Big Shot (Zion-019)
Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – May 21st, 1979
Disc 1: Opening (The Mexican Connection), Prelude/Angry Young Man, Summer Highland Falls, Piano Man, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), Honesty, My Life, New York State Of Mind, Miami 2017 , Vienna, Stiletto
Disc 2: Until The Night, Zanzibar, Root Beer Rag, The Stranger, Just The Way You Are, The Ballad Of Billy The Kid, Member Introduction, Big Shot, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, Only The Good Die Young, Souvenir
After Billy Joel achieved superstardom with the release of The Stranger in 1977, he expectations were high for the follow up. The next album, 52nd Street, spent seventy-eight weeks on the Billboard chart hitting number one and earned Joel a Grammy award. The LP has been certified 7X platinum, is the first ever LP commercially released on compact disc, and is number 352 of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums.
The subsequent tour was his biggest to date including two separate individual ones of the U.S. The dates in Japan were his second trip after playing a few shows there in April 1978. Big Shot presents a new audience recording of the first of two sold out shows in the Budokan. This tape has never circulated before and there are not many releases from this tour to talk about. It is a good but distant and bass heavy audience recording.
Some of the detail is lost in the mix and Joel’s talking onstage is a bit difficult to hear at times but it captures the atmosphere of the event perfectly. Most of the tape is in stereo except for the member introduction, “Big Shot,” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant,” which are in mono. The beginning of “Vienna” is missing, but otherwise it presents the complete show from start to finish. Zion advertise this as having “amazing sound.” While that isn’t exactly true, it does have a good live sound and given the rarity of tapes from this tour is an important release.
Joel changed the set list slightly for the Japanese dates from the U.S. dates. “Mexican Connection” and “Angry Young Man,” which was the opener in 1977, was restored as the opener after being later in the show. This combination replaces “The Stranger” which was the opener for the U.S. dates. The new album is played except for four songs: “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” “Half A Mile Away,” “Until The Night,” and the title track.
The tape fades in with the very beginning of “The Mexican Connection” and some conversations by the tape is audible before Joel takes the stage and begins “Angry Young Man.” With its shifting key signatures and multiple melodies, this is the closest that Joel ever got to progressive rock. “Sorry I can’t move the piano. It’s not like a guitar” he says afterwards. He tunes the harmonica and plays a bit of “Dixie” and says, “What’s with the lights, man” before starting “Piano Man.”
There are inaudible screams from the audience as he counts in for “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” which begins slightly distorted but clears up. “New York State Of Mind” begins with a unique blues improvisation stretching the duration of the piece to ten minutes and is followed by “Miami 2017.” This is one of his more obscure songs but has always been (and still is) a favorite stage piece. This rendition is sounds great with the synthesizer beginning bouncing off the walls of the big hall creating a deep echo.
“Stiletto” is dedicated to the Marquis De Sade, a joke which doesn’t have an effect upon the audience. This is followed by two more songs from the new LP, “Until The Night” and “Zanzibar.” The latter didn’t survive long in Joel’s live repertoire which is a shame since it is a compelling piece with catchy jazz inspired interludes, and “Root Beer Rag” is a nice, fast paced instrumental.
“The Stranger” is played in juxtaposition with “Just The Way You Are.” It is ironic that a song speaking about the roles that we play and the difficulty in knowing who are lovers really are is followed by a tender ballad celebrating the love that one has for the initial appearance of the beloved. “Big Shot” is the big hit off of the new album and Joel sings the words with noticeable hostility in his voice and a sneer in the cadences.
“Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” is the set closer and the audience receives this mini-epic medley very well. It makes one wish it were in stereo as the other songs on the tape though. “Only The Good Die Young” and “Souvenir” are the two encores for Tokyo on this night. It’s difficult to find out if he played more than these two shows in Japan since information on his tours is very hard to come by.
Zion package this in a double slimline jewel case with nice glossy paper inserts with photos from the era. Big Shot isn’t the greatest sounding recording, but since it’s been almost two years since the last great Billy Joel silver release, this is a welcome title.