Friday, April 13, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rock Music

He's Between Rock And A Hard Place

Poor Billy Joel.

You'd think the well-established rock star, who plays Sunday in the Tacoma Dome, would be rolling in dough. But according to a current lawsuit he's practically broke. He says his former manager, Frank Weber, brother of his former wife, Elizabeth, stole most of the profits from his records and concert tours. Last month, a New York supreme-court judge awarded Joel $2 million in a partial summary judgment of his $90-million lawsuit against Weber. The rest of the suit will be heard later this year, according to a report in Rolling Stone.

Joel's money troubles are one reason he's doing such extensive touring behind his new album, ``Storm Front.'' The feisty piano-man plans to be on the road a full year, even though he hates being away from his wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley, and their 4-year-old daughter, Alexa Ray (for Ray Charles).

Joel, who now is his own manager, has already enjoyed two hit singles from ``Storm Front,'' which was released last October. ``We Didn't Start The Fire,'' a litany of historical references starting the year Joel was born, 1949, through the massacre at Tiananmen Square, went to No. 1 earlier this year. ``I Go to Extremes,'' an apologia for his erratic personality, directed to his wife, reached the Top 20.

``We Didn't Start the Fire'' got a lot of attention from educators for its snapshot views of modern history. High school contemporary history classes use it to learn about the post-war world. Columbia Records, in conjunction with Scholastic magazine, even made available to teachers a special cassette tape of the song, complete with Joel's comments on how it came about. The tape comes with a lesson plan and a newspaper-style poster that explains the song's many historical references.

The song is a good example of Joel's skills. It moves at a swift pace and the rhymes are clever, but there's no depth - it's just a list. ``I Go to Extremes'' is also superficial - it tries to be personal and confessional, but doesn't ring true.

Musically, Joel never goes to extremes. He's a competent pop songwriter who, at his best, composes wonderful love songs (``Just the Way You Are,'' ``She's Always a Woman'') and hard-edged social commentary (``Allentown,'' ``Goodnight Saigon''), but more often sinks into hackneyed melodrama and empty show-biz cliches.

The last time he played here, in 1986 in the Tacoma Dome, his show was full of hollow gestures, including obviously scripted ``ad libs'' and a bit where he accepted a big bouquet of flowers from someone in the audience then used it as a prop to joke about beauty queens (``I hope to use my beauty for the peace of mankind'') - it looked real, but the presenter was an actress and the flowers were plastic; it was part of the act.

Reportedly there's a bit in the current show, during the song ``Angry Young Man,'' involving his piano stool that also appears to be happenstance but isn't - and the audience falls for it every time.

Joel works hard in concert - the show is almost 2 1/2 hours long, with no opening act - and he emphasizes the rocking songs rather than the ballads; there are only two slow songs in the whole set.

He's backed by his seven-piece band, including longtime members Liberty DeVitto on drums, saxophonist Mark Rivera and guitarist David Brown, and newcomers Jeff Jacobs on keyboards, Schuyler Deale on bass and Mindy Jostyn and Crystal Taliefero on keyboards and percussion.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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