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Piano Man Billy Joel returns from hiatus with renewed vigor


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Billy Joel has no interest in boring you with his new stuff.

In fact, he doesn't even have any new stuff.

The Piano Man stopped writing pop songs in 1993 -- promising on the "River of Dreams" album's last song, "These are the last words I have to say" -- and he hasn't looked back.

Asked last year if he missed writing pop songs, he gave The New York Times a simple "no," and when pressed, he added that he got bored with it: "Very nice box to be in for a while, but then it becomes like a coffin."

Billy Joel
Where: Consol Energy Center, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $52-$125; www.ticketmaster.com

And so when he sits down to write, he composes "piano pieces, orchestral music, dramatic pieces," without the words, as heard on 2001's "Fantasies and Delusions."

That is not the Billy Joel fans want when his name is on the marquee, so the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will be at Consol Energy Center on Friday doing the classic songs he wrote and recorded between 1971 and 1993. It's his first show ever at Consol and his first trip to Pittsburgh since playing the Mellon Arena in April 2008.

He hasn't rolled out with his band much since then.

In 2009, he resumed the Face to Face tour with Elton John -- which played Three Rivers Stadium in '94 and the arena in 2003 -- and that spilled into early 2010. There was talk they would do PNC Park in July 2010, but Mr. Joel decided that he wanted to be a "bum" that summer.

That decision led to the Great Piano Man Feud of 2011, prompted by Elton telling Rolling Stone that February, "At the end of the day, he's coasting. I always say, 'Billy, can't you write another song?' It's either fear or laziness. It upsets me. Billy's a conundrum. We've had so many canceled tours because of illnesses and various other things, alcoholism."

OK, so it was a bit of a Cold War, actually, as Billy sent Elton a private letter, then finally told The New York Times Magazine in May 2013, "That's his opinion. I don't [write new songs] because I don't wanna. He tends to shoot off his mouth -- he shoots from the hip. I think his heart is in the right place. Maybe he's trying to motivate me, to get me mad or something. He's kind of like a mom."

It prompted the interviewer to say, "He actually kind of looks like a mom," to which the naturally bald Mr. Joel responded, "Yeah, he's got mom hair."

Insults traded, they finally patched things up last June at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony, but there's been no Face to Face, and Mr. Joel has had a quiet couple of years.

He opened the 20th Century Cycles motorcycle shop in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in November 2010 and planned to release an autobiography in 2011 before deciding, according to Billboard, that he was "not all that interested in talking about the past, and that the best expression of my life and its ups and downs has been and remains my music."

In lieu of new music, the only releases from him have been Columbia recycling his catalog, the latest being last year's "She's Got a Way: Love Songs."

What brought him out of exile was the Hurricane Sandy benefit concert at Madison Square Garden in December 2012. He didn't look like a spring chicken, but he delivered one of the strongest performances of the night, starting with the timely choice of "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" (from "Turnstiles") and moving on to such hits as "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" "New York State of Mind" and "Only the Good Die Young."

Even with Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Paul McCartney and Kanye West on hand, Rolling Stone said, "He almost blew every other performer off the stage."

And he did it all sitting down. Chalk it up in part to the home-field advantage -- he was the one repping New York City -- along with his virtuosic piano work and extra fire in his vocals.

That performance set the stage for his New Year's Eve concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and his current residency as the fourth franchise at MSG, joining the Knicks, Rangers and the WNBA's Liberty. He's doing monthly concerts there, marking 50 years as a professional musician, including his 65th birthday May 9. All nine announced have sold out.

They began Jan. 27 with, again, "Miami 2017," and along with the hits, the hometown crowd got such rarities as "Everybody Loves You Now" (from his 1971 debut "Cold Spring Harbor") and "Summer, Highland Falls" (from 1976's "Turnstiles").

The set, he told Billboard, is fluid -- befitting an old pro.

"I keep changing [stuff] all the time when I'm on stage. I'm a band guy, and when the band sounds good and everybody's on point and they want to try stuff, I get into it. I'm having fun swinging with this band. When somebody wants to contribute something, I listen to them. I have the final say if I want, but I don't always know, so I defer to people."


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