• Image about Billy Joel

Joel decides to alter tonight’s set list because of a scratchy throat -- perhaps find something a little easier to get through. He tells his band maybe they should drop a song. For a moment, he toys with the idea of ditching “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” one of the many standards from his songbook. “How many Italian restaurants they got in San Antonio, anyway?” he asks. The band, which consists of Yankee pros, a Texas guitar slinger, and an Australian bassist, laughs.

But dropping that piece would be unconscionable, like Bruce Springsteen erasing “Thunder Road” from a concert or Frank Sinatra opting out of “My Way.” So they settle instead on cutting “Don’t Ask Me Why” from 1980’s Glass Houses and decide to add the deeper cut “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” the last song on side one of 1973’s Piano Man. It’s an Aaron Copland–soaked cowboy epic of a song that Joel wrote when he was all of 24 -- before he’d ever had a single hit -- in which the entertainer imagines himself as the legendary outlaw. Joel sings to an empty arena, giving it nearly his all to the thousands of empty seats. “From a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island/Rode a boy with a six-pack in his hand.”

The band kicks in with the attendant bursts of celebratory horn flourishes and rock-opera blasts, while Joel adds the trills of a Wild West saloon solo. Then comes the big finish: “And his daring life of crime/ Made him a legend in his time/East and west of the Rio Grande.”

It’s appropriate he chooses “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” for many reasons on this night, and chief among them is it allows Joel an opportunity to offer the San Antonio crowd his spot-on John Wayne imitation as he recites a monologue from the 1960 film The Alamo. After the sound check, Joel asks Carl Fischer, his trumpet player, to get online and learn, as quickly as he can, composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s immortal main theme from the movie. Joel figures the San Antonio audience will get a kick out of it, but it likewise amuses and satisfies him. He’d love to one day score a movie himself -- only, well, no one’s ever asked. Besides, he demurs, “I don’t really know how to orchestrate. I’m not skilled at it. I haven’t had any experience.”