When you've got as many hits in your back pocket as Billy Joel does, you don't need to work too hard to win over a crowd. Add a glorious (and rare) summer evening in a fantastically civilised venue into the mix, and you could probably get away with a setlist comprised mainly of jazz improv versions of your biggest numbers – as long as 'Uptown Girl' is in there somewhere.
Fortunately, the New Yorker didn't make his Irish audience sweat quite as much as he could have - although there is no question that it took some time for his first gig on Irish soil in five years to really ignite at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night. Hits? Oh yes, there are plenty of those – but you'll have to wait for 'em. First, there's a selection of songs from his earlier albums in the 1970s and 1980s, including 'The Entertainer' from 'Streetlife Serenade' (an album that “didn't sell worth a shit,” he quips), the synth-driven 'Pressure' and 'Vienna and 'Movin' Out', both from 'The Stranger', to ease us into the evening. There are even several occasions where Joel allows the audience to select the next tune (they opt for 'The Longest Time' and 'Don't Ask Me Why', FYI.)
The big singalongs come later in the evening. For now, we'll make do with Joel nodding to the locale of tonight's gig as he drums up an impromptu version of 'On Raglan Road', which he explains inspired the melody of his own song 'And So It Goes'. The punchy 'Allentown' adds some vim and vigour to proceedings, while 'New York State of Mind', with the backing of his impressive band, is a wow. It's 'My Life' that brings the crowd to their feet, though, while 'She's Always a Woman' sees arms thrown across shoulders for the romantics in the Aviva tonight and 'River of Dreams', segueing into The Beatles' 'A Hard Day's Night', sees those same arms thrown into the air while 'a-wimoweh'-ing to their hearts' content. 'Scenes from an Italian Restaurant' and 'Piano Man', meanwhile, exhibit just what a great storytelling lyricist Joel has been in the past.
He's in fine form throughout, too, making jokes both at his own expense (“It's been a few years since I was last here, and I know what you're thinking: 'What happened to that guy?',” he says at one point. “Well, I got older. I'm 69 now. I used to like that number”) and others' (there's an amusing, good-natured jibe at Madonna, while he also halts the show to allow two mortified audience members to re-take their seats.)
The big numbers, meanwhile, come with the encore - although you could argue that one or two of them might have been better placed earlier in the setlist. 'We Didn't Start the Fire' sees him emerge from behind his rotating piano to rock out on guitar, while 'Uptown Girl' - as cheesy as it may be (thanks for nothing, Westlife) - is still a fantastic pop song that holds up 35 years after it was first released. 'Big Shot' and 'It's Still Rock 'n' Roll to Me' pave the way for closer 'You May Be Right', ensuring that every box is ticked for tonight's crowd.
There are no fireworks, no big light show, no hugely significant moments; that doesn't really seem like Joel's style. Will tonight last long in our memory as a gig to remember? Probably not - but it's been a solid evening's entertainment from one of music's most enduring pop songwriters, nevertheless. That'll do just nicely.