He was the piano man and he sang us those songs tonight. We were all in the mood for a melody and he had us feeling so, so much more than alright. Joel himself summed it up in wry banter: “I don’t have anything new for you at all. It’s basically the same old sh*t.” Judging by ecstatic whoops and hollers from the sold-out 60,000-strong crowd, that was just fine by us. At 70, with one of the finest back catalogues in the business, Joel gave the crowd exactly what it wanted.
He wasn’t above a bit of shameless pandering, mentioning his English grandfather who grew up in the East End of London, breaking into a brief We’ll Meet Again, before a rocked up version of Rule Britannia.
Joel is an old school showman and needed no more than the slick lights and giant screen behind the stage when literally the biggest special effect was the revolving platform for his piano.
No support act, either, just two and a half full hours of superb musicianship, lashings of rock ‘ roll, a touch of folk, a dash of pop and some of the greatest love songs ever written.
We swayed in unison to Piano Man before Joel let the crowd sing a chorus a capella, the stadium twinkling with thousands of mobile phone lights. It gave me goosebumps, truly one of those moments everyone should have in their lives.
Always A Woman was equally sublime with the full stadium on backing vocals, New York State of Mind was served with an extended riff-off between Joel on the piano and his sensational saxophonist. Not to be outdone, elsewhere Joel actually banged out a few bars on the keyboard during I Go To Extremes with his bum.
Scenes From A Italian Restaurant was electrifying live, a mini rock opera charting a lost love affair during a show which felt suitably epic but also like we could have been in a dive bar in Brooklyn. The tattooed brusier on guitar even gave a spine-tingling rendition of Nessum Dorma.
Of course, there was plenty to get the (unsurprisingly) mainly middle-aged crowd dancing in the seats and, to endless frustration of the security, in the aisles. More used, no doubt to dealing with tearawys young ruffians at football matches and pop concerts, they seemed benignly bemused at the rebellious baby boomers.
We leapt around to Pressure, My Life and Only The Good Die Young. The latter might explain the behaviour of the exhilarated crowd.
Over two hours flew blissfully by with plenty of space for deeper cuts like Vienna and Allentown before Joel brought it home on a massive encore.
We Didn’t Start The Fire was followed by a mammoth hair and roof-raising singalong on Uptown Girl, and then It’s Still Rock ‘n Roll To Me, Big Shot and You May Be Right.
The final number’s lyrics include “take me as I am” and Joel has never known how to be any different. Like so many of his generation who are enjoying enormous resurgences on tour, it is his strength.
Pure talent is timeless.