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Billy Joel 30 years ago this summer six shows that shook the world Russia 1987
Jul 31, 2017
A Look Back: 30th Anniversary Of Billy Joel In Former Soviet Union Circa 1987

Thirty years ago this month, the whole world looked on as Billy Joel took his family, his music and his concert show to the former Soviet Union.

The signing of the Soviet American cultural accord during the Geneva summit of 1985 had opened a new era in cultural relations between the two countries. After a half dozen fallow years following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, Soviet cultural planners and American impresarios once again started to lay the groundwork for ambitious cultural exchange projects. Concert tours, movie co-productions, record deals, art exchanges, and a host of other programs were proposed by both Soviets and Americans. Gorbachev’s glasnost (policy of greater openness) encouraged artistic expression and cultural exchange in areas that had previously been taboo or strictly controlled. The most visible and glamorous of these areas was that of rock music.

Billy’s tour was not only unprecedented at the time, it was tremendously exciting, and a vivid demonstration of music’s power to connect and communicate. Pulling off the historic tour – which began July 26, 1987 in Moscow and ran through August 5 in Leningrad – was a monumental task, and was an important moment in Billy’s career. The sheer exuberance of the Soviet concertgoers was clear as they were energized by Billy’s music with six total shows in the two Russian cities.

During the first concert at the Olympic Sports Complex in Moscow, Billy won over the audience, which had never experienced a full stadium rock concert from an American artist before. That audience goodwill continued through the full series of concerts, helping to create an unforgettable, groundbreaking experience for everyone involved. A documentary crew was in tow to capture the events surrounding the concerts, and they filmed each concert, footage of which was released in Live From Leningrad, along with the original concert album Kohuept.

At the second show in Moscow, on July 27, Billy focused on uptempo songs and the audience responded by waving their arms and dancing, establishing a connection between Billy, the band and the crowd that was particularly striking. The documentary crew wanted to capture the moment with better footage of the audience, and began turning the house lights on the first few rows of concertgoers. The lights had an oppressive effect for the audience members, who would stop reacting to the music when the lights came on, in fear that they would be targeted by security guards.

Billy was performing “Sometimes A Fantasy” on stage, but saw the fans’ reaction to the lights, and shouted several times for the crew to stop lighting the audience. When this didn’t work, Billy gripped his Yamaha piano and flipped it onto the ground, sending shards of the instrument flying, and then went on to smash his microphone stand. The crew got the message and stopped lighting the audience, who continued to enjoy the show. American newspapers later skewered Billy for the piano flip, calling the incident a tantrum – “Billy’s Red Rage!”

The moment was captured in an HBO special and an ABC documentary. A new film was created and released in 2014 entitled, A Matter of Trust – The Bridge To Russia, released on Blu-ray with an expanded 2CD album. Here is a clip from that film, and some photos from the tour:

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Billy Joel performs live in concert in the former Soviet Union in summer 1987. Photo by Neal Preston

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Billy Joel performs live in concert in the former Soviet Union in summer 1987. Photo by Neal Preston

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Billy Joel performs live in concert in the former Soviet Union in summer 1987. Photo by Neal Preston

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Billy Joel performs live in concert in the former Soviet Union in summer 1987. Photo by Neal Preston

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Billy Joel performs live in concert in the former Soviet Union in summer 1987. Photo by Neal Preston

Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union 1987. Photo by Neal Preston.
Christie Brinkley holds a U.S. newspaper with the headline “Rockin’ Billy’s Red Rage!” following the piano flip in Moscow, while Billy and friends look on. Photo by Neal Preston.


A Matter Of Trust – The Bridge To Russia poster.


A street poster for Billy Joel in concert in the former Soviet Union during summer 1987.

DATE VENUE CITY NOTES
7/26/87 Olympic Sports Complex Moscow Tour Of The USSR
7/27/87 Olympic Sports Complex Moscow Tour Of The USSR (Billy Flips Yamaha Piano)
7/29/87 Olympic Sports Complex Moscow Tour Of The USSR
8/2/87 Lenin Sports & Concert Complex Leningrad Tour Of The USSR (Broadcast Live on radio)
8/3/87 Lenin Sports & Concert Complex Leningrad Tour Of The USSR
8/5/87 Lenin Sports & Concert Complex Leningrad Tour Of The USSR

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