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July 18, 2019

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Billy Joel nods to Elvis, Elton in return to the Strip

Billy Joel Performs at T-Mobile Arena

Steve Marcus

Billy Joel headlines T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, April 30, 2016, on the Las Vegas Strip.

Billy Joel at T-Mobile Arena

Billy Joel headlines T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, April 30, 2016, on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

Billy Joel Headlines T-Mobile

Billy Joel headlines T-Mobile Arena on Saturday, April 30, 2016, on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

The Piano Man again performed that song, and when he vaulted into that classic tune, a group of guys in the upper regions of T-Mobile Arena bolted to their feet and high-fived each other.

“It’s a pretty good crowd, for a Saturday,” Billy Joel sang out, his brow furrowed and sweaty. “The manager gives me a smile ’cuz he knows that it’s me that they’re comin’ to see …”

A pretty good, and ebullient, crowd turned out for Joel. That’s true. Let’s take a look at the audience in the new T-Mobile Arena who turned out to see a man who has sold out Madison Square Garden for 35 consecutive shows: About 12,000, in an arena setting of about 16,000 capacity in Saturday’s configuration.

Respectable but not great. So much for Joel being a guaranteed sellout at T-Mobile. It’s at least a mild concern because Joel is on the hot list of acts expected to fill that sparkling new venue, especially when he is not playing any other dates in Las Vegas this year. But there were Las Vegas-specific variables.

The weekend was uncommonly busy along the Strip, especially at Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana, where Rihanna had sold out Mandalay Bay Events Center and Jason Mraz was headlining the annual Tiger Jam charity concert.

To the north, another legendary Piano Man, Elton John, was back at the Colosseum. Joel took a playful dig at his former touring partner when he mentioned Sir Elton and recited a segment of “Your Song.”

“There is an English guy down the street who is still a good friend. ‘I don’t have much money, but if I did …’ ” Joel said and sang. “Bulls*it, you don’t have much money. Come on.”

Joel deviates from his usual show for his Las Vegas concerts with a little Elvis flair — but does not deviate from that flair. As in his 2014 show at MGM Grand Garden Arena, he pulled on a pair of Elvis-fashioned shades and performed samples of “Viva Las Vegas” and “Suspicious Minds.” He also summoned some Bobby Darin with “Mack the Knife.”

Twice in the show, he asked the audience to roar for select “deep cuts,” with — fortunately — “Vienna,” from “The Stranger,” and “Zanzibar,” from “52nd Street.” Performed as if off-the-cuff, those songs cut into a pretty routine, though explosively performed, setlist.

Highlights, always, were “New York State of Mind,” “My Life,” Movin’ Out,” his tribute to The Ronettes, “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” “For the Longest Time” (which needs to be covered by Human Nature, like now), the beautiful descriptive “She’s Always a Woman,” “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” and a closing spree of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Uptown Girl,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.”

If you are a Joel fan and found nothing of value in that set, maybe you’re just too picky. The LED screen went ablaze for “Fire,” and scenes from New York played out during “State of Mind.” In “Allentown,” another great sing-along, black-and-white images of that city’s manufacturing travails were played to the crowds.

Joel produced mirth throughout the show, saying of his 67-year-old image on the big screen, “Good evening, I’m Billy Joel’s dad … Billy’s at home, playing with his hair.” He infused the name of Donald Trump, to widespread laughter, with, “This goes out to a man who has been entertaining us quite a bit over the past few months.” Then he sprung into “The Entertainer.”

Sadly, no images of The Donald were played to the crowd. But there were a series of wonderful overhead shots of Joel’s hands brilliantly dancing across the piano.

Midway through the show, he mentioned a genius performer we had recently lost. The feeling in the room was that he was referring to Prince, but the song to be covered was not so obvious.

Joel went with “1999,” breathing more life into T-Mobile. He tilted his mic stand toward those residing in the front row and actually lost his grip, the apparatus tumbling into the crowd.

You could see him calling out “I need that!” to those fans. The crowd laughed. It was that kind of night, and the guy had us feelin’ all right.

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