Billy Joel - vocals, piano; Russel Javors - guitar; Doug Stegmayer - bass; Liberty DeVito - drums
A mere five days after the release of Billy Joel's breakthrough second album, Piano Man, he was invited to tape a performance before an intimate audience at New York City's Palace Theatre for inclusion on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert television program. Virtually unknown, this performance would expose him to a large national viewing audience for the very first time. While he was only allotted enough time to perform a handful of songs, Joel, accompanied by his three cohorts, Russel Javors, Doug Stegmayer, and Liberty Devito, delivers material from the album when it was fresh and new. Although the first two songs that were filmed for the broadcast ("Somewhere Along The Line" and "Captain Jack") were not captured on this raw soundboard tape, the last 13 minutes of Joel's brief set was captured in its unedited entirety, including some humorous expletive-laden stage banter that was edited out and a key song that was not included in the broadcast.
The recording begins with a thoroughly engaging country and western arrangement of Joel's "The Ballad Of Billy The Kid." Sung as a narrative, this cinematic song tells the tale of the famous outlaw, before concluding with autobiographical references to Joel's own life. This song, which was not included in the television broadcast, clearly shows a distinctive talent and a tight band during their formative era. Concerned that an overly enthusiastic audience member wielding a whistle will negatively effect the taping, Joel encourages said audience member to forego the whistling, in a manner that showcases plenty of Long Island swagger and attitude amidst his nervousness. As one can tell from Joel's stage banter, this taping was a big deal for him at the time and he says as much directly to the audience. Hearing him introduce "Piano Man," arguably the quintessential Billy Joel song, prior to anyone in the audience recognizing it, is a pure delight, as is the performance that follows. Although based on real people, this somewhat fictionalized account of his recent days as a lounge singer touches on a theme he would return to frequently -- people who wished to do great things with their lives, but are just surviving the best they can. Needless to say, this perfectly crafted song would strike a nerve, soon becoming a permanent presence on radio and bringing Joel the first of many hit songs.
Although brief, this remarkable performance would significantly help kick-start a monumentally successful career that has now spanned four decades. The nature of this raw soundboard recording, with nervous between song stage banter still intact, is a revealing glimpse at the young Billy Joel just beginning to make his mark.