Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

August 10, 2006

William Martin Joel, Immortal Being

Filed under: Music — secretmojo @ 6:46 pm

After my post explaining my “piana fetish,” I decided, in fairness, to give Billy Joel some ear time. So I dusted of the box collection, skipped three discs and snatched numero cuatro, wherein Bill offers a seminar, full of joke cracking and piano vamps, to an enthralled audience on the pretext of giving them music biz advice.

Shelve that one next to Eric Clapton: Unplugged.

There’s a word for this kind of experience. Joy. Everyone feels blessed to be there. The audience is happy he’s cracking jokes, thrilled he can’t keep his fingers off the piano. Joel is loving it, too. He’s up on stage, surrounded by his people. People who know what a major 7th is, who know Debussy and Grieg and Kurt Weill. There’s no set list, no programmed lights, just he and a piano, and, if the urge to “demonstrate” a musical idea arises, his band.

The atmosphere is electric, the kind that makes a person funnier than he usually is, greater than his greatness. Though it began as a simple charitable act from Joel, it certainly ends as a celebration of his work in the form of thousands of adoring fans.

The first sentence he utters (after hard-dying applause and shout-outs) is, “No one’s under the illusion that this is a concert or anything?”

But he simply can’t help himself. The business is, in fact, the music. He’s hard-pressed to answer any question for more than ten seconds without scampering towards the ivories… to thunderous applause.

He explains how the Beatles phenomenon (February, 1964, he remembers) galvanized his musical drive. He recounts memories of JFK and the dull Lyndon Johnson who replaced him (“I come to you with a heavy heart… and big ears.”). He breaks out his blues chops in a smile-inducing, Ray Charlesy rendition of River of Dreams, and rides a bongo wave in We Didn’t Start the Fire. He demonstrates a portion of Scenes from an Italian Restaurant on the piano pure, which, as a side effect, emphasizes how great of a song it really is.

He saunters into personal territory, too, describing his trip to Vienna to meet his father, and how he returned with another piece (Vienna) to add to his wealthy repertoire of advisory second-person songs: Captain Jack, Tell Her About It, Innocent Man, You’re Only Human, and so on.

There are ex-wive jokes as well. But “let’s not get into that,” he snarks.

The crowd holds him tight the whole way, never missing the opportunity to carry him aloft like a war hero returned from battle. They know every lyric, sometimes better than he. Without the benefit of microphone, Joel would dissolve, indistinguishable, into the caroling crowd.

The only other time I recall Billy Joel packing this much power into an album was with Концерт, where a preluding Georgian male vocal ensemble (Zhournalist) revved up the audience with the driving traditional “Odoya.” After they breathlessly punctuate the end, Joel jumps on in to dig out an athletically impossible Angry Young Man and launches a two-hour sprint to the finish.

Disc 4, the most glorious part of this box set, in my opinion tops Концерт. It honors Joel’s odyssey by wrapping it all up with Joel’s expansively performed “Piano Man” finale, a thousand voices strong. And by the end of my listening pleasure, I’m convinced that William Martin Joel is immortal.



  1. Wow. That’s one great review: funny, informative, intelligent, and adoring. He needs to hire you now to write everything anyone reads about him. I had no idea about disk number 4, not owning 1-3 either. Thank you for the tip! xxoo, BL

    Comment by bloglily — August 11, 2006 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  2. Glad you liked it; I began worrying after I posted that it sounded too much like an obituary. But Joel is still chopping away on the grand piano in Europe, recently wowing Italians at the Coliseum in Rome.

    Comment by secretmojo — August 12, 2006 @ 12:57 am | Reply

  3. Woo hoo. Funnily enough I am a huge Billy Joel fan, in fact it reached obsessive proportions back in University days & I had a lot of long-suffering flatmates. I agree he is a minor deity indeed.

    Comment by sonael — August 12, 2006 @ 10:24 am | Reply

  4. Well, sonael, I say flatmates aren’t really “mates” if they can’t handle a little Billy. 🙂

    Comment by secretmojo — August 13, 2006 @ 4:03 am | Reply

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