Since I made the move to NYC back in March, I've had the good fortune to be able to do a handful of great "New York things."
I've passed random celebrities on the street and been diverted on a walk because of a block being shut down for a movie shoot. I've been to Yankees and Mets games. I joined in long lines of people booing passing Patriots fans at the NFL Draft. I've spent long, lazy Sundays stuffing my face and getting drunk during picnics in Central Park, and sang Beatles songs with the musicians gathered at John Lennon's memorial in Strawberry Fields. I've paid ridiculous amounts of money for food that wasn't really worth it in the first place.
Last night, though, I was lucky enough to experience something that topped all the rest. Through the never-ending charity of Vicky's sister, Annie, we were given tickets to go see Billy Joel perform at Shea Stadium (home of the Mets) for what was billed as "The Last Play at Shea," the last concert to be held before Shea is torn down after this year's baseball season. (Although it was changed to part one of "The Last Double Play at Shea," since they added another show this weekend to compensate for the fact that this show sold out in an hour after scalpers and sites like StubHub bought out all the tickets, thus depriving the masses of seeing the show, unless they wanted to pay insanely high service charges. Would've been nice to go to THE last show at Shea, but I can't complain one bit. And yet I digress...)
I've long been a big Billy Joel fan, mainly due to the influence of my mom, who always would throw on a Billy Joel album in between endless plays of Garth Brooks and Jay Giles during long summer days by the pool back in Toledo. And I can't count how many times I've sang along with dozens of other drunks as "Piano Man" played from a barroom jukebox. So getting the chance to see the man play live, in New York, along with about 50,000 others was, in a word, a treat.
We had seats about 20 rows off the field, along the first-base line, right at the back edge of the infield, with the stage being set up at the center field fence, and rows and rows of seats filling the rest of the outfield. So, needless to say, we had a great view of what turned out to be a nearly 3 hour concert that far exceeded my expectations.
He played pretty much every hit song he's ever recorded, with the exception of "Uptown Girl," which I think he imposed a personal ban on due to its relation to Christie Brinkley. But all the rest, "Allentown," "We Didn't Start the Fire" (which was awesome live), "My Life," "New York State of Mind," "Always a Woman," and on and on. And for someone who's been accused of just sort of riding the crest of his past fame for the last 15 years or so, the man put an incredible amount of passion and energy into each song. What really made the night stand out, though, were the guests he brought out.
After the crowd went nuts at hearing the first few bars of "New York State of Mind," an old man in a white suit comes out on stage, and no one can really tell what's going on, when all of a sudden, Tony Bennett's face comes on the screen, and the place loses it as they sing the song together. Incredible. He follows that up by bringing John Mayer out to play guitar on "These Are The Times" a few songs later. Later on, after he talks about the Mets a bit (one of his many crowd-pandering moments), he has Don Henley come out with his guitar and play "Boys of Summer." Finally, he brings out John Mellencamp near the end of his first set to sing "Pink Houses." Mom would've loved this concert...
The best for me, though was at the end of his four-song encore (which included "Only The Good Die Young" and another of a night full of Beatles' songs - "She Loves You" this time), when he brought out the harmonica and played "Piano Man."
I know you're supposed to be cynical of such mass-popular things in New York; if you're a music fan here, you have to talk about some obscure band that only recently started playing in some out of the way bar in Brooklyn, not how you're excited about a Billy Joel show. But being in the stadium, near midnight, singing the chorus to "Piano Man" along with 50,000 other happy, mostly drunk people... Man. It doesn't get much better than that.