Billy Joel @ Shea Stadium, Wednesday, July 16th

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

In New York, baseball is akin to religion. To many New Yorkers, Billy Joel is, too. So it was no surprise when it was announced that Joel would play the last concert at the New York Mets’ Shea Stadium.

And so, the themes of the night were, of course, New York and baseball, and Joel delivered a surprisingly long stream of hits that referenced those very things – “New York State of Mind,” “Zanzibar,” “Big Man on Mulberry Street,” “Miami 2017” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Many of the songs he played also seemed to contain indirect references, those to tradition, the past, or change, like “Allentown,” with its opening line, “Well we’re living here in Allentown / And they’re closing all the factories down.” To really drive the whole baseball theme home, he opened with the National Anthem, and played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” during his encore.

Billy Joel, “Zanzibar” (download)

Joel’s facial expressions were somewhere between distraction, awe and stoicism, but in big screen close-ups, his eyes looked occasionally watery. He didn’t choose to slather the audience in overwhelming sentiment, however, only mentioning how strange it was that he saw the stadium being built only to watch it come down soon, and apologizing to those who bought tickets for the evening assuming that it would be the very last show (the Mets could only offer up Friday as the additional date, he said).

The “Last Play at Shea” — or “Last Double-Play at Shea,” as he jokingly referred to it — makes Joel the first artist to have headlined all three major New York stadiums: Giants’, Yankees’ & Mets. He also brings to a close a trend started by the Beatles, when they opened their ’65 North American tour at Shea on August 15th; which he nodded to with covers of “It’s A Hard Day’s Night” and “She Loves Me.” That show was the first concert at a major stadium and broke records for attendance and profit, proving that rock ‘n’ roll was a major force.

Speaking of major forces, it wouldn’t be a modern landmark concert event without special guests, and Joel has friends to go around. Crooner Tony Bennett came out for “New York State of Mind,” bluesy guitarist John Mayer for “This is the Time,” the Eagles’ Don Henley for the oh-so-appropriate “Boys of Summer,” and John Mellencamp for his “Pink Houses.” A white uniformed military chorus provided backup on “Goodnight Saigon.”

Joel bowed out with “Souvenir,” which almost seemed as though he had written it with this kind of event in mind:

A picture postcard, a folded stub
A program of the play
File away the photographs of your holiday
And your mementos will turn to dust
But that’s the price you pay
For ev’ry year is a souvenir
That slowly fades away
Ev’ry year’s a souvenir
That slowly fades away

Billy Joel, “Souvenir” (download)

SETLIST:
National Anthem
Miami 2017
Prelude -> Angry Young Man
Yankee Doodle -> My Life
Everybody Loves You Now
The Entertainer
Zanzibar
Allentown
Ballad of Billy the Kid
New York State of Mind (w/ Tony Bennett)
Big Man on Mulberry Street
Rootbeer Rag
Movin’ Out
Goodnight Saigon
Don’t Ask Me Why
This is the Time (w/ John Mayer)
Keeping the Faith
The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
Stand by Me -> An Innocent Man -> Stand by Me
Boys of Summer (w/ Don Henley)
Always a Woman
Captain Jack
Lullaby
River of Dreams -> Hard Day’s Night
Pink Houses (w/ John Mellencamp)
We Didn’t Start the Fire
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
Please Please Me

Encore:
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
Only the Good Die Young
She Loves You
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Piano Man
Souvenir