Billy Joel is so very good at his craft that it's easy to ignore the limitations of his art. This was the temptation last night at the Capital Centre where Joel proved a charismatic entertainer. But he revealed no new dimensions to an already overly familiar style.
Joel's strong points last night were catchy melodies, sturdy piano playing, straightforward singing and just enough stage clowning. He finished off "only the Good Die Young" with a rousing shout and a flourish of piano triplets. Then he bounced up shadowboxing and showing off his garish orange jacket.
He gave "Piano man" a nicely understated reading. When the mike went dead, he covered with some mime, and sprinted to another mike. Though his backing quintet was compentent, Joel was able to captivate the arena with just his voice and piano.
Because last night was the first stop on a month-long national tour it constituted the world premiere of the new songs from Joel's forthcoming album. But the uptempo "All for Lana" and the comic "I Just May Be The Lunatic You're Looking For" betrayed no real departures from what Joel has already done.
Though Joel displayed good taste, his models for limitation were often transparently obvious. Last evenings' show included close copies of Steely Dan ("Zanzibar"), the Righteous Brother (Until the Night"), Bob Dylan ("Piano Man") and Paul McCartney (about half the set).
Joel's melodies for tunes like "Just the Way You Are" are strong enough to be pop standards for years to come. But harmonically, they are fairly simple. The changes began to sound very similar before long.Put together with the obvious aphorisms Joel employes as lyrics, they limited the surprises his songs were capable of.