Billy Joel Is The The Giver Of Dreams At BST Hyde Park 2023

Hyde Park is baking. The turf beneath the 130,000 feet of the crowd is bleached and brittle as a thrice-peroxided perm, and snippets of dry grass wisp through the air like God’s dandruff. A guy to my left hands his hat to staff refilling water bottles; asks them to stick it under the tap; then upends the whole thing over his head. “I’m sorry if I smell meaty,” cringes the tipsy woman on my right. “We went to an all-you-can-eat place yesterday that my friend says serves the best chicken wings in London, but now I feel like I’m sweating out soup.” And thus, minutes before Billy Joel takes to the stage, a consommé confessional precedes a consummate professional.

American Express Presents BST Hyde Park

Billy Joel performs on Day 8 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 7, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)
Billy Joel performs on Day 8 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 7, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

Joel is also preceded by a set from Natasha Bedingfield, looking heart-stopping in a sheer, white, crystal-encrusted jumpsuit and cape, taken straight from the wedding inspo Pinterest board of a Playboy centrefold engaged to a nonagenarian billionaire with a dicky ticker. Technical difficulties mean she performs several songs a cappella – demonstrating in the process that when it comes to These Words, everyone still remembers them (well, the chorus, at least); and that she has the impressive vocal control to belt out a version of Unwritten more embellished and ornamented than her trousers.

  • 53042025920 008c8f35c0 o
  • 53041644421 fa0ed13510 o
  • 53042025925 55682c8272 o
  • 53041644426 988e8c1169 o
  • 53041644441 2fdaa47811 o
  • 53041644456 6e25cb3024 o
  • 53042122093 66c87203ca o
  • 53041049457 3e0cb4053e o
  • 53041820664 1548c5436f o
  • 53041644516 3bca910a1c o
  • 53041644506 f205057806 o
  • 53042122113 031b5f3f4b o
  • 53042025995 fbef8f707e o
  • 53041644546 48a5c8479a o
  • 53042025920 5452a31b49 n
  • 53041644421 0431916d54 n
  • 53042025925 ff2f067ef0 n
  • 53041644426 b066488b3e n
  • 53041644441 a3fddef034 n
  • 53041644456 bc8963558e n
  • 53042122093 8ea622336e n
  • 53041049457 0bed1611c1 n
  • 53041820664 083041d04e n
  • 53041644516 905487cefc n
  • 53041644506 37b8ed9468 n
  • 53042122113 54ac6e4c65 n
  • 53042025995 bc24f444ca n
  • 53041644546 2a7aae6cfe n

Next comes Daryl Hall, performing solo while Oates is presumably sowing himself wildly elsewhere. Irrespective of how much chicken they’ve already consumed, fans hungrily lap up opener Maneater. There’s a Michelin-starred menu of hits: Out of Touch; Everytime You Go Away; I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do); Rich Girl. However, it’s You Make My Dreams (Come True) that elicits the biggest collective swoon – perhaps reflecting the track’s perennially high position in lists of the UK’s top ‘First Dance’ choices, at marriages both spangly catsuited and otherwise. At 76, Hall’s voice sounds a touch strained during certain refrains, but remains full of distinct character and timbre. It’s the bottom few inches being poured from a stunning 1946 bottle, and a privilege to savour.

  • 53041644601 f37827393b o
  • 53042026005 244a22bf9c o
  • 53042026020 9ca8b2f38a o
  • 53041820724 a4f426e843 o
  • 53041049517 db9d75d0c4 o
  • 53041644631 0a4b4f0ee3 o
  • 53041049552 e55dfc3f26 o
  • 53041644681 46da60d572 o
  • 53041644601 f9a2b80dcf n
  • 53042026005 5d6c72d27a n
  • 53042026020 e88d8cca4b n
  • 53041820724 4d9d6647b6 n
  • 53041049517 4d4441e58b n
  • 53041644631 93e9917246 n
  • 53041049552 7b0c1f1d19 n
  • 53041644681 022979cc38 n

Speaking of wine, headliner Billy Joel doesn’t drink any more, but he’s an utter aficionado at intoxicating a live audience. He kicks off feistily with My Life: a proclamation to boldly follow your nose, and tell naysayers to stop sticking their own into your business. It’s chased by Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song): a bitingly cynical, pissed-off rant about being overworked and underserved by capitalism’s insistence that the common man must grind and graft himself down into the grave in an effort to be upwardly mobile. “Working too hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack-ack” we all chant along, momentarily sounding like the aliens from Mars Attacks have invaded the capital.

Joel’s famed piano rotates as he sings, to give everyone a chance to feel they’re being directly serenaded. In jeans, jacket and shades, he could pass for Bruce Willis’s cousin, and looks like he’s just wrapped up some friendly business with his Italian mobster accountant before rocking up to charm everyone at a smart-casual fundraiser BBQ. Tipping his sunglasses to squint at the sky, he quips: “The brightest sun I’ve ever seen on stage is in England?!”

Although doubtless a quick-witted guy, this is one of Joel’s few jokes that isn’t pre-prepared. I was lucky enough to catch him play Madison Square Garden last year – a residency due to wrap up in July 2024 after a mighty 150 shows at the world-renowned Manhattan venue spanning a decade. Tonight’s gig is an almost exact facsimile of those New York concerts, right down to the singer prefacing Innocent Man with a disclaimer that he “started kissing goodbye to a lot of high notes in my 30s, and didn’t ever think I’d still be doing this song in his 70s… so if I don’t hit that note, I’m sorry” – before going on to summon the iconic E♭5 seemingly with all the ease of hailing a yellow cab by waving $100 bill.

Likewise, his rebuke as the crowd cheer the announcement of The Entertainer, from 1974 album Streetlife Serenade – “Don’t bullshit me, you didn’t buy it. Nobody bought it” – is so familiar to his band that long-time drummer Liberty DeVitto has the ‘badoom-tish’ already cued up. But that’s not to say Joel’s impression of a spontaneous raconteur is some kind of racket, nor that any aspect of this performance is jaded or lazily phoned-in. Conversely, this is a routine that’s been highly polished by a devoted virtuoso who wants every single night to shine. Even going so far as to habitually keep a fly swatter within reach to ensure pesky midges drawn to the stage lights can’t interrupt his playing, Billy Joel has worked like Billy-o to perfect this show.

He and I are both crying by the time Vienna rolls around, although Joel’s tears are due to epiphora rather than emotion; he has a medical condition that makes him appear weepy, and which gave rise to an internet rumour that he’d had both eyes replaced with glass prosthetics. That story’s a myth, but there are plenty of remarkable tales about him and his crew which are true. For instance, Mike DelGuidice – the band’s rhythm guitarist and vocalist who brings the house/park down with a spotless rendition of Nessun Dorma – spent 15 years posing as the very star he now tours with, in a Billy Joel tribute group called Big Shot.

Stories will be told about this evening, too. About the surprise cameo appearance of Joe Jonas on Uptown Girl during the encore. About how the original version of We Didn’t Start The Fire incinerates the recent Fall Out Boy reboot, widely derided for attempting to update Joel’s hit with new lyrics listing zeitgeisty topics such as QAnon, Harry Potter and Cambridge Analytica…but in jumbled, non-chronological order. About how Chicken Sweat Lady, who has been playing a painful gin-fuelled game of Snakes And Bladders for the final half hour of the gig, successfully manages to hold her pee for the Piano Man without needing to dash to the Serpentine Road loos.

American Express Presents BST Hyde Park

Joe Jonas and Billy Joel perform on stage on Day 8 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 7, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)
Joe Jonas and Billy Joel perform on stage on Day 8 of American Express Presents BST Hyde Park on July 7, 2023 in London, United, Kingdom. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Hogan Media/Shutterstock)

“Son, can you play me a memory?”, asks the similarly gin-loving character in the song from which Billy Joel takes his nickname. Tonight, he proves himself to be one of the very finest, not just at playing memories, but making them. For life.

Review of Billy Joel @ BST Hyde Park on 7th July by Alix Fox. Photography of Billy Joel by Dave Hogan. Photography of Natasha Bedingfield & Daryl Hall by Simon Reed.

Bruce Springsteen Is Still The Boss Of London’s Hyde Park

Aerial Salad (Press)

Aerial Salad Share Tied To Pieces Of Paper

It’s with good reason that Aerial Salad describe themselves as "Madchester Punk". From their formation in 2016, the...
Crawlers @ Rough Trade East (Paul Lyme)

Crawlers Deliver A Valentine’s Treat At Rough Trade East

The queue stretches down through the glowing Shoreditch street for half a block. Someone’s cut out hundreds of pink...
Alice Cooper @ The O2 Arena (Kalpesh Patel)

Alice Cooper Announces UK Tour Including Hammersmith London Shows

Icon, pioneer, and Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Alice Cooper has achieved so much in his lengthy career. But...
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes @ Roundhouse (Nick Allan)

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ Dark Rainbows Shine At The Roundhouse

Few musicians and artists that I’ve followed over the years have evolved as much as Frank Carter has since I first saw him fronting Gallows when they opened for the MC5/DTK at the Underworld in Camden back in December 2006, back when I described Frank as a Wee Ginger Gobshite who offered out the audience for a fight, Now nearly 18 years later Frank is playing two nights At The Roundhouse to celebrate the release of dark Rainbow his fifth album with The Rattlesnakes.

Megan Moroney (David McClister)

Georgia’s EMO Cowgirl Megan Moroney To Bring Nashville To The UK

Self-described “emo cowgirl” Megan Moroney has announced her return to the UK for seven headline dates in September,...
McFly (Press)

McFly To Celebrate 21 Years With Massive O2 Arena Show

It’s been 21 years since McFly first formed, a journey which has taken them from their breakthrough hit Five Colours...
The Schizophonics @ Moth Club (Pauline Di Silvestro)

A Lesson Of Rock’N’Roll To The People Of Hackney, By The Schizophonics

It was an average Wednesday night for many people in Hackney, just trying to get through the rest of the winter while...
Mother Mother Mackenzie Walker scaled

Mother Mother Explore Their Grief Chapter

Canada’s biggest alt-rock export Mother Mother have released their highly anticipated album Grief Chapter. The album...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share Thing