Billy Joel – review

Hammersmith Apollo, London
Joel may have stopped making pop records in 1993, but this 64-year-old singer-songwriter is due for reappraisal

Billy Joel doesn't tour often, and when he does, he rarely bothers with venues the size of the Apollo. Not for this 150m-selling songwriter the false modesty of "intimate" gigs: the last time he played such a small UK show was 30 years ago. Having decided to get close to his fans for an evening, though, he exerted every sinew and corpuscle, as if he still had everything to prove.

Joel stopped making pop records in 1993, citing boredom (you've got to love the honesty), but he had a lot of catalogue to choose from for his performance. Fortified by frequent blasts of throat spray (to little avail; the high notes of Uptown Girl left him clutching his neck in pain), he hit the ground running. Hit followed terrific hit: My Life, Movin' Out, She's Always a Woman, even the first half of the Beatles' When I'm 64. He threw that one in because, well, he is 64. He looks it, too, the bald head and facial crevices make him a dead ringer for a pop Alfred Hitchcock.

But once he began rolling them out, singing at the piano in front of projections of New York factory yards and bridges, it was obvious that he has been the victim of an injustice. The restless bridge-and-tunnel teenagers in Movin' Out and the divorced Long Island couple in Scenes from an Italian Restaurant felt as regional and real as anything by his contemporary across the Hudson River, Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen, though, doesn't play shows in a polka-dot tie and josh about getting his ass pinched at Elton John's birthday bash, which may be why he is unassailably credible and Joel is perceived as schlocky.

Schlocky? The sight of fans singing along to an impassioned Piano Man sets that record straight. "Wholly underrated and due a reappraisal" is nearer the mark.

• Did you catch this gig – or any other recently? Tell us about it using #Iwasthere


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Billy Joel, NEC, Birmingham

NEC, Birmingham

Dave Simpson

07, Jul, 2006 @12:40 AM

Article image
Billy Joel review – evergreen, edgy and in sublime voice
Piano man plays all the hits, switching styles, from doo-wop of The Longest Time to experimental Zanzibar, with aplomb

Betty Clarke

11, Sep, 2016 @11:49 AM

Billy Joel: Piano Man (Legacy Edition) – review
Billy Joel's breakthrough gets beefed up with the live show that got him a record deal. By Michael Hann

Michael Hann

05, Jan, 2012 @10:00 PM

Old music: Billy Joel – Souvenir

Russell Cunningham: The New Yorker's seasonal hymn reflects on how trinkets can transport us to times past

Russell Cunningham

05, Jan, 2012 @12:35 PM

Article image
Billy Joel: 10 of the best
Pop’s original young fogey has mastered many styles, but at his heart there has always been sentiment and tartness. Here are 10 of his classics

Stevie Chick

07, Jan, 2015 @4:13 PM

Article image
Elton John claims Billy Joel needs more rehab
Singer urges his friend to check into rehab to defeat his alleged alcoholism, saying he needs 'tough love'

Sean Michaels

03, Feb, 2011 @12:32 PM

Article image
Exclusive: Billy Joel performs Stiletto in Moscow in 1987 - video

Watch previously unreleased material from Billy Joel's historic 1987 tour of Russia, with the singer performing Stiletto

25, Apr, 2014 @8:47 AM

Article image
Billy Joel takes blame for Bruce Springsteen bike breakdown
Joel tells crowd at Madison Square Garden gig he built motorcycle that left the Boss stranded by side of the road in New Jersey

Guardian music

24, Nov, 2016 @8:23 AM

Article image
Chris Buck's best photograph: Billy Joel in the dark with an Applause sign
‘Billy said, “I’ll do this – but I’m not one who performs because of an urgent need for approval”’

Interview by Karin Andreasson

01, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Billy Joel is due to become cool very soon – this is why | Ed Butler
Ed Butler: Teens always will define cool against what their elders like. Right now, there is a group of 14 year-olds listening to ‘Piano Man’ who will write a world-beating record in five years

Ed Butler

04, Apr, 2014 @2:32 AM