In 1987, while touring in support of his 10th studio album, which was appropriately titled The Bridge, Billy Joel and his band became the first rock ‘n’ roll act from the United States to perform in the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program. Portions of those concerts have been previously released on Kohuept – a live album, and Live in Leningrad, 1987, a concert film released on VHS. Both have been expanded with previously unreleased footage and share the new title, A Matter of Trust – The Bridge to Russia. The audio and video are available separately and are also collected together in a Deluxe Edition, which exclusively includes a tour documentary that recently aired on Showtime and a booklet with rare photos and liner notes.
Seeing American pianist Van Cliburn playing Moscow in 1958 influenced Joel’s decision to go, and he says “the trip to Russia was probably the biggest highlight for me as a performer.” Edited together from different nights, the concert DVD offers a 16-song performance by Joel and his talented band. Six of the songs were previously unreleased as was the bonus song “Pressure.” Why they couldn’t insert them into the main feature is beyond me. What is most notable about the show is the relationship between the crowd and the band. They feed off each others’ energy and enthusiasm.
The first song is “Angry Young Man,” and it makes sense with the government oppression they live under that the Russian kids would connect with the sentiment, but when they are just as enthralled by the seemingly U.S.-centric songs “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon,” the latter about the Vietnam War where the U.S. and Soviets were on opposing sides, it reveals a truth about the shared humanity between peoples, contradicting the propaganda from both governments at the time.
“The Longest Time” not only finds most of the band at the front of the stage doing doo-wop, but has Joel going crowd-surfing, though he needs help from the band and crew to get back to the stage as many who are holding him up ignore his directions. With the presumed barrier between artist and audience broken, a young man jumps on stage, which understandably startles Joel, but then the singer interacts once he realizes the kid poses no danger. During “You May be Right,” he asks a young girl to tie his shoe and during “Big Shot,” he ventures back out to surf the crowd with similar results.
Joel steps out from behind from the piano a few times during the show to sing at the front of the stage. He picks up a guitar for “A Matter Of Trust” and brings his daughter Alexa out from under the stage, the proud papa showing her off, during “Uptown Girl.” When Joel asks the crowd if they like the Beatles, they roar in the affirmative so he closes with the apropos “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to their great delight.
Throughout the video, Joel proves to be quite the entertainer, a talent as a songwriter, bandleader, and performer. From the reception received, it seemed much more than just rock ‘n’ roll for the vast majority in attendance.
The audio release adds 11 previously unreleased tracks to Kohuept and nine tracks that don’t appear on the video, including popular songs like “She’s Always A Woman” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” and a couple from rehearsals, “New York State Of Mind” and another Beatles cover, “She Loves You.”
For Deluxe-Edition buyers, the 72-minute documentary provides great insight into the historical significance of Joel’s Russian concerts, both from a political perspective and also an individual one for many of those involved who are interviewed. Although the first show was supposed to be in Moscow, word leaked of the rehearsal in Georgia and they ended up playing to a full house there. It’s here you get to see footage shot during the travels that reveals personal connections made. Everyone seems gracious and thankful for the opportunity, although Joel’s wife at the time, Christie Brinkley, comes off as a tad obnoxious with multiple shirts with “USA” across the front.
Considering the material unique to each format, I highly recommend the Deluxe Edition of Billy Joel’s A Matter of Trust – The Bridge to Russia because it’s all worth having.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00IL0GLU4]