Joel brings spon­tane­ity to show

Sold-out crowd hap­pily sings along with the hits

The Dallas Morning News - - ARTS & LIFE - By HUNTER HAUK Pop Mu­sic Critic and ROBERT WILONSKY Staff Writer

Ed­i­tor’s note: Pop mu­sic critic Hunter Hauk had never seen Billy Joel un­til Thurs­day night’s con­cert at the Amer­i­can Air­lines Cen­ter. Staff writer Robert Wilonsky has seem him many times, be­gin­ning with the Dec. 3, 1982, show at Re­union Arena. This co-re­view comes from the per­spec­tives of the vir­gin and the veteran.

Robert Wilonsky: Billy Joel wasn’t sup­posed to tour any­more, not after he an­nounced his till-death-do-him-part res­i­dency at Madi­son Square Gar­den in De­cem­ber 2013.

But there he was Thurs­day night, back in Dal­las for the first time since 2007, play­ing to a sold-out crowd aching to sing along with his hits.

“A Mat­ter of Trust” and “Pres­sure” were the open­ing one-two punch that landed more like a soft tap. They’re ’80s arena-rock Joel, only slightly bet­ter than ’80s doowop Joel.

Four songs in, he gave the au­di­ence a choice: They could cheer for “Vi­enna;” “Sum­mer, High­land Falls” or “Shame­less.” He went with “Vi­enna” — “not a hit sin­gle,” he re­minded, but a lovely high­light nonethe­less. Then, another deep cut: “Zanz­ibar,” wist­ful and just shy of nos­tal­gic.

Then came Joel’s stan­dard: “New York State of Mind,” a per­fect song — his Si­na­tra mo­ment, epic and still in­ti­mate.

It wasn’t good enough for the man be­hind us. “Why isn’t he play­ing the [ex­ple­tive] hits?” he asked. Hunter, did you care?

Hunter Hauk: His com­ment made me laugh, but I don’t agree with the sen­ti­ment that a legend is re­quired to play ev­ery song that made him a legend.

There’s so much more to Joel than the three-vol­ume great­est hits col­lec­tion that likely helped the au­di­ence mem­bers in their 20s and 30s get ac­quainted with the guy. I didn’t mind the set list’s left turns, such as “Some­times a Fan­tasy” and “The Bal­lad of Billy the Kid,” be­cause those were the mo­ments when Joel seemed to have the most fun.

That’s what I wanted to see, more than a hu­man juke­box — I wanted to see him en­joy what he’s do­ing after all th­ese years.

Still, Joel played it a lit­tle too loose in some mo­ments, as if he and his large band were still in sound check, get­ting their plans for the evening worked out.

Never hav­ing seen Joel live, I cre­ated this fan­tasy of a fussy per­fec­tion­ist who gives his all to ev­ery tune. What I saw in per­son were wildly dif­fer­ent sides of a singer who at times seemed a lit­tle un­com­fort­able in his skin.

He didn’t have to tell corny jokes or pos­ture like Elvis to make the crowd happy. He could have cut out some of the at­tempts at com­edy and given folks a few more sin­ga­long mo­ments.

Robert, we both longed for a lit­tle “Hon­esty,” yeah?

RW: Well, maybe — though truth told, I’d have been fine with “Mi­ami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broad­way).”

Joel cer­tainly doesn’t seem bored play­ing the hits, and there’s the added bonus: Such songs as “Scenes From an Ital­ian Restau­rant” and “Pi­ano Man” and show-closer “Only the Good Die Young” have aged re­mark­ably well.

Strangely, I thought “En­ter­tainer” was the night’s high­light — it’s the joke that keeps on giv­ing. In 1974, it was about a mu­si­cian one miss away from dis­ap­pear­ing. In 2015 it’s sung by a guy who hasn’t been on the charts in decades, yet sells out ev­ery show.

But you said you felt a lit­tle dis­con­nected from the show as we were leav­ing. How so?

HH: Per­haps it’s the curse of overly high ex­pec­ta­tions. I re­spect his ap­proach to Thurs­day’s show, con­sid­er­ing most of his peers don’t de­vi­ate from their care­fully or­ches­trated tour set lists.

When I look back on my first time see­ing Billy Joel live, I’ ll prob­a­bly re­mem­ber the big mo­ments, like his sur­prise at the au­di­ence’s hearty par­tic­i­pa­tion on “She’s Al­ways a Woman” or the sim­i­larly en­thu­si­as­tic sin­ga­long dur­ing “Pi­ano Man.”

It’s like opener Jamie Cul­lum said dur­ing his brief, jazz-pop-goes-the-pi­ano open­ing set: “Billy Joel is the rea­son I’m here.”

Nathan Hun­singer/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Billy Joel cer­tainly did not seem bored play­ing some of his great­est hits on Thurs­day at Amer­i­can Air­lines Cen­ter.

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