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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Billy Joel: Kontsert


1) Odoya; 2) Angry Young Man; 3) Honesty; 4) Goodnight Saigon; 5) Stiletto; 6) Big Man On Mulberry Street; 7) Baby Grand; 8) An Innocent Man; 9) Allentown; 10) A Matter Of Trust; 11) Only The Good Die Young; 12) Some­times A Fantasy; 13) Uptown Girl; 14) Big Shot; 15) Back In The USSR; 16) The Times They Are A-Changin'.

It is really lovable how Amazon, and quite a few other websites (and maybe even book sources, too), announce this album as Kohuept, a word that sounds like a rather gross mix of Greek, Aztecan, and Klingon, but in reality, merely a consequence of one's inability to correctly trans­literate the word concert in its Cyrillic orthography. (First prize in this competition certainly goes to Paul McCartney's Choba B CCCP = Snova V SSSR, a.k.a. "Back In USSR" in Russian, but it seems to be Billy's regular fate to always remain the second runner-up next to Paul in everything he does. Even if «Kohuept» came first, in terms of sheer chronology).

Anyway, Billy took to the stage in Leningrad in the summer of 1987, with the Perestroika already in full swing but the Communist system still rigidly enforced, so I suppose that not a lot of people were even aware of the show taking place (certainly not myself, being 11 years old at the time and not having the least idea of who Billy Joel was in the first place — ah, the happy years...). Getting Western artists to perform in Russia was still a mind-boggling task, since everything had to be approved by Party officials responsible for culture policies; but then, the Party had already given the green light to Elton John nearly a whole decade ago, and if Elton was considered «clean» enough for innocent Soviet youth, I suppose there was no reason to be particularly sus­picious of Billy Joel. (Merely two years later, in 1989, we'd already have Black Sabbath in the country, but 1987 was still pretty much iron-curtainish for everybody).

Funny retro-bits keep cropping up throughout the show — for instance, the way it opens with a one-minute choral piece delivered by a Georgian folk ensemble (ʽOdoyaʼ), probably as a wel­come sign of Soviet international brotherhood, as well as a subtle reminder that all music stems from The People, rather than individualistic capitalist entrepreneurs; or the presence of a stiff, dorky-sounding, but perfectly professional interpreter, translating Billy's banter for the Russian audience (a practice that evaporated with the transition to capitalist economics, when it became necessary to pay these people money for their work); or the relative lack of excitement from the same audience after many tracks — since it was still common practice for Soviet audiences to sit quietly and politely at concerts, or you'd be in serious trouble with security. And, of course, there was no way in hell Billy could not do a cover of ʽBack In USSRʼ, especially since some of the Party officials present probably had difficulty distinguishing him from Paul in the first place, whereas the real music lovers present must have been hungry for anybody coming out there and doing ʽBack In The USSRʼ for them in real time. Could have been Uriah Heep.

How was the show itself? Decent. Leaning a bit too heavily on The Bridge material, perhaps, but this is understandable — a promotion tour is a promotion tour, let alone the fact that there was not much chance Soviet buyers could rush to any musical store in 1987 and get themselves a fresh copy of Billy's latest. ʽA Matter Of Trustʼ still sucks, ʽMulberry Streetʼ is still okay, and ʽBaby Grandʼ, deprived of its biggest attraction (Ray Charles), is now quite boring. The rest of the set­list is more or less evenly spread between all of Billy's career moments since 1976 (no early stuff at all), and the songs are performed with care and professionalism, but add nothing important to the original versions. The best thing I can say is that there are almost no clunkers on the list, but also no surprises — mostly just the hits.

At the end of the show, Billy trots back on stage with an acoustic guitar and plays us ʽThe Times They Are A-Changin'ʼ: a sensible gesture, since they were, but probably less appreciated than he could surmise, since Dylan's popularity in the USSR was largely restricted to a small intellectual circle (language barrier and all). And that pretty much sums it up: the entire Kontsert, from the very moment of its release, was more of a symbolic gesture than a really-necessary live album from a man who certainly shouldn't rank among the great live artists of his generation (and, to be honest, never ever strived for that kind of ranking). In the end, it makes much better sense to watch the video version of this stuff, if only for culturological reasons; without the picture, it's just another average Billy Joel show.

Check "Kontsert" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Kontsert" (MP3) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. "Merely two years later, in 1989, we'd already have Black Sabbath in the country."
    This reminds me of something I read a real long time ago. In the early 70's, during the peak of the first wave of hardrock/heavy metal, some apparatsjiks considered hardrock (I paraphraze from memory) the voice of the western proletariate, reflecting the sounds of factories and the hard circumstances of the workers there. Of course the SSSR being the paradise of the working class didn't have any need for such music.