Billy Joel is not above poking fun at himself or the occasional humble brag.
Thursday night at Fenway Park, after singing his bitter, but tuneful, tirade about the cruel vagaries of the music biz, “The Entertainer,” he said of his younger self “What did I know in that song? I haven’t put out an album in 20 years and I’m still doing this job.”
As he noted, it’s a very good job, one he got to do in front of an adoring crowd at Fenway Park. He thanked the crowd for keeping him employed both with gracious words and with a deeply satisfying two-hour show that proved that the piano man remains in remarkably strong voice and spirit.
In a set list 24 songs strong, the hits were plentiful and the stories a pleasure to hear again.
The characters, like old friends, returned one by one — Brenda and Eddie, the doomed newlyweds of ’75; the swaggering of “Big Shot”; the libidinal jazz guitarist of “Zanzibar”; and the displaced factory workers and fishermen of “Allentown” and “The Downeaster Alexa,” respectively — and were hailed as conquering heroes by a sold-out crowd ecstatic at the reunion.
As strong and fun as some of the classic radio staples like “My Life” and “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” were, rabid fans were treated to a few gems as Joel dug deeper for tunes like new wavey-wobbler “Sometimes a Fantasy” and the pastoral “Summer, Highland Falls.”
Each member of Joel’s crack, eight-piece band got a moment to shine and earned genuine admiration in the eyes of their boss.
If some of the songs have become care-worn thanks to endless radio spins, Joel and his band did their level best to reinvigorate them while staying true to the original arrangements for a crowd ready to sing along, and, in that vein, played a bit of “Sweet Caroline.”
Joel himself was clearly in a more engaged place then he sometimes has been over the years, singing with a go-for-broke gusto on several songs — particularly his western fantasia “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” — and nailing the high, elongated notes of songs like the aforementioned “Alexa” and “Allentown.”
Whatever was in that throat spray he was using — sharing with the crowd that it was called “The Entertainer’s Secret” — was working for him.
Apparently, Zac Brown was eager to see what the Fenway experience was like so the man headlining the ballpark Friday and Saturday with his own band joined Joel for a rollicking “You May Be Right” before the whole enterprise came to a close with the still-buoyant “Only the Good Die Young.”