The piano man is pure poetry
Billy Joel and his Steinway play Blaisdell
B: Billy Joel. He comes to Honolulu in the wake of megabands such as U2 and Pearl Jam. Can the Piano Man measure up?
In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday
Place: Blaisdell Arena
Tickets: $65 and $95
Call: (877) 750-4400 or visit www.ticketmaster.com
Also: Joel performs at 8 p.m. Monday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets start at $82; call (808) 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org
Undoubtedly, as Joel offers something very different. Even 33 years after his first album was released, he became the first musician to sell out a 12-concert run at Madison Square Garden this year.
I: Innovative. Joel is difficult to categorize sometimes, easing between genres such as pop, rock and classical, with inspiration from jazz, blues, punk and gospel. Superstardom arrived in 1977 with the release of "The Stranger." All told, the guy who made a go of it playing small clubs night after night has sold more than 100 million albums.
L: Longevity. That's what distinguishes Billy Joel, according to promoter Marek Lieberberg, who's worked with Joel for more than two decades. His songs are "wonderful little short stories," said Lieberberg. Each one "is more than just a song; it's a period of time. We all mirror ourselves in these songs. Amazingly, they remain truthful over the years, and they grow in importance over the years."
L: Long time, yeah? It's been about 20 years since Joel played in Hawaii, which means you have to be at least 40 to have any recollection of the occasion. He's been making up for a long break from touring, with seven concerts in Australia, six in Japan and two in the islands. Then he heads to the mainland, working his way through the southern United States, finishing in New Orleans in March. Quite a bit of time has also passed since his last album, which is why he decided to release "12 Gardens Live," featuring some of the most popular songs of his entire career -- played at the Madison Square Garden concerts earlier this year.
Y: YouTube. Check out a vintage video of a much younger Joel performing "Piano Man" in a smoke-filled bar. One viewer commented, "I have seen Billy Joel over 10 times and every time he sings this song, it makes me feel young again." It's a fairly sure bet that Joel will not have to sing this tune without help from the audience.
J: "Just the Way You Are" resulted in Joel's first Grammy Award in 1978, when it was chosen as song of the year. He's accumulated 33 top 40 hits, 23 Grammy nominations and six Grammy Awards since his first recording contract in 1972. "Movin' Out," the Broadway musical based on his music, was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won two.
O: Opportunity. Saturday is your chance to hear at least 27 of Joel's classic songs in a two-and-a-half hour set. Fans of his early work won't go home disappointed after hearing "My Life," "Just the Way You Are," "Only the Good Die Young," "Still Rock n' Roll to Me," "Big Shot," "Movin' Out," "River of Dreams," "Innocent Man" and "Allentown." Of course, every show closes with "Piano Man."
Blaisdell isn't your neighborhood club, but it's a bit more intimate than the stadium. Fortunately, the center stage rotates so everyone can see him play. Joel also moves between his Steinway grand piano (which travels with him to every location), organ, electronic keyboards and harmonica, giving all seats a decent view at some point in the show.
E: Everyman. Joel's energy and rapport with the audience are similar to Bruce Springsteen's, Lieberberg said. This arises from his passion for touring and live performance. "He's been a road person all his life," said Lieberberg.
Like average folks, Joel has had his rough patches. The difference is that his are public. This includes a battle with alcohol, which the 57-year-old has conquered after a methodical journey through recovery at the Betty Ford Clinic in 2005.
L: Long Island. Joel grew up in New York playing piano and competing as an amateur boxer, according to Wikipedia. He joined his first band at 14. After watching the Beatles play on the Ed Sullivan show, he decided to pursue a professional music career.
After an early first marriage to his manager, and a high-profile one to supermodel Christie Brinkley, in 2004 Joel married Katie Lee, who will accompany him in Hawaii. According to Lieberberg, "he's as happy as he's ever been in his life."