The 74-year-old put London in a New York State of Mind on Friday night
The closing moments of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ may still be ringing in the ears of those just about getting over Glastonbury, but as his old friend and fellow songwriting maestro takes to the stage of BST Hyde Park, it’s a reminder that Billy Joel is still the fabled ‘Piano Man’.
After Elton’s momentous show, some had the gaul to criticise that a 76-year-old with 400 songs under his belt might hobble to his piano or need a little help here and there from a lyric prompt. Just two years younger, Joel is a little stiff walking to his piano himself, but rightly embraces age throughout his two hour set. He pokes fun at his pal Bruce Springsteen tripping over several times during the first of two BST headline performances this weekend, and admits “I ain’t no Mick Jagger” before giving it the classic Jagger pose for a few lines of ‘Start Me Up’. At one point he catches a glimpse of himself on the huge infinity screens that line the stage: “Oh christ, it’s my old man.”
His dry, New York humour remains intact, but importantly so does his playing as he and his band bring some songs from fifty years ago to life. “I got good news and bad news,” he disclaims early on. “The bad news is we don’t have anything new to play. The good news is you don’t have to hear anything new.” On the doo-wop ‘The Longest Time’, his voice sounds as sweet and bright eyed as it does on An Innocent Man, though on an encore performance of ‘Upton Girl’ he enlists Joe Jonas for a touch of the song’s young buck spirit.
Joel’s range sweeps and soars as it commands the shifting sections of ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’, one of the evening’s highlights that also proves his charismatic, long-standing saxophonist Mark Rivera certainly still has it too.
Point-of-view shots of Joel’s finger’s twinkling over the keys project the agility of his playing style, which cut straight to the heart on the likes of ‘Vienna’ and the smoky jazz bar classic ‘New York State Of Mind’. The latter maybe even tops the awaited ‘Piano Man’, which to get a glimpse of involves navigating a sea of phones in the air – there are a lot of them, so it’s apt when an on-screen animation shows a finger swiping away at the cultural references listed on ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’, from Ho Chi Minh to Jack Kerouac.
It’s annoying, but understandable; young and old want to savour this moment with Joel, who tells us at the end “I’m not sure when this old ass is going to be back again”. A hint of retirement or just his self-deprecating wit? A Beatles cover of ‘Hard Days Night’ reminds us that he could be at home, sleeping like a log after a lifetime of hits – but he’s here, singing us a song as the piano man.