It was a big deal when Billy Joel toured the Soviet Union in 1987. Very few American artists had been able to crack the Iron Curtain so his series of concerts were historic. And if you were going to play a series of concerts in Russia in the late eighties you might as well record a live album.
Kohuept was a hastily assembled affair, basically documenting his Leningrad concert. While it does not reach the caliber of his first live release, Songs In The Attic, it does present an accurate picture of Joel's concert style at the time. The album has also aged fairly well. Maybe many of the songs were too new or overplayed at the time, but when I listened to the album earlier today it was better than I remembered.
I could have done without the Russian choir’s performance of “Odoya” leading off the album but Joel was in Russia. Apart from that, the packaging, and one other song, this concert could have been taken from anywhere in the world.
The real opening is a powerful “Prelude/Angry Young Man” which is a showcase for his piano expertise and vocal prowess. I also like the simplicity of “Honesty,” which is stripped to the basics of piano and vocal.
The album may drag in a few places but the center of the concert is high energy pop/rock at its best. “An Innocent Man” is extended to over six minutes which allows for some improvisation. “Allentown” is Joel at his gritty vocal best. “A Matter Of Trust” and “Only The Good Die Young,” which are performed back to back, is what his music is all about.
He was touring in support of The Bridge at the time and his performance of “Big Man On Mulberry Street” brings the song alive. The studio version had a big band feel and remains my favorite track on that album. While it does not have the full feel of the studio track, it still is interesting and, at over seven minutes, there is room for more improvisation.
There are some misses, however. “Baby Grand” pales next to the studio version. “Uptown Girl” has some nice harmonies but just cannot match the layered vocals of the original. And he seems to be going through the motions on “Big Shot.”
His version of “Back In The U.S.S.R.” is competent but he is not the Beatles, but then again it was an obvious song choice. Also, his version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’” shows that he's not Bob Dylan either and his intent to make a statement about the Soviet Union of 1987 sounds very dated today.
Kohuept is enjoyable, regardless, and presents Joel's music live in a unique setting. It remains a somewhat ignored album in his catalog but it's decent enough to deserve a listen every now and then.