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I Should Be Sleeping: Billy Joel FAQ

By Brian | December 11, 2007 | Share on Facebook

The most recent analysis of my site statistics (How People Found Me – November Edition) got me thinking: 237 unique Google queries about Billy Joel that found their way to my site. And while these people were able to read my 2006 Concert Review from Madison Square Garden, my preview article about that tour, and the lyrics to All My Life, I couldn’t help thinking that plenty of questions went unanswered.

So, based on the Billy Joel-related queries used to access the site in November, 2007, I’ve decided to compile a Frequently Asked Questions file about Billy Joel. This is not intended to be canonical, nor is it thoroughly researched (I’ve added links where I could, and recounted from memory where I couldn’t). I just figure, if people are coming here looking for Billy Joel information, I can at least provide them my best efforts at some answers.

So, as the man says, Come ou, Virginia, don’t let me wait…

Q1: Where Can I Find a Billy Joel Concert Review? (82 queries)

Well, there’s always mine, but if you want more, the best advice I have is to Google “Billy Joel Concert Reviews” and go from there. Joel’s official site, billyjoel.com does not have concert reviews, nor do I see any sanctioned, dependable source in my own Google search. So, it seems you’re at the mercy of folks like me who attend the concerts and tell you what they think.

Q2: Does Billy Joel Have an Opening Act? (48 queries)

No. Billy Joel concerts typically begin with the house lights going dark, followed by a stirring piece of classical music blaring from the arena speakers. While that’s happening (and the crowd is screaming with anticipation), Joel and his band take the stage in darkness. The classical music either fades out or stops entirely, and then the band kicks into their opening number – usually Angry Young Man or something from the album he’s promoting. (During The Bridge tour in 1986, he opened with Matter of Trust, and during the 1993 River of Dreams tour, he opened with No Man’s Land.)

Q3: Where Can I Find a Setlist for a Billy Joel Concert? (35 queries)

The canonical list seems to be here. Click on a decade, and then a particular show for the setlist. Or you can search the database with keywords. A very handy site.

Q4: Where Can I Find Lyrics/Information about Billy Joel’s new song, All My Life? (20 queries)

Here, Google is not so friendly. Because All My Life is named so similarly to the much more popular My Life, I found it very difficult to find the lyrics to this song online when it first came out. It’s easier now, but if you made it to this page, you might as well just click on my blogpost on the subject.

Q5: Why Doesn’t Liberty DeVitto Play with Billy Joel Anymore? (10 queries)

There are many stories floating around out there, and I’m sure most, if not all of them are laced with false rumors. I can tell you that the story I heard was that DeVitto was upset with some of the things Joel told Hank Bordowitz for his Billy Joel biography, Billy Joel: The Life & Times of an Angry Young Man (which, by the way, I thought was excellent), and that this led to a falling out between the two to such an extent that DeVitto didn’t even attend Joel’s most recent wedding to Katie Lee. Wikipedia, by the way, is strangely silent on the whole thing, both on the Billy Joel page and on the Liberty DeVitto page.

Q6: Where Can I Find Lyrics to Billy Joel Songs? (8 queries)

If you want the lyrics to a particular song, I’d once again recommend a Google search. Type in “Billy Joel <name of song> lyrics”, and one of the first few links should get you exactly what you want. If you’re looking for a discography, complete with lyrics to all of his songs, I’d suggest billyjoel.com, which is affiliated with Billy Joel himself, and has a complete and accurate lyrics list for all of his songs.

Q7: How Long is a Billy Joel Concert? (7 queries)

Obviously, that’s up to Billy Joel, and any concert on any given night can vary in length. Typically, though, his shows tend to start around fifteen minutes after the time printed on the ticket, and then run for around two hours. Like most artists of his generation, he would occasionally do a three or four hour marathon show when he was younger, but I haven’t seen or heard about a show like that in a very long time. If you’ve got after show plans, I’d recommend counting on two and a half hours, just to be safe.

Q8: What is the Stage Layout at a Billy Joel Concert? (5 queries)

The stage layout varies from tour to tour, but the basic configuration is always the same. The grand piano is either in the center of the stage, or at stage left (that’s the left side from Joel’s perspective, the right side from the audience’s perspective). His guitar and sax players stand upstage (closer to the audience) on stage right, with auxiliary percussion behind them. The drummer is almost always center stage near the back of the stage (which is true of almost any rock and roll concert, I guess), and any other musicians (e.g., horn players) tend to be downstage on stage left, behind the piano. Joel’s stage also typically has two wings, with an electric keyboard in the back corner of the stage on each wing.

As you would expect, Joel spends most of the show at the grand piano. In the more recent concerts, the piano is typically on a turntable, so it rotates around in a circle during the show, giving everyone in the arena a chance to see him from every angle. In older shows (or smaller arenas), the piano is stationary. At some point during the show, he runs to the wings of the stage and plays a few songs on the electric keyboards, which gives him a chance to face those fans sitting on the sides or behind the stage (see Question #13 below for a discussion about sitting behind or on the side of the stage). I’ve heard Joel say many times in interviews that a piano is not like a guitar – you can’t strap it on and do rock and roll moves with it. He often apologizes to those he has his back to, and promises to turn around when he can.

Most shows also feature a block of songs that Joel sings from a microphone in the front-center of the stage. These typically include Glass Houses hits like You May be Right, Sometimes a Fantasy, and It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me, as well as the title track to the Innocent Man album. When this happens, someone in the band usually moves in to play the grand piano, although the person is never prominently lit or acknowledged on the stage, lest the attention be drawn away from The Piano Man himself.

Q9: Where Can I Find Information About Billy Joel’s Band Members? (5 queries)

For this, I would recommend Wikipedia’s Billy Joel page. They have a complete list of Joel’s current and former band members, including links to their respective Wikipedia pages. Here’s the list, reproduced as of this writing, for easy access:

MembersFormer members
Billy JoelRichie Cannata
Tommy ByrnesLiberty DeVitto
Chuck BurgiDoug Stegmeyer (Deceased)
David RosenthalDavid LeBolt
Mark RiveraDavid Brown (Deceased)
Crystal TalieferoRussell Javors
Carl FischerJeff Bova
 Jeff Jacobs
 Larry Russell
 Rhys Clark
 Ron Tutt

Q10: What’s the Story with Billy Joel, the OCC, and a motorcycle? (5 queries)

On March 25, 2006, Billy Joel played The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York for 39,000 people (breaking the record for the largest crowd in the Carrier Dome, previously held by The Rolling Stones). During the show, the hosts of the Discovery Channel show, “Orange County Choppers,” came on stage and presented Joel with “The Billy Bike,” a motorcycle they had built specifically for him. The event was covered on the show (Episode #82).

Q11: Why Doesn’t Billy Joel Play Just the Way You Are in Concert Anymore? (3 queries)

Just the Way You Are was a love song that Billy Joel wrote for his first wife, Elizabeth Weber-Small. He has said in recent interviews that when he told her the song was for her, she asked him if that meant she would get the royalties for it, but that might be the divorce talking. At any rate, Joel claims that he took the song out of regular rotation because of Liberty DeVitto’s habit of singing along with songs during concerts in order to keep his place in the song. In the chorus of this particular song, DeVitto would often replace the actual lyric, “I love you Just the Way You Are,” with his own creation – “She Got the House, She Got the Car.” Once that began happening, Joel claims, it was time to put the song away.

For what it’s worth, my take on it is that Joel simply got bored with the song, and didn’t feel it was getting the kind of energy it deserved when performed live. Not to say his story isn’t true, but distractions like that are more effective when an artist is “going through the motions” on a song he’s played thousands of times than on songs that are fresh and new.

Q12: What is Billy Joel’s Concert Schedule? (2 queries)

Once again, I’d recommend billyjoel.com, which has an On The Road menu item, currently listing the remaining shows scheduled for 2007 (no word on any 2008 shows just yet). I don’t know how quickly the official dates get posted, so if you’re more interested rumored tour dates, I’d suggest a search in Technorati, since a quick pass through the blogosphere may be more informative than the standard entertainment/news websites.

The one rumor I can pass along today is that Billy Joel has agreed to be the last event at Shea Stadium before they tear it down at the end of the 2008 baseball season (October, 2008. Late October if Met fans have anything to say about it UPDATE: Turns out, the “Last Play at Shea” is happening in July, just after the All Star Game. For more on that, including the story of how I got tickets to the show (!), click here).

Q13: Where are the best seats at a Billy Joel concert? (1 query)

This, obviously, is a matter of taste. Some people like to be on the floor, right in front of the stage. If that’s your cup of tea, I will warn you that Joel typically leaves the first couple of rows unsold, and then has people walk through the crowd (typically in the upper levels) and choose young, enthusiastic (and, while I can’t prove it, it would seem attractive and female) fans to come down to the front row. His rationale is that the show has more energy when there are screaming kids right up by the stage, rather than old, rich men who can afford the most expensive tickets. So if you’re looking for close to the stage, and you can get seats that aren’t exactly front row, grab them – they might be the best ones available.

Another option at Billy Joel concerts is to sit directly behind the stage. As I mentioned above, the piano is often on a giant turntable, so you get a good view of him while he’s performing, and he also has the keyboards on the wings of the stage that he uses to play to the back of the house. It obviously depends on the arena, but these seats tend to be almost as close to the stage as the floor seats, plus they’re a little elevated, which provides a better and more comfortable view (at least in my opinion. Your mileage may vary).

As for me, I prefer a seat just next to stage left, where I can get as good a look as possible at Joel’s hands while he plays the piano. As an amateur piano player myself (and an avid player of Joel’s music in particular), his concerts are almost as educational for me as they are enjoyable, as I get a real kick out of watching what he’s actually playing while the familiar arrangements are performed by the full band. On a good night, I’ll improve the way several of his songs sound when I play them, just by watching how he plays them in concert. But that’s just me…

Q14: Where can I find a Billy Joel concert poster? (1 query)

I honestly have no clue. I did a Google search, and this site came back as the “Billy Joel Official Store.” I’ve never heard of fanfire.com, so I don’t know how legitimate it is, although they do seem to have an impressive collection of T-shirts, concert programs, teddy bears, hats, and yes – posters, available for sale. I can’t vouch for them at all, but at least you have a starting point.

Q15: Where can I download Billy Joel Music? (1 query)

Well, you can buy his music at the iTunes Music Store, or on CD at various retailers. Also, sites like amazon.com and billyjoel.com offer samples of many songs. If you’re looking for free downloads of Joel’s (copyrighted) material, then I’m afraid you’re on your own. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but I don’t care to look for it or help anyone else find it. Sorry…

Q16: Is Billy Joel sober now? (1 query)

It’s none of my business (and, IMHO, none of your’s either). But, given the realities of celebrity, the question does get asked often. Everything I’ve heard/read about Billy Joel suggests that he went into rehab to fight an alcohol addiction at least twice (Wikipedia says 2002 and 2005), and that he’s been clean and sober ever since. Of course, anyone who doesn’t know him personally is just guessing about this, so I don’t tend to put a lot of stock in what I read on this topic and hence, don’t care to read too much about it in general.

If I’ve answered your question here, I’m glad. If not, I’d suggest heading back to Google and seeing what you can dig up.

Topics: Words about Music | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “I Should Be Sleeping: Billy Joel FAQ”

  1. Anonymous says at January 29th, 2008 at 7:14 pm :
    The above assertion that former Billy Joel guitarist David Brown is dead is false and misleading. Former Santana bass player David Brown died in 2000. Joel guitarist David Brown is alive and well, as evidenced by his website: http://sliiideman.com/ as well as his Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/davideugenebrown

    I would advise you correct this immediately.

    Thank You

  2. Brian says at January 29th, 2008 at 9:42 pm :

    Thanks for the heads up. At the time of my original posting, Wikipedia had a link to the former Santana bass player you mention. The wikipedia article, and now my post, have been corrected accordingly.


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