What seemed like the entire population of Long Island showed up at New York's Shea Stadium for the first of Billy Joel's two-night send-off to the home of the New York Mets last night. From the opening song, Joel played to the occasion, altering the lyrics of "Miami 2017" to "They said the Mets can stay, but they can't play at Shea." For three hours, Joel occupied the center-field stage, playing a hits-filled set that had the vast majority of the sold-out stadium of 50,000-plus singing along note for note. Though he frequently sipped from a white mug perched on his grand piano and spritzed his throat with spray, Joel's clear voice never wavered, even after spirited versions of "Allentown" and "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." Regardless, he had some relief pitching in the form of three special guests that brought the crowd to their feet.
As he banged out the opening piano chords of "New York State of Mind," Joel introduced his first guest of the night, crooner Tony Bennett. Bennett's powerful voice filled the open-air stadium as he traded verses with the Piano Man. After Bennett left the stage to applause usually reserved for a David Wright home run, Joel led his band through another five songs — including "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and a touching "Goodnight Saigon" with a full military chorus — before introducing his next special guest. "I hear they play this song a lot at proms. I didn't go to the prom, because I didn't graduate," Joel said before introducing "This is the Time" and guest guitarist John Mayer, who added Clapton-esque flourishes to the usually subdued piano ballad. After "Keeping the Faith" and a medley of "Stand by Me" and "An Innocent Man," Joel relinquished the microphone to his next guest, Don Henley, who led the band in a rousing performance of "Boys of Summer."
Throughout the evening, Joel celebrated the Beatles, who played the first concert of their 1965 tour at Shea Stadium. "I want to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room," Joel remarked. The tribute began when Joel segued from "River of Dreams" into "A Hard Day's Night," and later included "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You." His final guest of the evening, John Mellencamp, dug into his catalog, performing a rousing version of "Pink Houses" with an ad-libbed line about rising gas prices.
It was at this point that fans in the upper deck noticed that the stadium was actually rocking, leading some to fear the stadium might come crashing down a little sooner than its demolition date. The swaying only got more severe when Joel strapped on his electric guitar for his two heaviest songs, "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "It's Still Rock & Roll to Me." For his encore, Joel played an additional five songs, including "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and a "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" sing-along that turned into the crowd favorite "Piano Man," with the band dropping out to let the crowd serenade the man who'd provided them with so many beloved hits over the years. Joel will play center field for Mets again Friday when he wraps up "The Last Play at Shea."
"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)"
"Angry Young Man"
"Everybody Loves You Now"
"The Ballad of Billy the Kid"
"New York State of Mind" (with Tony Bennett)
"Big Man on Mulberry Street"
"Root Beer Rag"
"Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"
"Don't Ask Me Why"
"This is the Time" (with John Mayer)
"Keeping the Faith"
"The Downeaster Alexa"
"Stand By Me"/"An Innocent Man"
"Boys of Summer" (with Don Henley)
"She's Always a Woman"
"River of Dreams"/"A Hard Day's Night"
"Pink Houses" (with John Mellencamp)
"We Didn't Start the Fire"
"It's Still Rock & Roll to Me"
"You May Be Right"
"Please Please Me"
"Scenes From an Italian Restaurant"
"Only the Good Die Young"
"She Loves You"
"Take Me Out to the Ballgame"