Glass Houses In Japan (Zion-025)
Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, released in March 1980, was his biggest selling album to date and spawned two number one Billboard hits, “It’s Still Rock N Roll To Me” and “Don’t Ask Me Why.” He toured North America throughout the year including several sold out dates at Madison Square Garden in New York and The Forum in Los Angeles.
In 1981 Joel toured Australia, New Zealand and Japan for the third time in his career. The visit to Japan was seven dates long and took place from April 15th in Tokyo to April 24th in Kyoto. Probably due to the paucity of shows this year, not many titles have surfaced from these dates in current circulation.
Glass Houses In Japan presents two consecutive nights, the third show of the tour (and final of three in Tokyo) and the fourth show tour in Osaka. Both tapes are from the same taper who was quite active in the eighties and early nineties and who taped shows by Pink Floyd, Genesis, Toto, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger. The sound quality for both Tokyo and Osaka are very good but slightly distant, presenting a very good live atmosphere for these rare shows.
The setlist for these shows are the same as on all the Japan dates. He dropped many of the older songs featured in the 1980 shows (and recorded for Songs in The Attic, released in November 1981) and focused upon material from The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses.
Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – April 17th, 1981
Disc 1 (42:49): Opening, You May Be Right, My Life, Honesty, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), Piano Man, Don’t Ask Me Why, Vienna, The Stranger
Disc 2 (61:46): Stiletto, Until The Night, Let ‘Em In, Root Beer Rag, She’s Always A Woman, Just The Way You Are, Sleeping With A Television On, All For Leyna, Sometimes A Fantasy, Big Shot, It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me, I’ll Cry Instead, Band Introduction, Only The Good Die Young, Souvenir
April 17th is the third and final night in the Budokan. Songs in the East (Private Masters PM021/22) is another release documenting this show (and is the only other silver release of any of the Japan shows), and is sourced from an older audience tape.
Zion is very clear and enjoyable, perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the performance. Joel is extremely laid back and loose, telling jokes and interacting with the audience on many occasions. It’s often difficult to understand exactly what is going out without visual cues, but the crowd are laughing and really enjoying themselves.
Both “You May Be Right” and “My Life” are rocking and, dripping with bad attitude and sarcasm, set the tone of the night. Before starting “Honesty” Joel makes a joke about Rodan, speaking in a mock Japanese accent (something which a decade later would be considered racist and insensitive, but is all in good fun).
While he’s getting ready for “Piano Man,” putting on the harmonica holder, he imitates Bob Dylan and sings the opening lines to “She Belongs To Me.” He gives a very passionate rendition of the song, banging out the waltz meter with gusto. Afterwards, he relieves the tension afterwards by playing a bit of “Popeye The Sailor Man” and “Yankee Doodle” while the band start the Latin beat of “Don’t Ask Me Why.”
After playing “Until The Night” Joel leads the band into an impromptu version of Wings’ “Let ‘Em In.” They play the song up until the first verse as a tribute to Paul McCartney and his band who officially disbanded about this time.
Joel also offers a tribute to John Lennon later in the show with “I’ll Cry Instead.” The only encores are an impassioned version of “Only The Good Die Young” and “Souvenir,” which is, after “The Piano Man,” the second oldest song played the entire night.
Furitsu-Taiikukan, Osaka, Japan – April 20th, 1981
Disc 3 (40:18): Opening, You May Be Right, My Life, Honesty, Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song), Piano Man, Don’t Ask Me Why, Vienna, The Stranger
Disc 4 (61:53): Stiletto, Until The Night, Root Beer Rag, She’s Always A Woman, Just The Way You Are, Sleeping With The Television On, All For Leyna, Sometimes A Fantasy, Big Shot, It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me, I’ll Cry Instead, Band Introduction, Only The Good Die Young, Souvenir
April 20th is the first of two nights at the Festival Hall in Osaka. The recording is slightly more distant from the stage than the Budokan show on the first two discs of this collection, but still very listenable and enjoyable. Also like the Tokyo, there are no cuts in the music, presenting the entire concert.
The setlist remains the same as before. Osaka is a good and tight performance, but Joel is a bit less wired than before with less audience interaction and overall silliness.
He begins with ferocious versions of “You May Be Right” and “My Life.” Before “Piano Man” he teases the audience several times by leading the band into playing the opening notes of Steven Foster’s “Oh! Susanna” several times and “I Wish I Was in Dixie” once before actually playing the song.
Before “Don’t Ask Me Why” he asks for help from the road crew to keep the Latin rhythm going. The Osaka audience are really into the number, clapping and whistling along.
“Stiletto” is stretched as like it was the previous show. Joel liked to create dramatic tension by banging the staccato rhythm, taking his time singing the verses and continuing the song’s narrative. It’s a simple yet effective way to create drama before the more placid “Until The Night.”
The ending measures of “Star Spangled Banner” serve as a prelude before “Sleeping With The Television On,” meant to recall a television’s nightly sign-off (these were the days before 24 hour network programming – even HBO signed off, not switching to a 24 hour format until September 1981).
He sings some lines in “Big Shot” in a really deep and annoying nasal voice, all in good fun. “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” and a cover of The Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead” close the show. When Joel returns for the encores, he introduces the band before leading them into “Only The Good Die Young” and “Souvenir.” A recording of The Beatles’ “Goodnight,” played through the PA system, closes the tape.
Both Billy Joel titles and the Zion label have been very scarce the past couple of years. It’s a shame because they could have been releasing many extraordinary shows and artists. Glass Houses In Japan is a step up in sound quality and documentation compared to Zion’s previous Joel title Big Shot in 2007 and is worth having.