Billy Joel on Wednesday night began to finish what the Beatles started in 1966. He played the first of two shows at Shea Stadium, the last live music act before the cesspool of a sporting arena finally closes this fall.
And I do mean cesspool. As a Yankee fan, I haven’t had much use for Shea Stadium in all these years except for the night the Yanks took the World Series from the Mets in October 2000. A big paint chip hovered over my head that night. Things haven’t gotten better and, in fact, even the neighborhood surrounding Shea looks like it’s gotten worse.
But I do digress: Joel lit up this forlorn palace, filling it to the brim with fans as he performed about 30 hits and introduced several guest stars: John Mellencamp (adding his "Little Pink Houses"), Don Henley (doing "Boys of Summer") and John Mayer. On Friday night, the guests are rumored to be Steven Tyler, Garth Brooks and, possibly and fittingly, Paul McCartney.
Tony Bennett is featured on both nights. When he walked out to sing "New York State of Mind" with Billy on Wednesday, the crowd roared with delight in a way that sounded like Beatlemania. How ironic: Bennett’s career was derailed by the Beatles’ arrival in the mid-1960s. Now, at 82, in many ways he’s just as big.
Billy does not run around the stage like he used to, but he’s still got the energy of 10 men. He piloted his superior band through three hours worth of music, from "Angry Young Man" to "River of Dreams" and finally to his signature hit, "Piano Man."
A huge camera crew filmed the show, but the real documentary, I think, would have been better made watching the audience members sing "Piano Man" in unison, acting out the different lines, with looks of joy on their faces. That’s what art is all about.
Joel’s songs mostly tell stories, and the fans — at least 51,000 Wednesday — know all of them better than they do "Mother Goose" or "Little Red Riding Hood." The audience was filled with Brenda-and-Eddies from "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant," Billy’s slightly jaundiced saga of a working-class couple with aspirations that don’t materialize. Never mind that the song is an indictment of their lives: The fans love it anyway.
There was a lot of reminiscing, as Billy played some Beatles songs in honor of the group that made Shea a rock house.
"I want to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room," he said after playing "She Loves You." "The best band that ever was, the best band that ever will be," he said of the Fab Four of yore.
Mostly, though, he played his own hits. During "She’s Always a Woman to Me," Joel’s wife, Katie Lee, now a cookbook author, danced in the aisle with famed concert promoter Ron Delsener. Bold-faced names such as Kelly Ripa and Ronald Perelman were spotted enjoying any number of Joel’s gems, from "You May Be Right" to "Allentown," "The Entertainer," "Zanzibar," "Movin’ Out," "My Life" and so on.
The nice surprises: "Goodnight Saigon," a song that’s somehow grown in stature over the years, and "This Is the Time," which Billy told the crowd is often used as a prom song. Mayer supplied some nice guest licks on guitar.
There’s a lot of ruminating you can do on Billy Joel. He’s Long Island’s local boy made good — although, as he said, he didn’t even attend his prom because he didn’t finish high school. He was already out on his own, playing piano bars.
He’s a generation younger than the Brill Building/Phil Spector pop writers, but his music is mostly one of a piece of it. At one point in the show, he throws in a dollop of The Drifters’ "Stand by Me" in their style — and then you see the whole thing. Billy Joel is Leiber and Stoller by way of Gershwin.
Yes, did I mention there were at least 30 songs in the show — and still we didn’t get a bunch like "Just the Way You Are," "Big Shot" or "Say Goodbye to Hollywood." On Friday, there’s a rumor that Christie Brinkley may show up — their daughter, Alexa, was at Wednesday night’s show.
Maybe we can pray for "Uptown Girl" just one last time. As Billy sings in what might be his best song, "Summer, Highland Falls": "It’s either sadness or euphoria." Well, not sadness, exactly, just nostalgia for a time when singer-songwriters were really, really great.
Lindsay Lohan wrapped a new feature on Wednesday — the shoot was without incident. "Labor Pains," directed by Lara Shapiro, is a romantic comedy with a good cast and lots of nice buzz.
Lindsay, according to insiders, did a great job and there were no problems. Yes, they do mean Lindsay Lohan. She’s growing up and straightening out her career. It’s a happy story. …
I did read some wire stories about Heath Ledger’s chances to win an Oscar for his work as The Joker in "The Dark Knight." I guarantee you Ledger will be nominated, and it’s totally within reason to think he could win. The performance is classic and will not be ignored. His tragic, untimely death has nothing to do with it. This was the year comic book movies got respect. Robert Downey Jr.’s "Iron Man" is also Oscar-bound. …
Elaine Kaufman’s famous eatery has been buzzing all week with baseball players. On Monday night, the Yankees and Major League Baseball took over the whole place. Sister and brother Jennifer and Hal Steinbrenner hosted Paul O’Neill, Joe Girardi and dozens of superstars, including two former Brewers who used to annoy Yankee fans because they were so damn good when we played them: Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. They’re nice guys in "real life"!