Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

With the stunning of "The Stranger" (3.7 million sold and going strong), Billy Joel's brittle, telling portraits of New York City have fired the imagination of an audience raised a culture away from that neon heaven.

Tuesday night at the Capital Centre, Joel was at his most powerful, his most cynical, his most wistful. From his five albums he skimmed the cream of his material, reaching back for several numbers from "Piano Man," pulling out almost the entire "Stranger" album and trying out a handful of numbers from "52nd Street," the album to be released next week.

Predictably, he drew the strongest responses for the most recent hits - "Moving Out," "Just the Way You Are," "She's Always a Woman," and especially the controversial, sometimes banned "Only the Good Die Young."

Of his new material, by far the funniest is "You Had To Be a Big Shot," about a morning-after hangover. Joel, who is in tighter control of himself and his band than ever before, has taken to clowning and acting his way across stage. He has also taken to diving occasionally into a face mask for a shot of oxygen, not surprisingly since, working without an opening act, he played a straight 2 1/2 hours.