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Billy Joel in Black and White (A Video Review)


Featuring Billy Joel, Tommy Byrnes and Mark Rivera.

Directed by Steven Cohen.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 49 minutes. Not Rated.

Billy Joel has long since given up on being a recording artist – his last pop album was River of Dreams in 1993, and he did also release one classical album called Fantasies & Delusions in 2001.

Now he is known almost entirely as a touring act, doing regular shows around the world and also doing a historic residency at Madison Square Garden once a month since early 2014 (with, of course, a nearly two-year halt due to COVID from March 2020 to October 2021). He’s become a very comfortable showman – not that he wasn’t always. (The first time I personally saw him perform live was at the very tail end of The Stranger tour in 1978 and he was already a natural.)

Billy Joel in Black and White captures a Billy Joel concert which isn’t exactly a Billy Joel concert. This show in Miami was actually sort of a mixture of a show and a seminar, a brief but fascinating look at Joel’s life, his music and his inspirations done with a limited band – Joel on piano and vocals, Tommy Byrnes on guitar and Mark Rivera contributing sax and vocals.

Billy Joel in Black and White almost like one of those old performance shows on MTV (Unplugged) and VH1 (Storytellers), in which an established artist does a short set (49 minutes!) in which he discusses his life and career and shares some lo-fi takes on some of his classic tunes and some covers that are particularly meaningful to him as an artist. And it’s all shot in moody black and white, as the title suggests.

The covers are sometimes things you may expect from Joel (Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” and The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”) Others are more unexpected (Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale,” Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Take Five,” as well as a very credible piano take on Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 3”). All are well performed, if rather faithful to the originals. Still, it’s interesting to hear Joel’s distinctive voice take on these tunes.

Joel also mines through his back catalogue, picking some of the big hits, but more of the surprising fan favorites. Therefore, lesser remembered tunes like “Zanzibar,” “Baby Grand,” “Root Beer Rag,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and… of course, since this is filmed in Miami… “Miami 2017 (I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)” make welcome appearances.

Even the hits are sort of surprising, while a sweet run through “Piano Man” hits the spot, other songs like “Allentown,” “The Longest Time” “New York State of Mind” and even “Only the Good Die Young” are far from the obvious picks, and a fine reminder of the depth and range of Joel’s body of work.

The songs are terrific, and the stories are entertaining. Billy Joel in Black and White is time well spent.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: June 11, 2022.

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