There seemed to be a bit more of Joel to love this year — an issue he addressed early in the show.
“You’re probably wondering, ‘What happened to him?’” he said to the sharply dressed audience of uptown girls and guys, some of whom paid nearly $2,000 a ticket to attend the event. Then, without a hint of regret, replied to himself, “He’s 70. He don’t give a shit.”
What Joel might have lacked in abs, he made up for in personality. Sharp and on top of his game, he hit the stage with the lesser-known local fave “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway).”
“Pressure” was followed by the bittersweet “Vienna,” a song fans enthusiastically chose over “Summer, Highland Falls” in the first of several audience-choice games of Hear This, Not That.
A rotating piano ensured everyone had a prime view, and seven center screens and two on the side let the audience see up close Joel’s intricate tickling of the ivories.
A series of Wim-o-way’s from the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” morphed into “The Longest Time,” during which a preponderance of the band harmonized on vocals doo-wop style as Joel snapped his fingers to the faintest whisper of drum beat and gentle bass.
In high spirits, and at times funny as hell, Joel quipped with the audience, often both posing and answering his own questions.
He introduced “The Entertainer” by telling the crowd it was from his 1975 album (it was actually 1974) “Streetlife Serenade.” But when they cheered, Joel scoffed and said, “You didn’t buy that album. I don’t even have a copy of that album.”
After lamenting about the current state of the music industry, Joel offered an apology in advance if he were to “screw up” the next song, “Modern Woman,” saying he had never played it live before.
“Don’t Ask Me Why” saw the rather subdued crowd began to come alive, and they went nuts for “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’” — another audience choice over “Storm Front.”
Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” led into “Movin’ Out,” “Allentown,” and “New York State of Mind,” which concluded with a video of the Statue of Liberty and a well-deserved standing ovation.
Fans remained on their feet, dancing and shaking their hips to “My Life,” then Joel got into the groove on “I Go to Extremes,” standing up and pounding the piano keys before turning around and, to shrieks of delight from the crowd, playing with his derrière.
He explained how “Sometimes a Fantasy” was banned by some radio stations for being too risqué for its time before breaking into what turned out to be the hardest-rocking song of the night.
Joel funked out on piano while prodigious bongo/tambourine/saxophone player and singer Crystal Taliefero shined so brightly, she almost eclipsed Joel.
But that job was reserved for Mike DelGuidice, a guitarist holding his own in the shadows until the spotlight found him singing on “Nessun Dorma,” from the Italian opera Turandot.
To say DelGuidice’s rendition was spine-chilling would be an understatement. Passionate and pleading, it kept the audience mesmerized until Joel chimed in on piano and took the audience on a trip to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”
Fans knew every line to the lyrically complex slice of Americana and, at times, sang louder than Joel. But it was OK, because that’s what makes Joel a national treasure — his ability to articulate the essence of everyday people.
Connecting with each audience member like an old friend from the neighborhood watering hole, Joel whipped out a heartfelt rendition of “Piano Man” before taking his leave.
He reappeared fairly quickly for a five-song encore, which saw him at the front of the stage playing guitar for the first time of the night on “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
A pink-and-white-clad super-fan in short shorts, likely hammered and hilarious, grabbed a camera man’s attention during “Uptown Girl,” temporarily upstaging Joel and becoming a you-had-to-be-there part of the evening.
Snatching the audience’s attention back with an Elvis hip-swivel, Joel twirled and tossed his microphone stand to the crowd-pleasing “Still Rock and Roll to Me” before wrapping up with a high-octane version of “Big Shot,” replete with an interlude of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.”
Notably missing was the mega-hit, “She’s Always a Woman,” but it didn’t matter. Fans left sated, basking in the afterglow of one of music’s ultimate entertainers.