Review by Ryan Beardsley with Photography by Louise Morris

It’s a gorgeous summer’s evening in West London and the Piano Man is in town…

More than 50,000 have embarked upon Wembley Stadium for Billy Joel’s only UK show of the year and something tells me they won’t be disappointed.

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Dressed to kill in a black suit and polka dot tie, The Entertainer struts on to the relatively understated stage set up and takes his seat at the revolving piano and begins to tickle the ivories.

Joel races through his first batch of classics, including The Entertainer and Vienna, leaving the sell out crowd completely besotted. People of all generations are in attendance, in fact close to me there was a superfan from the United States who was treating his young daughter to her first taste of Billy Joel, a testament to the staying power of his back catalogue.

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The crooner chats causally to the crowd throughout, like a dear old friend who’s hopped across the pond for a catch up and a quick serenade. At one point he explains; “I don’t have anything new for you at all. It’s basically the same old shit.” Talk about music to the ears, ordinarily this statement would have produced the biggest cheer of the night as the reaction was so positive, but this is Billy Joel we’re talking about.

It’s a party atmosphere, summed up in the midst of I Go To Extremes when Joel actually banged out a few bars on the keyboard with his arse. I’ve always wanted to play the piano and the fact that a 70 year old man can do it better using only his bum cheeks then I ever could with my hands is quite telling…

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At this point I must confess that I’m no expert on his back catalogue, pre gig I could probably have named about 10 songs but like most classic artists, you know so many without knowing. She’s Always A Woman is a perfect example and was a genuinely moving moment for all of those in attendance.

I’ve always maintained that the very best songwriters have the ability to create places with their words, and this is particularly prescient when the band perform New York State Of Mind and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. The music and the performances were so authentic, I felt as though I was back in Manhattan at a jazz club, no mean feat in the midst of a stadium performance.

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We get another little interlude where Joel regales the crowd with tales of his English grandfather, who grew up in the London and gave him his first taste of British musical culture. This prompts a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia that goes down a treat, one for the Brexiters ay…?

There are a couple more surprises in the post as Joel leads his band through an upbeat cover of Beatles’ classic I Feel Fine, some may scoff and call it pandering but why not give people exactly what they want?

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We’re 2 hours in and Joel and his band are showing no signs of slowing down just yet, as one of his guitarists takes to the microphone to perform Nessum Dorma of all songs, it’s been one of those nights where I think Joel could get away with just about anything!

Piano Man is arguably the highlight of the evening as the sun has now set on Wembley stadium and the sight of thousands of lights blinking like stars as the great man serenades the thousands in attendance is one I won’t forget in a hurry. I lost count of the amount of people I overheard talking about how this was a moment they would never forget; hairs on the backs of necks, goosebumps on the arms, you name the cliché it was there, but there was nothing cheap about the performance.

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The band head back out for what will be a lengthy encore, and fianlly Joel has left the piano behind and is now equipped with an electric guitar for We Didn’t Start The Fire which had an awesome visual show as the giant screen reflected all those who were being name dropped in Joels biting review of contemporary American culture.

Then it’s time for Uptown Girl and which has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I am genuinely astonished at how good Billy Joel’s voice sounds on this track, the man is 70 years old and he still hits the high notes on the final chorus, truly breathtaking.

So what more can I say, I’ve seen a performance tonight that will stay with me for a long time, probably the first and only time I’ll get to see the great man. The man they call The Entertainer, the title could not be more fitting.

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