hell” during which Joel strummed along and visited with the crowd, who were by this point ecstatic. 

A stripped down “It’s Still Rock ‘N’ Roll To Me” followed, with BJ giving his best Elvis-style vocals a workout.  The only songs post ‘82 that got an airing were his massive ’89 hit “We Didn’t Start The Fire” and the almost as big “River Of Dreams.” Both were given rocked-up arrangements, while the latter contained the first verse and chorus of “Soul Man” for good measure. 

“Moving Out (Anthony’s Song)” appeared deep into the set and almost brought the house down, but of course the one that created near pandemonium was “Piano Man,” which he closed the show with in style.  The crowd sang it with him in full voice and Joel rose to the occasion to deliver one of the strongest performances of the night.  

So more than two hours after it began, BJ made a fast exit and as all pros do, left us wanting more. He gave his all and then some, proving that age has not wearied him nor his canon of hits that contains some of pop’s finest ever songs. The staggering thing is that when the list of songs he didn’t do is as long as the set-list itself, then you begin to realize the legendary status he enjoys is not accidental or sentimental -- far from it in fact. All in all, it was a great show by a great showman, and I can’t wait for next time.

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