Somewhere in Billy Joel's attic there surely resides a portrait of a dapper young man with a head of tousled hair. Shiny-pated, goateed and care-worn, at 64 Joel is proof not every sexagenarian rock star has been gazed upon kindly by the gods of ageing. There is no Dorian Gray magic at work here.
Then again, even as a rakish newcomer, Joel's demeanour suggested an old soul, gripped by closing-time blues. Seated at a grand piano which occasionally rotates so that the entire audience can see the veins bulge as he strains for a high note, he is a rumpled presence, a man who has lived, loved, lost – and acquired no small amount of salty wisdom on the way.
Joel performs a number of his biggest smashes, including 'Uptown Girl', a throwaway valentine to the doo-wop pop of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. However, his ambitions go beyond glib showboating and much of the evening is given over to obscurities and personal favourites. As the sun sets on his career, clearly Joel is keen to buff his legacy as Serious Songwriter – if that means begging the indulgence of a room that has paid up to €76 per seat, evidently he believes he has earned that privilege.
Some of the rarities are lesser known for a reason, and their presence on the setlist constitutes an extravagance, particularly as Joel's backing players insist on adding gauche bar-band licks (the lead guitarist spends the night trapped within a karaoke version of Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'').
Several, though, are sublime and train a spotlight on an overlooked side to Joel; a working class guy who seems to have made a real effort not to forget where he came from.
Dedicated to the struggling fisherman toiling off his native Long Island, 'The Downeaster Alexa' is taut and stripped down, with little of Joel's usual filigree while 'Allentown', named after a rust-belt sprawl in Pennsylvania, is as angry and articulate a portrayal of blue- collar despair as anything Springsteen ever recorded.
His piano still rotating, eventually Joel steers the concert around to more familiar waters. Slathered in saxophone, 'New York State of Mind' is a guilty pleasure sonnet to Manhattan, 'She's Always A Woman' a serenade penned after the first glow of romantic infatuation has dimmed to something deeper and darker.
The whiff of bubble-gum never quite dissipates and tracks are often over arranged. Still, Joel's every-dude decency shines through, especially on 'Piano Man', a song that is weepy and sentimental but which nonetheless lands its punches for no other reason than that sometimes real life is weepy and sentimental too.