When an artist tours without a new album to support, he can do one of two things: Simply crank out the hits, or try something different. Billy Joel, kicking off his '98 North American tour Thursday night at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, managed to do both.
Supported by a fine eight-piece band, Billy pumped out a seemingly endless stream of crowd-pleasing hits ["We Didn't Start the Fire," "River of Dreams," "Movin' Out"], while sprinkling the set with some well chosen, long-lost classics. In fact, Joel set up a website where fans can vote for songs they want to hear during this tour.
Joel's idea, he says, is to keep the shows from being "business as usual." He largely succeeded, pulling out wild cards like "Summer Highland Falls" (from 1974's Turnstiles album) and 1976's "Everybody Has A Dream," a song he'd never attempted live before.
Obviously delighted to be back onstage after a four-year absence, Joel played to the hometown crowd, mentioning local landmarks and reminiscing about his high school days. One such story led to one of the night's high points -- an a capella rendition of "The Longest Time," intro'd by a medley of doo wop classics like "Duke of Earl."
Overall, the Piano Man played the evening fast and loose, doing an impromptu rendition of Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" on the accordion and even dedicating "Big Man on Mulberry Street" to "fellow Long Islander" Howard Stern as a birthday gift.
Joel closed out the set with "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" (the website's No. 1 request), plus some unexpected encores: "Captain Jack" and "Miami 2017."
Joel had recently announced his intention to switch to classical music, but except for playing a few bars of Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" Thursday night, he proved that as far as live shows go, it's still rock 'n' roll for him.