SALT LAKE CITY — It was a pretty good crowd for a Wednesday.

The enthusiastic Salt Lake crowd shuffled in, filling Vivint Arena to near capacity.

And then the Piano Man stepped onto the Utah stage for the first time in several years. In fact, Billy Joel noted Wednesday, Nov. 29, that the concert marked 10 years to the day that he’d last performed a solo show at the then-EnergySolutions Arena.

The singer hasn’t released an album in more than two decades, but when you’re able to give your audience a two-and-a-half hour performance filled with a slew of signature hits, it really doesn’t matter.

With a comforting sense of ease, the 68-year-old Joel settled onto his stool, sipped from a mug nestled in his piano’s left cup-holder and gave his Utah fans a show that more than compensated for his long absence in the state.

They delighted in every moment.

Joel — backed by his excellent Billy Joel Band — kicked things off with the anthemic “My Life,” which immediately informed his audience that while he may be nearing 70, he hasn’t lost his groove. His voice rang clear — an occasional growl slipping in to reinforce the song’s sassy message: "I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life — Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone!”

The song’s conclusion was met with a lively standing ovation, and that energy carried through the entire evening as Joel proved he’s as much an entertainer as he is a musician.

From his perch in front of a rotating piano, Joel often let the audience take control of his set list.

Much like a college professor going over key points with his students, Joel studiously pored over his set list, explaining to his fans that they had the option to select either “Everybody Loves You Now” or “She’s Got a Way” — both songs from his first solo album, 1971’s “Cold Spring Harbor.”

When the crowd cheered loudest for the latter, Joel humorously quipped, “I was hoping you’d pick the other one.”

The choice gave the audience a taste of vintage Joel, who, with no backing, delivered both his smooth vocals and delicate piano maneuvers that resonated through the arena. As the romantic song came to a close, Joel capped “She’s Got a Way” with the following coda: “And then we broke up.”

In all, Joel gave his fans eight opportunities to select the next song. And just when it was getting predictable — the second choice always seemed to produce the most cheers — one of his questions resulted in an answer that was too close to call.

So Joel turned to a coin toss for resolution: Heads, “Stiletto;” tails, “Zanzibar” — both songs from Joel’s 1979 album, “52nd Street,” which the singer informed his audience won a Grammy in 1979. Heads won, and from Joel’s reaction, it appeared that he usually performs “Zanzibar.” It was a moment of flexibility that reinforced Joel’s affinity for entertaining and served to reassure fans that no concert with Joel is the same.

Joel was assisted throughout the night by the Billy Joel Band, a talented group of musicians who played with as much ease and happiness as their frontman. Saxophonist Mark Rivera gave the crowd beaming smiles in between his high-powered notes, guitarist Mike DelGuidice performed a stunning version of the Italian aria “Nessun Dorma” and Joel’s crew guy, known as “Chainsaw,” took control of the stage with a head-banging rendition of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” — while Joel casually stood to the side strumming a guitar.

Singer-songwriter Billy Joel performs at the Vivint Arena Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017.
Singer-songwriter Billy Joel performs at the Vivint Arena Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. | Cristy Meiners

Of course, a Piano Man concert isn’t complete without a performance of “Piano Man.” Building up to that monster hit, Joel performed several signature songs, including “New York State of Mind,” “For the Longest Time” and “Moving Out.” Each one enlivened the crowd and increased anticipation for the inevitable.

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When he pulled out his harmonica, the crowd went wild. A sing-along ensued as the audience joined Joel in singing about the real estate novelist named Paul, Davy who’s still in the Navy and of the waitresses practicing politics. The crowd even got a chance to sing the chorus one time through as Joel sat silently, smiling big and waving to his fans throughout Vivint Arena.

“Piano Man” finished off a two-hour performance, but Joel wasn’t ready for things to be over. He kicked off a five-song encore set with the rapid-fire “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” his energy staying alive all the way through to the very last note of his final song, “You May Be Right.”

Joel remedied a wrong Wednesday night. If there were any fans at the show upset with the singer for neglecting the Beehive State for so long, Joel offered a sincere apology via a comprehensive and engaging show that took Utah fans on a journey through his dynamic career.

Let's just hope his next performance won't be in 2027.

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