Life & Culture

Billy Joel BST Hyde Park review: Nothing new, nothing but bangers

The piano man brought his Long Island grit and Broadway panache to Hyde Park, with a surprise appearance by Joe Jonas


2RB66G9 London, UK. Friday, 7 July, 2023. Bill Joel at American Express Presents BST in Hyde Park, London. Photo: Richard Gray/Alamy Live News

Billy Joel first played in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1978. It was a time of high inflation, mass strikes, and crippling mortgage payments. Nearly 50 years later, as Billy Joel took to the stage this time around, things were totally different.

We now have smartphones.

Billy Joel is nothing if not, at his heart, a showman. His fans know what they love and he knows how to make them happy. Starting his nearly two-hour set with a disclaimer, he told the 65,000-person crowd in Hyde Park that he had good news and bad. "The bad news is that we don't have anything new to play" he announced before adding: "The good news is you don't have to listen to anything new.”

Joel, who has not released any new songs since 1994, has one of the deepest back catalogues in popular music. No matter how many songs of his you think you know, there's always another hit you've forgotten. And decades after their release, timeless Joel hits are still finding new ears.

Two B-sides, Vienna and Zanzibar, both recent viral sounds on Tiktok provided some of the biggest cheers of the night from the crowd, which, despite Joel's longevity, probably averaged out at around 30 years old.

And Joel gave a gentle nod to his younger fans with the surprise guest of Joe Jonas in the encore. Jonas, who was seen rocking out in the VIP area for hits like Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, New York State of Mind and It's Still Rock and Roll to Me, joined the elder statesman of pop on stage to belt out Uptown Girl, hitting the impressively high notes with ease.

Joel's other accompaniers were also pitch-perfect. His long-term collaborators in the Billy Joel Band included Jewish songwriter and keyboardist David Rosenthal, renowned trumpeter Carl Fischer and Crystal Taliefero, a vocalist who belted out an outstanding rendition of River Deep, Mountain High in the interlude of Joel's classic River of Dreams.

Joel peppered his set with nuggets to amuse and entertain the home crowd. Starting at the top of his act, he said that he was "surprised" that of all the places he'd played, nowhere had the sun shone as much in his eyes as in London.

Keeping to the British Summer Time festival theme of ageing rockers, he gave his best Mick Jagger impression halfway through his performance before dropping it and declaring himself more of a klutz than Jagger or the previous night's headline act - Bruce Springsteen.

And just like Springsteen, who was born months apart from Joel in 1949, the Piano Man's voice appears to defy ageing. Still as powerful and as sharp as ever, the crowd lapped up the classics as Joel rattled through the 70s and 80s with his classic Jewish American showmanship and wit, riffing on his illustrious career and how he felt he was turning into his father.

As Joel's perpetual tour seems to be coming to something of a slow down if not an end, the singer said he didn't know when he'd next be in the UK. “I don’t come here that much and I don’t know when this old ass is coming back,” he said as the sun set over Hyde Park to cheers from the sun-drenched crowd.

His monthly residency at New York's Madison Square Garden, the longest in the venue's history, is set to end next year after 150 shows. But regardless of whether Joel is hanging up his piano for good, one thing isn't in doubt - he's still very much got it.

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