In our circles, one doesn’t necessarily broadcast the fact that one is totally psyched about seeing Billy Joel play the second-to-last concert ever at Shea Stadium. He’s not MGMT, after all. To say you like Billy Joel is to tell the world you also like Jumbotron close-ups of his fingers flying across the piano, 50-foot-tall screens showing people holding hands at sunset during “These Are the Times to Remember,” choruses of men and women in uniform singing “Goodnight Saigon,” and pictures of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe and Stalin and Elvis mixed with images of actual fire during “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Well, world, we shed a tear when the entire stadium linked arms and sang “Piano Man.” We freely admit to the cheesiness of our soul. We loved every second of last night’s show.
Joel still lives in Long Island, and at this event he made clear he was playing to a home crowd. “I remember when this place was built. I was 13 or 14, and now they’re going to tear it down. And I’m still playing,” he said, shaking his head in awe. The video screens were cityscapes; the video itself was projected in the shape of the skyline. Joel opened, as every Mets game does, with the national anthem, then moved into “Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway),” a borough-name-dropping song in which only Queens survives the destruction of the city. In the original lyrics, the Yankees are spared; this time, Joel spared the Mets and Shea. Later in the night Don Henley played his own baseball-themed “The Boys of Summer” and Tony Bennett joined Joel in a duet of “New York State of Mind” that brought down the house.
Granted, Joel might have amped up the New York pandering a bit owing to some controversy. Last night had originally been billed the “Last Play at Shea,” but Joel later added a show on Friday. He was visibly upset as he explained himself to the booing crowd. “I want to apologize to those of you who bought tickets thinking this was the last show at Shea,” he said (this was greeted with a chorus of jeers). “I know. I suck. A lot of scalpers got a hold of tickets and a lot people who wanted to go couldn’t get in. They don’t enforce the frickin’ laws in this state anymore!”
But very much to his credit, Joel played like this was his last concert on earth. When the cameras zoomed in on his face, it was tomato red and covered in sweat. He joked that he hasn’t created a new album in fifteen years, which is awesome because he played only songs we know. And he filled the show with little extras, like John Mayer playing guitar on “These Are the Times to Remember” and John Mellencamp guesting on
“Taking Back America” “Pink Houses.” Joel also played tribute to the Beatles — whose 1965 concert at Shea, as the stadium’s first musical act, represented the height of Beatlemania — by ending the main part of the two-and-a-half-hour set with “Please Please Me.” The encore, of course, he closed with “Piano Man.” This is our Billy Joel, the city’s unabashedly cheesy and unexpectedly profound musical ambassador. “Thank you, Shea Stadium,” he said, waving good-bye with a tear in his eye. “Don’t take shit from anybody.” —Jada Yuan