07 July 2023 (gig)
08 July 2023
On a perfect summers evening, Hyde Park is packed with smiling faces ready in anticipation at a rare London appearance for the magician of music, Billy Joel.
Before Joel could start to spin his magic, another luminary who can attest to incredible vinyl sales, Darryl Hall, took to The Great Oak Stage. Those incredible numbers at the height of vinyl funded the purchase of two historic houses he had moved brick by brick to build his home. I'm not sure today's streaming market would permit such flamboyance.
‘Maneater’ starts, and Darryl Hall strides out into the blazing Hyde Park sunshine wearing a black suit. At 76 he's still standing tall, using his time wisely in a hit laden set. 'Family Man', 'Out of touch' and 'Method of Modern Love' all follow in quick succession.
John Oats is clearly absent, but the male voices coalesce in soulful harmony just the same. It must be said though, Hall is looking less than happy throughout. Troubled by something, maybe his monitors were off, it sounded fine from where I was standing, the odd missed high note permitting.
'Every Time You Go Away' a hit for Paul Young but penned by Hall, had the audience on backing vocals. The unmistakable beat of 'I Can't Go For That' was also welcomed with relish before ‘You Make My Dreams’ rounded off the set. A cursory wave and he was gone.
Earlier than expected Joel’s band walked on stage and the familiar strains of 'My Life' heralded Billy Joel’s stage entry. Dressed on jeans and black jacket he led his nine-piece band into ‘Movin’ Out’. Immediately striking up a rapport with his audience he chimed “I’ve played all over the world, and this is the brightest sun I have ever seen on stage and it’s in England! I hope you’re wearing a lot of sunblock,” introducing ‘The Entertainer’ from Streetlife Serenade he seemed surprised by the welcome it received “you don’t know this album, nobody bought that album.”
He then offered the huge crowd a choice between ‘Just The Way You Are’ and ‘Vienna’. The reception favoured ‘Vienna’. Vocally he is as good as he ever was. The incredible main stage sound highlighted his exceptional range and ability. His 76 years have diminished absolutely nothing, sounding just as rich and gracious as his remarkable catalogue can testify.
The crowd are with him all the way on this nostalgic journey through a career strewn with decades of iconic classics. ‘Zanzibar’, ‘An Innocent Man’, ‘The Longest Time’ and ‘New York State of Mind’ come thick and fast. When faced with the vastness of his output you realise you are in the presence of greatness.
Introducing each song as if it were just him and a couple of friends in a piano bar, his easy way defies his song crafting complexity. The intricate finger work and arrangements still sound as fresh as they ever did. With his band’s harmonising vocals, exquisite trumpet, sax and drums their musicianship was never in doubt.
Billy Joel has adorned many a turntable in years gone by, these days I guess his fans have also succumbed to streaming, but this veteran artist has always been at the vanguard of entertainment. Now he was on the turntable. His piano centre stage rotating 360 degrees giving him and us the best of both worlds and prompting Joel to say "I'm stuck on a turntable flipping like a record".
‘Only the Good Die Young’ and ‘Scenes From an Italian Restaurant’ two undisputable heavyweights were personal highlights. Joel in his element looking up to the huge LED screen behind him saying “hi dad, it's my old man up there, I didn't want to look like my old man...". His charisma just as appealing as his music it was a joy to behold.
The collective joy of ‘Piano Man’ induced the shivers of the night for me and many others. The ever-enduring song sung with heart & joy and received exactly the same way.
"I love London, but I don't get to play here much" he said, the gig had the feel of a well-crafted career celebration. My bet is Elton John will play London before Billy Joel is back. Calling on Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers for ‘a jubilant version of ‘Uptown Girl’, the festivities were in full swing.
A wonderful rendition of The Beatles 'Hard Days Night' signalled the gig was reaching its crescendo but not before a crowd sing-a-long with 'You May Be Right'. Leaving the stage looking around him seemingly astonished by the audience adulation, Joel seemed quite moved by the whole experience, emotional as we all were.
One of the best entertainers in the business, a true talent, it was a privilege to witness.
Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
An Innocent Man
The Longest Time
Don't Ask Me Why
New York State of Mind
She's Always a Woman
Sometimes a Fantasy
Only the Good Die Young
The River of Dreams - River Deep interlude
Nessun dorma - Giacomo Puccini cover sung by Mike Delguidice
Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
We Didn't Start the Fire
Uptown Girl with Joe Jonas
It's Still Rock and Roll to Me
A Hard Day's Night - The Beatles cover
You May Be Right with ‘Rock and Roll’ by Led Zeppelin