Booked to review a concert entitled, ‘The Billy Joel’s Songbook’, I wondered what I’d let myself in for. I took my daughter, aged sixteen, and her friend with me (was that a mistake I wondered?) as well as my husband. Although I’d obviously heard Billy Joel’s music on umpteen occasions, I did wonder if this was going to be one of those hackneyed tribute concerts which manage to massacre the original or a quality experience that really credits the work of the original artist.
Much to my relief, it was very much the latter. Elio Pace and his quite brilliant band, managed to capture the complexity, beauty, and magic of Billy Joel’s music. Not surprising really when you realise that, last September, Pace was invited to star in two special-reunion concerts in New York and Philadelphia with Joel’s original 70s touring band to great acclaim. With his fantastic voice and amazing piano virtuosity Pace dominated the stage. As hit followed hit, it was obvious that everyone in the audience were having the time of their lives. I looked across at the two sixteen-year-olds and noticed that they too were enjoying every minute.
The strength of Pace’s band was obvious. There was a huge debate afterwards as to who was the most talented. Was it the incredible sax player, Pete Effamy, whose depth and versatility left everyone in awe, or the talented guitar player, Tom Wright, just nineteen years of age, whose stage presence and sense of fun engaged and enthralled? John Meaney, Neil Fairclough and Joe Evans on keys, bass and drums completed this tight, cohesive, and talented group. Theirs was a polished performance but not one that lost its edge. It was obvious that there was a comfortable and jovial relationship between the band members which was conveyed to the audience.
Pace, a knowledgeable presenter, took us on a musical tour from Billy Joel’s desire to become a classical musician through to his rise to fame in the rock world. Each story was littered with anecdotes and musical explanations cleverly illustrated through his expert piano playing. I couldn’t help but suspect that music would be the most popular option on the school curriculum if everyone had Pace as a music teacher. Alas, I suspect that Pace would be, ‘far too cool for school’. However, don’t worry – this wasn’t a lecture tour – the balance between talk and music was justifiably weighted in music’s favour and the band definitely gave value for money. This was a fast-paced show and every Billy Joel song you could think of (and some you couldn’t) was given the Pace treatment. Entertaining, electric, and exciting to watch, hear, and experience – this was an assault on the senses.
Towards the end of the show, everyone was up on their feet and a party air descended on the audience. The two sixteen year olds were bopping along with everyone else (and far better than most), cheering loudly as each song came to an end. On the drive back home, they agreed that it was a great night and would recommend it to anyone their age. I was equally enthusiastic and it was obvious from the standing ovation that everyone else that night was in agreement.
This is a seventy-date tour and fulfils a life-long ambition for Elio and his band. It is the UK and Ireland’s first-ever theatre tour of Billy Joel songs. So, if the tour comes anywhere near you, book your tickets. You won’t be disappointed.
Review by Elizabeth Lickiss