Thursday, July 17, 2008

Concert Review: Billy Joel and the Last Play At Shea

Why anyone living in the city would want to spend $30 dollars in parking, just to spend an hour or more sitting in traffic just to leave after a concert is beyond my rationale. So, and in honor of Shea Stadium, we decided to take the "7" train for its last (or *ahem* I should say "next to last") concert.

Both the "F" and "7" trains were remarkably quick, clean, and we had no problems finding seats. And when we arrived at Shea, you could already tell this was going to be one sausage stuffer. People teeming everywhere, and not the weak or for those who are not into crowds. And talking about sausage, thousands were tailgaiting at the Shea parking lot. Mmmm. Can you smell it now? Oh, wait...not that... that's Flushing Bay... turn your nose over there.....ahhh now you got it my friend....

We got in thru the turnstiles, where they inspected our bags. And debating whether or not to risk surrendering a $500 dollar digital camera to a 500-pound gorilla bouncer, I decided the latter. As one could expect, I was pretty peeved to see how many cameras digital and video seemed to have made it into the stadium. I do have crappy pictures from my Motorola Razr phone, and will post them on this blogpost, but I have no access to it now, so if you like, come on back later tonight. As for videos, unfortunately, I do not have any videos that I took of my own, however YouTube has lots. So, I will be flagrantly promoting everyone else here today (thanks, everybody). Oh, and yes, they were giving out tags to wear that had serial codes. The codes can be used for downloading for free, material from Billy Joel's remastered "The Stranger" album. I found two more that were left behind at the end of the concert.

Concession stands were selling all kinds of neat and very expensive stuff. For $150 dollars, for example, you could get a blue and orange baseball jersey with "Joel 08" printed on the back.

Our seats were very nice. I was in a Field Box seat in section 247 in the last row (row J). We were on the 1st base side, slightly to the left of the stage (to Billy's perspective). The weather was beautiful tonight, and the $9.50 24ounce Bud Lights were flowing freely at the concert. I'm glad I stockpiled on those the moment we got in as the line was several yards long afterwards.

The stage that Billy was performing on was incredibly massive. It was far larger than anything else I've ever seen before here at Shea, and I've seen the Rolling Stones - Steel Wheel tour back in the 90's too. There were video screens plastered all around on either side of the stage, and beautiful, towering silk screen collages of New York on both sides as well.

There was the mention that Miramax was filming this and the Friday concert to include in some form of documentary/concert performance. Perhaps that's why all the stops had been pulled out.

The tickets read an 8pm performance, but Billy did not go on until about 8:40 or so. Based on this, I thought he was only going to be onstage for about 90 minutes or so. Wow. Was I ever wrong. At the end of his last song, Souvenir, I had looked down at my watch and it read 11:50PM. Over 3 hours long.

1. The National Anthem

The show kicked off with Billy singing the National Anthem. As a model citizen, I removed my ballcap and held it over my chest as we all sang along. It's kind of funny in a way, because no one applauded when he came out. He just started singing the anthem after the PA announcer said about rising for the National Anthem. The sun was almost down.

Billy loves to joke with his crowd, and it was nice to see that throughout all these years, that he managed to maintain his Long Island accent as well as his humor.

He started the crowd off by stating that "This is where New York meets Long Island" as he looked all around Shea. "Yes, Queens is the city, but geographically it's Long Island."

2.Miami 2017
Ahhh.. Here we go! Nothing says New York best like hearing Billy Joel start off an outdoor concert at Shea with the lines "I've seen the lights go out on Broadway." Even better though was when he added a line about the Mets and Shea.

3.Angry Young Man

Everytime I hear this song, I always reflect upon my youth, especially during my high-school years, and of all of the boneheaded mistakes I've made as a result of my anger. Billy's machine-gun fingerwork on the keys were not off at all. He's still got the speedwork (hee hee, I said 'speedwork') if not his original pipes.

4. Yankee Doodle Dandy
Read my comments about this on the 'My Life' review below.

5. My Life

It's funny how those who think they know, sometimes know less. When Billy started playing the first few chords of this song, I instantly shouted, "My Life! Allrrrright, Billy boy!!!" Ileana, turned to me and said "What are you talking about, Alex? That's Yankee Doodle Dandy. Even I know what that song is." And you know something, she was right. Clever Billy. He started off with a song similar in chord structure before blending in to the song we all know and love. I can't wait for this to come out to DVD

5. Everybody Loves You Now

As soon as 'My Life' had ended, Billy stopped to address the audience...
“I want to apologize to those of you who bought tickets thinking this was going to be the very last show,” Joel said. As soon I heard this, I, like the majority of the 60 thousand plus actually booed his ass. Joel then said, “I know. I suck.”. Boos turned to laughter, and then he plays, 'Everybody Loves You Now'. Incredibly appropo, dontcha think? Joel went on to add that scalpers took away any chance of fans from getting to the first show, and that it was Shea's decision to add another show...after this one....Freddy Coupon has done it again, was all I could think of.

Second only to "Until The Night" from his 52nd Street Album. "Everybody Loves You Now" has got to be one of my favorite, not-so-little-known songs from his discography. As with all of his music, the melody filled Shea like a fine wine pouring into a goblet. And as this song played on, wonderful replays from the New York Mets, such as the amazing catch from Chavez during Game 7 of the 2006 series against the Cards, the 1986 World Series victory, and the dugout clearing for 1969's championship, all played on the mega screens. What a delight for Mets fans!

6. The Entertainer
Here's another crowd pleaser. Joel goes: “I remember when this place was built, I was about 13 or 14. Now they’re going to tear it down. And I’m still playing.”
We all tried to sing the lyrics (well at least I did), but could not keep up with Billy's ever increasing energy.

7. Zanzibar
Billy Joel kept his joculatity at a maximum with the crowd. Just before launching into this baseball-themed song, he asked how many in the audience were Mets fans, then asked the Yankee fans to say the same. The horn section was absolutely magnificent. Especially Carl Fischer, homegrown from Baldwin, LI. This song and Mulberry Street were excellent rock jazz tunes. I also knew that if Billy was reaching deep into this catalogue, that we would be in for an amazing show tonight.

8. Allentown
What's that break horn he plays at the beginning of this song? I absolutely love it, and wished they did this in my office at lunch. Either that or that stupid teradactyl from the Flintstones would do just nice. Everyone is singing. Audience participation at a Billy Joel concert never needs to be requested. We happily give it.

9. Billy the Kid
I was actually buying Carvel when this song came on. All I could think about was Billy Wagner, and how he'd better not blow any more saves. Pathetic.

10. New York State Of Mind featuring Tony Bennett

When the first few notes of New York State of Mind plays in New York, it draws everyone's attention, naturally. But after Billy Joel sang the first line, he suddenly stopped. Did he forget the words? No. But he did introduce Tony Bennett.
Everyone's pretty freakin' halfway floored at that statement, but when Tony Bennett came out the job was complete. Not only did he woo everyone, this guy can still belt them out. And he really got into this song. On top of that, Tony's infectious smile over the megascreens got to everyone. From this point onward, I don't think anyone in the nearly 63,000 seated stadium, sat anymore.
11. Big Man on Mulberry Street

It was great to see the videos that Billy had playing in the background for each of his songs. No detail left untouched either. For example, when "from Houston to Canal Street" was sung, they actually had a view of Canal street from uptown.

12. Root Beer Rag
At this point, Billy Joel mentioned that this would be a good time for people to get up and go to the bathroom, especially because, "I have a heck of a time trying to get all these notes right, I probably am going to screw up!". There was a woman behind me who was screaming and dancing wildly to this song. By the looks of her, she was definitely over her BAC. While this song played, Ileana was afraid she'd get lost, so I escorted her to the bathroom. On the way back, I asked if she could take a picture of me next to the Mets sign in the corridor. For nearly the entire song, she was having difficulties with the camera. Understandable, since it is a Motorola Razr. By the way, did I mention what a shitty camera the Razr has? Anyway, I got short with her, and she got angry at me. And as usual, she got quiet for the rest of the evening. So when Billy played the next song (below), I pretty much yelled out the lyrics....

13. Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)
Songs that are played on the radio, at just the right moment, but now instead in concert. Has this ever happened to you?

14. Goodnight Saigon
Not sure whether they were just singers in costume or the real deal, but during the chorus of this song, the spotlight illuminated on a dozen or more sailors and NY police officers singing. The choppers at the beggining and the end of this song were loud and convincing. Illegal aliens in Corona, just across the GCP from Shea, must have been running for cover when they heard this. La Migra! La Migra!! (INS, in Spanish).

15. Don't Ask Me Why
Another crowd pleaser.

16. This Is The Time featuring John Mayer

Billy turns to the crowd and says "I heard recently, that this song keeps getting more and more play at graduations....". For some spastic reason, I had guessed "Only the Good Die Young", lol. And then John Mayer is introduced, and he plays on the guitar. Frankly, I'm not all that impressed with John (all the ladies, will probably be throwing knives at me right about now). What's the deal with him anyway. I heard his music, and it is okay, but not something that I would rush out to see or buy. Anyway, the best part of this song was when Joel sang out "They’re tearin’ it down now, but it’s just as well. If it’s just as well, this was the way to say goodbye!", referring of course to the imminent demise at Shea.

17.Keeping the Faith
This was never a song that I particularly liked, but that's what makes Joel so strong and diverse a musician. His music is varied, as are his fans. Many of them were dancing and singing along to this tune as well. I guess they were "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Keeping the faith!!!"

18.Downeaster Alexa

This is a local favorite amongst Long Islanders, but it seems that now, some 20 years after it's release, that it's a bit out of tune with what's happening with the rest of the world. I was impressed by the reach of his notes on this song though. Not bad for what, a fifty-eight year old?

19.Stand By Me

Billy stands up and pulls away from his "Long Island" Grand Piano. He takes the mike and .....Here we go again. What sounds like is going to be 'An Innocent Man', winds up becoming that famous Ben E. King song....and then....

20.An Innocent Man
I loved that he did this song. Everytime I hear it, I can't help but to think about that time that my first wife, Lorraine, and I, were in Niagara Falls. I can't remember the actual place, but it had a recording studio called "Sing Like A Star". In short it was a karaoke place that recorded you singing. I still have the tape of me singing this song. I sounded wretched of course. And of course I will never play it here (unless you want to be punished). Am I innocent? Hardly. But this song always brings me back to that time.

21.Boys of Summer featuring Don Henley

Never having seen the Eagles, or any of its members separately in a live performance, this was indeed a treat. The vocals could have been a bit louder, and Henley was still off, but this is a classic tune from him, and Billy Joel does it yet again, to get an appropriate "baseball-themed" tune played for the masses at Shea.

22.She's Always a Woman
"And she'll take what you give her, as long as it's free"
-Nuff said.

23.Captain Jack
This person got some great seats for sure!

Another favorite of mine, and as expected the weed-to-nostril factor was greatly elevated during this tune. Not enough to get a contact high, but enough to remind me of a past long forgotten.

The sadness of this beautiful ballad that he wrote for his daughter packed the same wallop to me this time as when it was first played on my then Technics CD player back in '93. Silent whispers of a relationship he once had had with then wife Christine Brinkley, were definitely prevalent during the playing of this haunting tune....

25.River of Dreams
At the start of this song, Billy announces, "I want to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room,”. And somewhere near the end, the crowd erupts when Joel turns Dreams into Night. A Hard Day's Night, that is...

26.A Hard Day's Night

This was about as tight a cover of this song as I've seen, perhaps even tighter then when Liverpool played it at Mark Lapidos' Beatlefest in Secaucus several years ago.
At one point, he began to sound so much like Paul McCartney, that I lost control and actually yelled out "Oh My God!". With all of the performers coming out on stage, I was really beginning to believe that contrary to the reports about the remaining fab four being unavailable, that Paul did come to Flushing. It was a definite downer when he did not show up. As the song ended, Joel spun back to finishing up with River of Dreams.

27.Pink Houses featuring John Mellencamp
(or Melonhead as my friend Scott has recently mentioned)

Of all the guest performances, John's may have been the most powerful if not as emotional as that of Bennett's briging-the-house-down State of Mind

28.We Didn't Start the Fire
The first time I had heard about this song, it was actually on the news. The advance word of it was that this was like Joel's response to rap music, in a educational, historical sort-of-way.
Every word uttered by Billy on this song, was met with an effective visual response on the giant screens. If he said Nixon, voila! There was a picture of Nixon in the background. What a great song. Without a doubt one of my top 5 songs from him.

29.It's Still Rock and Roll To Me

The video in the background showed Joel back then too when he had a huge head of dark, wiry hair. Great song. Every word pungently sung!

30.You May Be Right
"I just may be that loooooooooonatic you're lookin' for"
His concert was so great, that I am reliving the singing right now as I write this review. Electrifying.

31.Please Please Me

Right after 'Please Please Me' the show ended. Yeah. Right. Joel is no different than any other accomplished rocker. And so encores are an expected must. What was surprising was that he did FIVE encores starting off with.....

32.Scenes from an Itallian Restaurant
Everybody singing. Cigarette Lighters turning on. "Things Are Okay With Me These Days"....I felt like saying, 'I got a new life, I got new sneakers and the family's fine.'
One of these days though, I will get the red and white bottles in the right order. Ugh.

33.Only the Good Die Young
"Come out Virginia, don't let me wait
You Catholic girls start much too late
aw But sooner or later it comes down to fate
I might as well be the one"

Always loved this tune, and it always reminds me of my Aunt Virginia too. Her and my Uncle Antonio were big into Billy back in the seventies. They married in '77 which was a huge year for Joel, and rock in general.

34.She Loves You
"The Beatles were the first, and they will be the last, They are the best and will always BE the best!!!!" and right after that proclamation by Joel, he unleased into She Loves You, having everyone gyrating and going nuts..... "Wooooooooooooh!"

35.Take Me Out To The Ballgame <- Video Link To Song... This was by far the best stadium participation of this song ever! In continuance of his never-ending exhuberance of his performance tonight, Joel went straight from this tune to this one.... 36.Piano Man
What would any Joel show be without this song? Watch the video below, and you'll hear what I mean. He didn't even have to sing it. The audience did that for him. About the only downer was that I now had finally given up hope that Paul McCartney a/o Ringo were going to show. I guess I now know what teens and adults alike must have felt when the Fab Four had finally broken up in 1970.


For as strong as the audience sang to Piano Man, 'Souvenir' started and ended with nothing more than a mere wimper. Idyllically, a perfect quiet ending to his show, and a perfect parallel to this stadium which has had so many fond personal memories for me.

In the end, this was an explosive summer concert. Just as I never forgot Joel's hammertime performance at Yankee Stadium in 1990, where he was practically on his death-bed with the flu, the show at Shea last night was nothing less than spectacular. He might not have the high notes to do songs like "Uptown Girl", which he admitted to in a report a few days earlier, and he might not have done all of his numerous hits, like "Honesty" (but when you have several dozens, how could anyone, right?), but this show is a memory that will last for a lifetime.

If you're reading this before his last show at 8pm Fri. July 18th, live in the area, and have a little extra $$$, then you owe it to yourself to see this performance. It was outstanding.

One suggestion. Take the "7" train, and just anticipate the bottlenecking a little bit. The MTA added service for this worthwhile event.


Kristin said...

Sounds like you enjoyed the concert! :) I'm a big Billy Joel fan too (though perhaps not quite as passionate as you). His music was a big part of my college years, and I'll always have fond memories of the concert I went to after I graduated in 1987. Isn't it amazing how many years he's been great?

ChrisMooreMusic said...

So thorough! An interesting read, really.

I can't believe I've never been to see Billy Joel live, even when both he and Elton John came around a few years ago. I love Billy Joel songs and I love how he tends to stick to his own material and not play as many cover songs. One of these days...