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Live at Shea Stadium
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Live at Shea Stadium

At a 2008 performance to mark the closing of New York’s Shea Stadium, Billy Joel drafts an all-star musical team that includes Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, John Mayer and Garth Brooks to help send his hometown’s baseball palace out in style. This hits-packed concert hits a grand slam!

This Is Your Life with the Piano Man

3 Min Read

Near the beginning of this 2008 concert film, compiled from the final shows played at the then-home of the New York Mets, Billy Joel notes that the stadium opened in 1964, the same year he joined his first band. “They’re gonna be tearing this house down but I want to thank you for letting me do this job,” he says. 

Only two songs deep, Joel sets the night’s theme for 55,000 revelers: acknowledging his past and his admiration for the artists who inspired him along the way. Some of those icons even make cameo appearances. For more than two hours, Joel and his band mix hits and rarities into a perfect Russian nesting doll of fandom and nostalgia. 

The first doll is the purpose of the gig itself: To bid farewell to a famous venue that held four-plus decades of memories. As a baseball fan and fiercely proud native New Yorker, Joel has a catalog uniquely suited to this task as he belts out “New York State of Mind” with Tony Bennett, narrates the awkward romantic negotiations of “Zanzibar” with baseball metaphors and, of course, “Brooklyn’s got a winning team!” among many lyrical references to America’s past-time. 

Inside the second doll is Joel himself: A rock star who, at this point, 15 years removed from his last album, can only play oldies, many of which reveal his own fandom and his inclination toward looking back. Among the elegantly crafted pastiches on this night are the pastoral piano ballad “Summer, Highland Falls,” which is so reminiscent of Jackson Browne, it should have a bowl cut. 

Even when Joel’s narrator is ostensibly living in the present in the ruminative ballad ‘This Is the Time,’ with an elegiac solo from guest John Mayer, he sings, ‘I’m warm from the memory of days to come.’

Nostalgia is everywhere. Consider: the effervescent memories of “Keeping the Faith,” the harrowing observations of “Goodnight Saigon,” the bit of the Cadillacs’ “Gloria” interpolated into “The River of Dreams,” the historic events checked off in “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and of course, the crescendo of “Piano Man.” Its look back at the time this particular piano man toiled in a bar full of other dreamers would’ve been the night’s ultimate nostalgia trip if Paul McCartney hadn’t shown up (more on that later). Even when Joel’s narrator is ostensibly living in the present in the ruminative ballad “This Is the Time,” with an elegiac solo from guest John Mayer, he sings, “I’m warm from the memory of days to come.”  

The third doll contains the audience, swaying arm in arm and belting out “Only the Good Die Young” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” doubtlessly remembering moments from their own lives listening to Joel’s songs remembering moments from other lives. And from out of the fourth doll pops McCartney, nostalgia incarnate as he plays “I Saw Her Standing There” while standing in the same stadium that hosted the Beatles on their first U.S. tour in 1965. To say that Joel is a Beatles fan would be like saying Walter White knew a little something about making meth. 

It’s the ultimate capper to see the star transformed into fan as Joel essentially becomes an audience member — albeit one offering a choice harmony vocal — sitting atop his own piano as McCartney closes out the proceedings at the keys with “Let It Be.” (You can just picture Joel’s inner kid gleefully thinking, “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man!”) For Joel fans who are in the mood to be played a memory, this is the show for you. 

Sarah Rodman has been writing about music for nearly 30 years. In previous lives she was the pop music critic and TV critic at the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, the TV editor at the LA Times and the executive editor overseeing music, TV, and feature coverage at Entertainment Weekly.  Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Country Weekly and Rolling Stone Country and she has been a contributor to several documentaries on pop culture. 

Sarah Rodman has been writing about music for nearly 30 years. In previous lives she was the pop music critic and TV critic at the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, the TV editor at the LA Times and the executive editor overseeing music, TV, and feature coverage at Entertainment Weekly.  Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Country Weekly and Rolling Stone Country and she has been a contributor to several documentaries on pop culture. 

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