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Thursday 13 December 2018

Billy wows in the great indoors

Before Friday night, Billy Joel had never played indoors in Ireland.

So, you can understand it when the 64-year old music maker pauses to give thanks for the roof over his head. "I'm not freezin' my ass off now," he quips. It's a small dose of the Joel humour. Every now and then, his drummer will help seal the deal on another cracking punch-line. "I saw Madonna use this once," says Joel, holding up his throat spray. "It didn't really work for her, though!" (Ba-dum tish!).

Resplendent in a dark suit and tie, Joel now looks like the history teacher that he once dreamt of becoming. Twenty years have passed since his last pop record. Occasionally, that ambivalent stare of his (the one he wears while singing) makes us worry. Does the Piano Man no longer enjoy performing? Why did he growl following a rambunctious recital of Uptown Girl? Is Billy Joel finally sick of the hits? Nah, he's just a typical New Yorker. Thankfully, they know how to laugh, too, and 150 million record sales later, Joel still gets a kick out of us. He's just concentrating. Oh, and Uptown Girl hurts his throat.

Everything looks and sounds astonishing. The giant screens; a suave brass ensemble; Joel's timeless way with melody, and so on.

The man has gotten old, but his vocal never left the '70s. My Life remains a statement of intent. Luckily, it's all still rock 'n' roll to him, and his wonderful band follows suit.

Joel's home is never far from sight. During New York State of Mind, images of a late-night skyline bring us back to where it all started. At one point, the Stars and Stripes appear. Cheesy? Of course. But it works.

A humble performer and a remarkable pianist, Joel spins on a large turntable throughout, so he never has his back to anyone for too long. Later, he straps on a guitar and takes centre-stage for We Didn't Start the Fire (still bonkers). He's better when seated. We'll forgive the faux-Riverdance segment during The River of Dreams. Besides, She's Always a Woman and Piano Man sound glorious. "This was written for somebody who used to mismanage my money," he says, introducing 1993's The Great Wall Of China. "I made it all back! Don't you worry about me, I'm doing fine." It looks that way. Sounds like it, too. An exceptional concert.

5 STARS

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