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On the Scene: Alexa Ray Joel at the Mercury Lounge in NYC

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Arj_lUPDATE: In December 2009, Alexa Ray Joel made headlines when she was rushed to a hospital after a 911 call. This piece from 2007 describes a New York club performance by the aspiring singer.

Dozens of promising unsigned musicians perform at New York’s Mercury Lounge every year — but very few precede their shows with a dinner at a pricey downtown boite for some 20 guests, many of them boldface names. Then again, very few are the sole offspring of two ’80s superstars: Piano Man Billy Joel and his onetime Uptown Girl, model Christie Brinkley. At the downtown bistro Schillers, Alexa Ray Joel, a slim, brown-haired 21-year-old with her mom’s cheekbones and her dad’s large, downturned eyes, welcomed a group that included novelist Jay McInerney, fashion designer Nicole Miller, Wes Anderson collaborator Waris, and other NYC social fixtures (Brinkley was absent due to last-minute back surgery).

When the entire troupe, stomachs full, heads up to the Mercury to watch the show, they clearly differ from the venue’s usual crowd (indie-rock scruffs clad in weather-beaten black Converse and indifferent expressions). And so does Alexa Ray: poured into a black mini-dress, she takes to the stage and greets the crowd with seasoned showbiz confidence. An album is due out later this year, but for now, the only recorded material is a self-released six-song EP, Sketches (available through her website, streaming on her MySpace page or at Target stores nationwide), a collection of breezy, piano-based pop tunes with Broadway-baby vocals. At least she seems to realize her retro sound isn’t exactly commercial: “It took a couple years to figure out that the songs I like to play / Are often not the songs you hear about on the radio today,” she croons on “Songs of Yesterday.”

Joel is, of course, hardly the only celebrity offspring to try her hand at music-making: the current crop includes Hulk Hogan’s daughter Brooke, Sean Lennon, Growing Pains actor Alan’s son Robin Thicke (currently in Billboard’s top 10), and Elvis Perkins, the singer-songwriter son of late Psycho star Anthony. Schadenfreude tends to run rampant when it comes to kids who were already born on third base trying to score home runs, which makes it hard to decide objectively whether Alexa can transcend her background.  And while her lyrics contain the kind of clichés and faux-jadedness that only the very young can get away with, she’s clearly inherited at least some of her father’s talent for melody. “The Heart of Me” is a rollicking mid-tempo rocker, and the pointed, acerbic“Now It’s Gone” — which she dedicated at the show to her mother —should make Brinkley’s philandering ex-husband, Peter Cook, shiver in his Polo sweater. Joel may never become a great star, but then again, she very likely needs neither the money nor approval. As her dad once sang, “I am the entertainer, and I know just where I stand.”And indeed, unlike most peers her age, still struggling to find their identity, she seems pretty sure of where she is.