Billy Joel is Still the Entertainer

MGM Grand Garden Arena, June 7

Photo by Wayne Posner

We were nearly two hours in, the last song before the encore, and there was this eternity of a moment when Billy Joel paused between phrases of “Piano Man.” He looked up from his grand piano, mic and shoulder-mounted harmonica, and kind of sniffed the air, his nose and lips scrunching up in stage-blind satisfaction. Then he continued on to sing It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday. The video screens panned over an arena of fans who shared in his bliss. And the manager gives me a smile/’cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see … Then Joel took the emotion one notch higher, letting the audience sing on without him. Thousands of voices entreated the regular-guy virtuoso to sing us a song you’re the piano man.

In addition to his hits (out of a 24-song set, there were a lot of them), Joel offered entertaining moments. He mocked the historical inaccuracies of “Ballad of Billy the Kid.” He popped his collar, donned Elvis glasses and covered “Viva Las Vegas” in the middle of “In the Middle of the Night.” He did a Tom Jones impersonation on “What’s New Pussycat?” and then sang the song again without the word, “cat,” which served as a segue into an earnest, bewitching “She’s Always a Woman.” He ended the ballad with “and then we got divorced.”

This was an arena-rock show in its mature, fully developed form. Alternately immense and intimate, the musician-entertainer led an eight-person band, creating a wall of sound to go along with a wall of lights and video. Besides a piano that rotated slowly, there were no gimmicks, no pop starlet’s attention-grabbing shenanigans, just the mastery of a performance genre that few are successful enough to attempt, much less perfect. ★★★★★

Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
The Entertainer
New York State of Mind
Ballad of Billy the Kid
All for Leyna
Movin’ Out
And So it Goes
What’s New Pussycat? (Tom Jones cover)
She’s Always a Woman
Don’t Ask Me Why
My Life
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
In the Middle of the Night”/“Viva Las Vegas” medley
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover)
We Didn’t Start the Fire
Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me
Piano Man

Uptown Girl
Big Shot
You May be Right
Only the Good Die Young

Photos by Wayne Posner

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