Recalling Billy Joel's '87 tour of Russia

Billy Joel's 1987 tour of the former Soviet Billy Joel's 1987 tour of the former Soviet Union will be part of the new set "A Matter of Trust -- The Bridge to Russia." Photo Credit: Legacy Recordings

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Billy Joel's tour of Russia in 1987 has long been cited as one of the reasons for the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, as his introduction of rock concerts to the Russian people helped convince them they wanted more of the Western lifestyle.

That tour is the subject of a new documentary and boxed set collection, "A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia" (Columbia/Legacy), a two-CD, one-DVD package out Tuesday that includes 11 previously unreleased songs from the tour. It offers the broadest picture yet of the tour's impact on the Russian people.

However, Mark Rivera, Joel's longtime friend and also the only current member of his band who was on the Russian tour, says the new boxed set also tells the story of the impact the Russian people had on the band.

"They were some of the most compassionate people I've ever met," says Rivera, who recently released his first solo album, "Common Bond," and has a solo headlining date at Manhattan's Cutting Room on June 13. "They wanted to give us everything. It was amazing to be a part of that as a band member. It's hard to put the emotions into words. It was emotional what these people were getting from us, seeing that kind of show for the first time. . . . They wanted what we had."


How did you prepare for the Russian tour?

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It was the great unknown. We were terrified. It was still the Cold War. But we were literally offering a musical bridge to our cultures, and we knew that was important.


Did the reaction surprise you?

After we played, the front rows of the arena were destroyed. . . . The diplomats were sitting there and when they were gone, the seats were destroyed. It wasn't a protest. It was just the guys jumping up and down on the chairs because they were having so much fun.


Do you think the documentary captures that?

I think more than any documentary I've ever seen. There's so much more footage in this that hasn't been seen. They captured the feeling -- such an amazing outpouring of emotions.


How does the Russian tour rank among the other experiences you've had in the band in the past 32 years?

The most amazing night was when we played after 9/11 at Sony Studios. That night is the pinnacle of what Billy does. He offered a sense of healing. . . . It was the most emotional night I've ever spent with Billy. After that, it was "The Concert for New York City." . . . And then Russia. . . . It's like what The Beatles did when they came on "The Ed Sullivan Show," they were the ambassadors to our culture. Billy did that in 1987 in Russia. I don't say that lightly.

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