Review: Elio Pace, David Brown & The Billy Joel Songbook Band, The Riverfront, Newport

Accomplished singer, songwriter and musician, Elio Pace already has a strong reputation as an excellent live entertainer. His award-winning show The Billy Joel Songbook has already delighted many fans of Mr Joel’s music. Hearsay has informed me that I’ve been missing out on Elio’s previous visits to Newport, so his latest show was marked well ahead on the calendar!

Stepping on to the Riverfront Theatre’s stage on Saturday evening, clutching a vinyl LP, Elio announced that this concert would be the second in the series of album shows. Each presentation showcasing two albums from start to finish. So, although hits like Piano Man and Uptown Girl would not be on the agenda, the audience would get live performances of Billy Joel’s albums, 1989’s Storm Front and 1976’s The Stranger in their entirety.

What immediately struck me about Elio Pace was how engaging he was with the Newport audience. Well presented in his red suit, he talks passionately, not only of Billy Joel but also the man’s music.  So much more than a fan performing for the fans, he shares memories of buying Joel’s albums and listening to them on large wired headphones on a record player in his parents living room back in 1989.

The good memories won’t remain in the past however, the music of Billy Joel is very much in the here and now as Elio and the Billy Joel Songbook band launch into That’s Not Her Style with meticulous attention to detail, drive, energy and passion. We Didn’t Start the Fire and I Go To Extremes are performed alongside album cuts, Shameless, Leningrad and State of Grace.

Each musician faithfully recreates the sounds of the original tracks while Elio retained Joel’s original classical nuances. As Mikey Ciancio recreates crashing waves of the sea on drums for Storm Front, Frank Walden recalls the awesome saxophone sound that was so prominent on many tracks of The Stranger. Keeping a steady bass line is the charismatic, Neil Fairclough, while Matthew Newton brings in essential keyboard sounds.  Completing the band line-up is Billy Joel’s lead guitarist from 1978 to 1991, David Brown, a real treat for the audience and a man who not only knows Billy Joel’s music, he was also there when much of it was recorded!

As Elio gives the audience insights into the story of the albums, David himself recalls working with Billy Joel in the studio and demonstrates a guitar playing style that was honed to perfection on those classic albums (as well as some little known and unaccredited overdubs on The Stranger.

The Stranger, despite been Billy Joel’s fourth LP; was also a “make or break” release for him, following little commercial success on his initial albums. For me, it was great hearing tracks like Moving Out (Anthony’s Song) and Just the Way You are performed live and recalling the energy and presence they emitted from my parent’s crackly medium- wave radio in the late 1970s! The atmosphere reached a peak as Elio encouraged the audience to get out of their seats and move to the albums only dance track, Only the Good Die Young, of which many, including myself, obliged!

The concert encored with a rendition of Everybody Has a Dream from the 1986 album, The Bridge, a track which echoed Elio’s personal sentiments that he has realised, going out on the road performing Billy Joel songs. The track also once more brought David Browns guitar playing to the forefront. A perfect close for a show that certainly gave value for money at over three hours! Billy Joel may not be touring his songbook himself, but he needn’t worry as Elio and his band are doing a cracking job on the live circuit on his behalf, don’t miss them when they tour with their next show.