Billy Joel, the New York piano man who became a rock star with the release of his 1977 album, “The Stranger,” has spent his career walking a fine line between introspective songwriter and supreme entertainer. His shows are filled with almost as many jokes as the powerhouse solos that merge technical precision with an uncanny sense of melodic structure.
Joel’s most popular songs, such as “Piano Man” and “Movin’ Out,” paint vivid, broad-stroke pictures of dreams deferred, capturing an entire world in the span of a five-minute pop song. He also often contrasts upbeat, catchy melodies with dark subject matter. “Everybody Loves You Now” is a biting satire of the volatility of the music industry, and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a giddy, encyclopedic encapsulation of pop culture and social and political milestones.
At his monthly shows at Madison Square Garden in New York, Joel has delivered not only his hits, but also such lesser-known tracks as “Where’s the Orchestra?,” a quirky lament to feeling out of place.
Despite his tremendous success and fame, the Long Island native has a deep connection to the underdog, and it doesn’t feel like an act. — Christopher Kompanek
Saturday at Nationals Park. Show starts at 8 p.m. 202-675-6287. www.nationals.com. $49.50-$124.50.
Between stints as a model, blog-baiting rants about South by Southwest and antics with singer-model girlfriend Sky Ferreira, singer Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV is not exactly a newbie when it comes to being in the public eye.
Given Smith’s penchant for snagging headlines, you might expect his group’s music to have hard edges. But DIIV (pronounced “dive”) is a shoegaze band that is more inspired by the Cure than by, say, Johnny Rotten.
The band has a distinctly late-’80s, early-’90s aesthetic: The snare drums hit so softly that it’s hard to tell whether the beats are live or from a drum machine; the notes of the guitar arpeggios ring out peacefully; and Smith’s boyish vocals are so heavily drenched in reverb that they seem otherworldly.
On top of that, DIIV’s music is understatedly catchy. The band’s 2012 debut, “Oshin,” was gently dance-friendly — the kind of dancing that’s mostly just bobbing your head and swaying your arms.
Don’t let the headlines fool you. DIIV, which is passing through Washington on a quick tour to work out songs from its forthcoming second album, is a deceptively accessible throwback to the age of My Bloody Valentine. — Dan Miller
With Regal Degal and Lodro on Friday at the Black Cat. Door open at 9 p.m. 202-667-4490. www.blackcatdc.com. $15.
Listen: DIIV's "(Druun Pt. II) / Like A Rolling Stone"
Singer-songwriter, show-tune savant, animal-rights activist and much more, Nellie McKay could easily fill an hour-long show with her own witty numbers and eclectic enthusiasms. But she has dedicated this tour to someone else entirely: the late jazz pianist and bandleader Billy Tipton, who died in 1989.
If that name sounds familiar, it might be because of something McKay invokes in the title of her current show: “A Girl Named Bill.” Born Dorothy Tipton, Billy lived most of his adult life as a man, an identity that was apparently never questioned by his several common-law wives. The story, McKay said in a recent phone chat, “is fairly irresistible.”
Although McKay has never topped the charts, she has composed such cult hits as “Mother of Pearl” (the one that opens, “feminists don’t have a sense of humor”) and “The Dog Song,” which has inspired a few puppy lovers to make YouTube videos with their pooches. McKay also has recorded albums or staged cabaret shows about actress-singer Doris Day, “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson and executed killer Barbara Graham. In “A Girl Named Bill,” she’ll mix her originals with standards Tipton once performed, such as “Take the A Train.”
She could stick to her own stuff, McKay acknowledges, “but I would be terribly bored.” — Mark Jenkins
Thursday at Jammin’ Java. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. 703-255-1566. www.jamminjava.com. $20. Aug. 1 at Ram’s Head On Stage. Show starts at 8 p.m. 410-268-4545. www.ramsheadonstage.com. $29.50.
Listen: Nellie McKay's "If I Had You"