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Billy Joel, Wembley Stadium review – The Entertainer delivers | reviews, news & interviews

Billy Joel, Wembley Stadium review – The Entertainer delivers

Billy Joel, Wembley Stadium review – The Entertainer delivers

A transport of delight away from current woes

Billy Joel: a self-deprecating performer

While Elton John was picking up another bauble and tinkling the ivories in Paris, the world’s other Piano Man was heading to London and Wembley, where he last played three years ago.

It was Billy Joel’s only British gig in a stadium tour that kicked off in Orlando in January and which saw him recently notch up his one-hundredth Madison Square Garden concert – as artist-in-residence he’s been playing one concert a month there since 2014. The boy from the Bronx done good and no mistake.

Two Piano Men – "two gifted, idiosyncratic artists who exist... between pop and rock, where Broadway show tunes, classical compositions, ragtime, gospel and rock-and-roll mingle freely" as a New York Times critic once put it – who have played several Face to Face tours and share a classical training. Joel, who wrote the song, seems to have no inclination toward retirement, even if he does now resemble a perma-tanned boxer who’s quit the ring. Indeed, the young Joel was a Golden Gloves champion and has a broken nose to prove it. His once-luxuriant locks have long departed and he now sports a neat white beard.

“To hell with it,” Joel said, as he failed to graduate from Hicksville High in 1967. “I'm not going to Columbia University, I'm going to Columbia Records, and you don't need a high school diploma over there.” He signed with the label (now Sony) in 1972, after an executive spotted him during a club residency on Wilshire Boulevard by which time “Piano Man” – a minutely observed and deceptively upbeat song about late-night sad cafes and their doomed-to-be disappointed lonesome regulars – was his signature tune. But the song with which Joel is indelibly associated comes from his 1976 album Turnstiles, which celebrated his return to New York City from LA – “New York State of Mind”, which he has sung with Elton, Bruce Springsteen and Tony Bennett.

It came midway through a high-octane set that opened with “It’s Always Been a Matter of Trust”. Joel, who celebrated his three-score years and ten last month, had no support and played for just over two hours. American can-do optimism at its best. We did all indeed “forget about life for a while”, to coin a phrase, and I was transported back to my student days in Liverpool, when he was a new kid on the block and loomed large on Radio City’s playlist. In those days, New York existed only in my imagination but listening to the songs again now that I know the city almost as well as I know London is an altogether different experience. I’m always in a “New York State of Mind” and Joel takes you there, the violins suggesting Uptown’s “high” culture, the smoky sax breaks the Village or Harlem, connected by the A-Train, his piano (scrunchy chords, filigree passage work) celebrating the whole damn neon-lit melting pot. Right now, I want to be on that Greyhound on the Hudson River Line.

A football stadium is never ideal, but the weather was clement and the day long and, as dusk fell, a thousand points of light from so many mobile phones lit the stands. (Not so long ago of course it would have been matches.) Joel, who occasionally played guitar, sat at a piano that was on a revolve and he and the band were projected on to big screens, their images dissolved into backdrops inspired by each song. The musicians were exemplary, under the direction of keyboards man Dave Rosenthal, with Crystal Taliefero the standout on percussion, sax and harmonica, as well as vocals. Guitarist and vocalist Tommy Byrnes offered a creditable version of “Nessun Dorma”, appropriate given the surroundings.

The hits just kept on coming, the audience singing along lustily much of the time and many at the front of the pitch dancing. The set of course included “My Life”, “New York State of Mind” and (as an encore) “Uptown Girl”, but also “The Entertainer”, “You’re Moving Out”, “Vienna”, “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” (movie music without a movie, he explained), “Only the Good Die Young” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”.

“It’s nice to be back,” he said, “but I’ve got nothing new – just the same old shit!” Noel Coward might have remarked on the potency of cheap music but like Elton and yet another piano man, Neil Sedaka, the much-garlanded Joel can look back on a catalogue of memorable numbers (“Goodnight Saigon” is probably the most viscerally powerful Vietnam song ever written) that will be played and covered many years from now. He’s also terrific musician, who wittily works into his set a range of reference from farther afield – not just the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” but also, a dash of Beethoven, a pinch of “New York, New York”, a burst of “We’ll Meet Again” and a chorus of “Rule Britannia”, to which it was hard to know how to respond. Probably he was being ironic, for he prefaced it with a brief political comment: “I love this country as much as my own and I hope we can always remain friends. Let’s fight the bullshit politics.”

Amen to that. In the meantime, it’s great to be able to lose ourselves in the music and in the company of someone who clearly enjoys making it still, even if though he hasn't released an album of new material since 1993.

Liz Thomson's website

The hits just kept on coming, the audience singing along lustily much of the time and many at the front of the pitch dancing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Where are you getting these song titles from? It's Moving Out (Anthony's Song) and Matter of Trust. And I could be wrong on this but what I heard Billy say last night was "despite all the shit that's going on right now." As opposed to "Let's fight ..." Either way, the sentiment is a good one.

Actually it's Movin' Out, I just checked. As to what he said, it's not always clear in such a vast stadium but the sentiment is indeed the same


Nice review but it's Mike Delguidice who sings 'Nessun Dorma'.

You are correct - apologies.

Fantastic show from start to finish...no over the top flashy production to distract - just what we all wanted.. the star doing what he does best -entertaining the audience.A fantastic night !

What a fantastic evening Thankyou billy , thankyou wembly and thankyou too all who attended for making my billy Joel concert something that will stay with me for life .

True entertainment at it's best by a lyrical genius. Superb music and songs which will be difficult to beat. I enjoyed every minute from the beginning of the concert to the camaraderie and singing on the way out of the stadium.

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