Billy Joel, the prime ‘Piano Man’

Billy Joel may be in a New York state of mind, but he had the heart of the Bay Area on Saturday at the Oracle Arena.

“Isn’t this the Oakland Coliseum?” he joked to the capacity, surprisingly multigenerational crowd on his first solo local appearance in years.

Throughout the show, he sprinkled in fun musical San Francisco references, including the famed “open your Golden Gate” theme, the Scott McKenzie song, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and, of course, a beautiful Tony Bennett-like version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Having been on the road for a decade with fellow 1970s hit maker Elton John, Joel’s new show features more than his many hits — although they’re nicely represented, too.

The hefty two-hour, 20-minute concert covered the span of the 58-year-old Grammy winner’s career, seemingly missing only two big hits: “Uptown Girl” and “Just the Way You Are.”

Ingeniously paced for utmost impact, the show started off with Joel’s trademark piano sound in “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” then kicked into “My Life.”

Some of the lesser-known tunes were toward the beginning. Joel introduced “Everybody Loves You Now” from his first album “Cold Spring Harbor” and “The Entertainer,” from “Streetlight Serenade.”

The show hit a high with the saxophone-saturated, moody “New York State of Mind”; Joel’s band sounded monumental.

Joel, who in recent years has been composing instrumental music rather than pop selections, really showed off his virtuosity on “Root Beer Rag,” which, accompanied by a little light show, didn’t seem out of place.

On “An Innocent Man,” he moved away from the piano. “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “She’s Always a Woman,” “Keeping the Faith” and 1993’s “The River of Dreams” followed.

The final, rockin’ portion of the show began with a weird, oddly crowd-pleasing version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” sung by a roadie with the band.

Thankfully, Joel came back to lead, dancing pretty well for a middle-aged guy (early in the show, he joshed, “I’m really Billy’s dad; Billy couldn’t make it tonight”) around the mike stand, with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “Big Shot,” “It’s Still Rock ’n’ Roll to Me” and “You May Be Right.”

The encore featured a majestic version of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”; he closed with his signature “Piano Man,” during which the happily sated audience sang along, in fine form.

lkatz@examiner.com

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