Innocent, but never unknowing: At 45, Billy Joel can still get them dancing in the aisles. Giles Smith saw him do the hokey-cokey at Earls Court

Billy Joel arrived on stage up a small staircase to the rear, picked out in spotlights, a small guy in a baggy grey suit with his hands in his pockets, all hunched over, pursing his lips and raising one eyebrow at the audience, more like a comic than a singer. His grand piano arrived two songs later, rising through a circular hole in the floor in the manner made famous by old cinema organs. It was hard to know which entry received the noisiest welcome (both preceded cacophonies), but it's possible the piano just shaded it.

Joel had spent the first number, 'No Man's Land', charging about with an electric guitar, an instrument on which, by his own confession later in the show, he 'sucks'. (Actually, he's much worse than that.)

For the second, 'Pressure', he'd hopped up to the back to pound away at a synthesiser, mounted on a swivelling stand, so he could turn and face the people seated high up off to the side. Fine, democratic pieces of showmanship though these were, they were not what people had paid to see, which was Billy Joel, the traditional craftsman, sitting at a

piano.

Or rather, not sitting at it. Joel has a physical approach to the keyboard which makes Little Richard look like an antiques restorer giving his instrument one final polish. Standing up for extra purchase, he mule-kicked the stool away at one point, sending it skidding across the floor on its side and virtually embedding it in the neck of a bouncer, standing down at the front with his back to the stage.

At various points, he sat on the keys, pushed them and thumped them. He put his left foot in, his left foot out - in, out, in, out. He shook it all about. He did the hokey-cokey and he turned around. That's what it was all about.

Some of Joel's stage business is as familiar now as the tunes it punctuates. With his greatest hits come his greatest skits. There's the moment where he climbs aboard the piano and shapes up like someone about to flip backwards off the lid, but then chickens out at the last minute and drops pathetically over the side instead.

There's the exaggerated finger-clicking routine during 'An Innocent Man'. And there's the work-out with the microphone stand, where he pats it about, throws punches at it and sets it rocking precariously on its base, all the while moving a little stodgily, like Prince with arthritis (but that's part of the joke).

Joel was 45 this week, but what the people want and what he heartily enjoys giving are still intimately related to one another. The show was vigorously applauded, not just by the all-female wedges at the front (the fan club appeared to have block-booked the best seats) but by people right to the rear of the hall who danced and waved and reeled off vast chunks of Joel's narrative verse, got by heart.

It was just like the recent Barbra Streisand shows, except that everyone had paid a 10th of the price to get in and was having 4,000 times as much fun.

Joel's voice (one part Ray Charles to 25 parts American football coach) works better live than on record. What in the studio he turns falsetto, on stage he belts, full-voiced. As for the ballads and the snappy pop tunes, the usual comparison is with Elton John, but perhaps it would be fairer to move him up a few rungs, closer to Paul Simon, only with a sense of humour. The recent River of Dreams album is possibly not one that people will have been laying down as vintage Joel, unusually caught up as it is with soul-searching and self-scrutiny. (Joel has always been a better bet when writing about other people.) That said, it must be immeasurably satisfying for Joel to see the night's hottest response go, not to the inevitable oldies like 'Goodnight Saigon' or 'Big Shot', but to the recent album's title track, which induced mass bopping.

For the most part, the show settled for stripping pages out of the past, leafing through what has become one of the great catalogues of modern American song. It's fat enough now to be unwieldy. 'She's Always a Woman', 'Just the Way You Are', 'Movin' Out' and 'Uptown Girl' were just some of the near-universally familiar songs he didn't have time (or inclination) to play this time around, because he was too busy treating us to 'My Life', 'Only the Good Die Young' and 'It's Still Rock'n'Roll to Me'. 'Allentown', meanwhile, came over as authentically blue- collar as anything Springsteen has written and considerably more tuneful.

There was, of course, a sensitive personal matter to be broached - Joel's split from his wife, the model Christie Brinkley. He was never someone who waited to be asked. 'You're probably wondering, with all this stuff in the papers, how I'm doing,' he said. He assured us he was 'OK', just in case we were worried.

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried