River of Dreams Flows Through Freedom Hall

By Eric Metcalfe

Okay music fans, it's time to get out your rock 'n' roll multiplication table. First, with your right index finger, run across the top of the chart until you reach "two-hour party." Then, with your left index finger, move down the left side of the table until you reach "dozens of hit songs." Next, bringing your fingers together down their respective column or row, they should meet at "Billy Joel's March 29 show at Freedom Hall."

Backed by an exceptional band — most notably longtime drummer Liberty DeVito and T-Bone Wolk, bass player for the Saturday Night Live band — Joel presented the new stuff early on, and sparingly; only a few of the selections were from his current album, River of Dreams. The audience responded well to the fresh material, but it was the second half of the show when things really heated up. Joel played hit after hit, sending ever-increasing numbers of dancers into the aisles.

Many artists give only semi-enthusiastic performances to semi-filled venues, but not Billy Joel. A multi-dimensional entertainer, Joel told humorous anecdotes about his life, did a few Elvis Presley imitations, and even belted out an excellent rendition of Jimi Hendrix's classic "Purple Haze." He left the fans in a frenzy when he finished his regular set with the classic "Only the Good Die Young."

Joel's encore was a perfect climax to the evening; he led off with "Big Shot" then finished with his signature "Piano Man."

Billy Joel is one of a short list of artists who can do a two-hour show and have every song be a gem. Equally impressive is his ability to string them together on a sparkling chain of patter.