If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Billy Joel live, you would’ve witnessed his power to completely captivate an entire room of people. And even if you haven’t; the strength and capacity of his voice, songwriting skills and piano playing is enough to just melt you no matter which way you listen to it. It’s the type of music that makes you catch your breath, your heart beat a little faster and the hair stand up on the back of your arms.
Notorious for bringing performances that are as close to the real deal as you’re going to get, The Newport Record Club’s Billy Joel night was no exception. The Real Estate Novelists – a supergroup made up of Michael de Grussa (Eskimo Joe), Ben Elphick (The Desert Bells), Jon Stockman (Karnivool), Dylan Hooper (Boom! Bap! Pow!), Steve Hensby (Steve Hensby band) and Russell Loasby (The Autumn Isles) – paid tribute to Billy Joel’s The Stranger in all its brilliant entirety last Thursday night, and it was nothing short of incredible.
Starting the night with a small introduction of ‘are you ready for some Billy Joel’, frontman vocalist and piano player Michael de Grussa launched into Movin’ Out backed by a band that exuded energy, charisma and that super catchy Billy Joel vibe. By The Stranger, The Real Estate Novelists had shown the crowd that this was far more spectacular than just your average ‘cover band night’ and their rendition of Just the Way You Are retained its appropriate appeal and sense of delicacy.
With exceptional piano skills from de Grussa, stunning jazzed-up sax licks from Hooper and the tightness of the band as a whole, The Real Estate Novelists delivered the last track off the first side of the record, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. And with shouts from the audience that it was the best song on the album, you knew the band had to do it justice – and they did.
The melodic-madness of Only the Good Die Young and the simplicity love-struck tone of Always a Women to Me were the highlights off side two. de Grussa’s skilful finger work continued to uphold, hammering the keys like there was no tomorrow and the fans hung on to his every word. The instrument changes from Hensby and Hooper, along with the band’s acidic passion for Billy Joel’s music, helped to deliver the full affect of the album as they finalised the record with Everybody Has a Dream. But the show was far from being over.
The encores were a wall-to-wall of hits which showcased Billy Joel’s most brilliant work including You May Be Right and My Life. de Grussa’s quirky snippets of The Muppet Show impersonations kept the crowd further entertained too, showing off his sense of humour and depth of talent as a showman. The only disappointment was missing out on what would’ve been great versions of We Didn’t Start the Fire and It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me; but when the familiar sounds of the harmonica filled the room for Billy Joel’s ultimate classic, you knew you were still in for one spicy finale.
It was the unequivocal moment of the night as de Grussa strapped on the harmonica holder. And with just the first few notes of Piano Man, he sent the audience wild. Nothing quite captures Billy Joel’s lasting appeal like a well-crafted version of such an awe-inspiring track – and it was delivered in the full heartfelt way.
A night of Beatles-esque hooks, rhythmic warmth and benchmark pop-hits, Thursday’s Billy Joel night was filled with faithful renditions of songs that have held a very firm place in music history and fan’s hearts. And although the crowd turn out was a bit of a downer compared to the other Record Club nights, everyone in the room was positively buzzing from The Real Estate Novelists’ performance. And why wouldn’t you be? If any local act was going to pay tribute to one of pop-rock music’s greatest songsmiths – the ‘piano man’ himself – these guys certainly would have had to be it.
Special thanks to Erin Macliver for the use of her images.
Ready for the final night of the Record Club for season 4? Rage Against the Machine is up next!