Billy Joel at the O2, Dublin, Friday 1st November 2013
It’s eight o’clock on a Friday, an unusual crowd shuffles in. From couples collecting pensions to pre-adolescents, they’re there to see a show that’s been sold out since June. But before the Piano Man comes out there’s another man with a piano to get the crowd going. Unfortunately for Tom Odell, very few of the 14,000 present have much interest in his brand of piano rock.
Even his big hit Hold Me and a cover of Oh! Darling by the Beatles fail to get more than passing interest from the audience. “I grew up listening to Billy,” Odell tells the audience to get his biggest cheer of the night. “He’s the reason I got into piano.”
Billy Joel is also the reason so many people paid up to €100 for a ticket, but the cheer he receives for his cinematic entrance music seems to indicate that most would be willing to pay more. He takes his seat at his grand piano. With his bald head, snow-white goatee and slight paunch, he looks his 64 years but it wasn’t the sex appeal that drew the crowd.
My Life opens the show and sets the tone from the get-go. Despite the 14,000 singing voices and the eight man backing band, it’s Joel who is the focus of the watching eyes. His voice is in fine fettle too. It may not have that unique quality that it once possessed, but it’s still powerful and able to hold a note.
He throws a few obscure tracks into the mix but, for every Where’s the Orchestra or Blonde Over Blue, there’s a Moving Out or New York State of Mind. He has his showman attitude too. He has the nods and winks that he throws to the audience and the banter with his band; he’s still just a jazz-club boy done good.
And like any good rock ‘n’ roll show, there is a liberal helping of cheese to add to the mix. If it’s not the guitar solos that would be more fitting if played in a light-blue, sleeveless, denim shirt it’s the sax solos that should be silhouetted against the moon or the American flag billowing on the screen at the back of the stage. There is also Joel’s rotating piano and his fair share of dad jokes too. “Mine is bigger,” he says when talking about Odell’s piano, “but I still have pianist envy.” The drummer is quick with the ba-dum-tss though.
Uptown Girl attracts some huge cheers and quite a few groans when it gets its few minutes. It does stick out like a disposable pop sore thumb in a set where everything else sounds so much more substantial.
She’s Always a Woman gets a great swaying and singing reaction, while Scenes From an Italian Restaurant is a magnificent, multi-act epic. But it’s a spine-tingling rendition of Piano Man that is the highlight. It really felt like an “I was there” moment as a sea of waving arms and raised voices greeted one of the finest songs ever put to wax. It would be a suitable close to any show, but as he and the band exit, we know there’ll be a return.
For the encore, Billy the storyteller behind the piano is replaced by Billy the rocker, guitar over his shoulder. We Didn’t Start the Fire sees the O2 hopping before the Elvis-like theatrics of It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me. Joel takes his place back behind the piano for You May Be Right before Only the Good Die Young closes the night. Joel stands up from the piano before dropping to his knees in exhaustion; but it’s no more than a hint of James Brown-esque showmanship.
“He knows that it’s me they’ve been comin’ to see,” Joel sings on his most famous of songs. It’s a pretty good crowd for a Friday and they’ve all put quite a lot of bread into the Piano Man’s jar. Most, if not all, would do so all over again if they could. Billy Joel offers an unforgettable show, and his first Dublin date in seven years is well worth every penny. But please, Mr Joel, don’t leave it so long next time.
Billy Joel Photo Gallery
Photos: Sean Conroy