Live At Shea Stadium

Billy Joel

A loud stadium crowd, an equally loud guitar and that famous quick-fingered intro on “Prelude” opens Billy Joel’s Live At Shea Stadium, a CD/DVD package taken from the singer’s July 2008 shows, the final concerts staged at the historic New York venue before it was leveled. The set features more than two hours of hits, rarities, deep cuts, personal favorites and several special guests before a combined audience of 110,000 fans. Live At Shea Stadium is also available as a stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

From the really moving “Angry Young Man” to a chill-inducing “Summer Highland Falls,” a song Joel dedicates to “all the manic depressives out there tonight,” Live At Shea Stadium has the piano man rocking out. The crowd explodes when “New York State Of Mind” is played, but having Tony Bennett on board lends the song even more poignancy. Bennett gets a screaming reception and sounds even younger than Joel. Elsewhere, Joel and his band pull out all the stops with a two-tiered string section behind them on “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid.” Things slow down on the sweet “She’s Always A Woman” and the tear-jerker“Goodnight Saigon.” For the latter, the singer brings out a group of service men and women to help sing the chorus. If this isn’t one of the best songs about the Vietnam War, I don’t know what it is!

Other guests show up to join Joel. Garth Brooks does his turn on “Shameless,” a song Joel wrote for him, while guitarist John Mayer lends his easy touch to “This Is The Time.” Joel presents a slightly different arrangement of “Captain Jack” before the strings come in again — to great effect — on “Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel).” There’s some nice percussion that begins “The River Of Dreams,” which segues into a truly spirited version of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”

It’s one thing to do a Beatles song, but it’s another to do a Beatles song with an actual Beatle, which is exactly what happens when Paul McCartney joins Joel for a stroll through “I Saw Her Standing There.” The singer then leads the crowd through “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and right into “Piano Man.” The crowd practically sings this one on its own, taking over completely when Joel and the band stop. It’s pretty startling hearing all those voices sing in unison. Joel steps back when McCartney returns to sing the last tune of the night, “Let It Be.”

The DVD features most of the same songs that appear on the CDs, and is a visual marvel to behold. There are cameras everywhere it seems — behind the band, right up on Joel, all across the stage and into the audience. Witness the screen behind the players and Joel’s piano spinning to one side of the stage and dead center, back and forth. In addition to Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney, there’s bonus footage featuring other guests: Who singer Roger Daltrey on “My Generation,” Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler delivering a slightly anemic “Walk This Way,” and John Mellencamp strumming it up on “Pink Houses.” Whichever format you choose, Live At Shea Stadium captures the best of Billy Joel in concert, backed by more than a few famous friends and lifted up to the heavens by a hometown crowd who have never wavered in their love and support of the pug-nosed piano man from the Bronx. It's only fitting that they would come together for the closing of a neighborhood monument.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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