A sweltering July night. A pregnant orange moon hanging precariously over Queens. 63,000 sweaty, delirious fans. A bottle of red. A bottle of white. It was a farewell celebration like no other. It was the “Last Play at Shea.”
New York’s own Billy Joel performed the very last musical event ever to be held at Shea Stadium (the Mets’ new home, Citi Field, will be completed for the 2009 season). The three-hour show was an electrifying extravaganza of Joel’s stunning catalog, and the Piano Man pulled out all the stops to bid a most unforgettable farewell.
Joel truly made Shea Stadium’s history and his beloved New York the guests of honor. He sang a bit of “Spanish Harlem” as an interlude within “Innocent Man.” He invited members of New York’s Finest and Bravest alongside the military to sing the chorus of “Goodnight Saigon” – and we will all go down together – to a thunderous standing ovation. He surprised us with Tony Bennett, who joined him on a scrumptious “New York State of Mind.” The hits just kept coming: “My Life,” “Zanzibar,” “Allentown,” “Don’t Ask Me Why,” “The Ballad of Billy the Kid,” “Keeping the Faith,” “Movin’ Out,” a capacity crowd belting out “Captain Jack will get you high tonight,” “You May Be Right,” “She’s Always a Woman,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”
In a sweet nod to the very first show played at Shea – the Beatles opened their North American tour here back in 1965 – Joel wore a badge from the jacket Ringo Starr wore that night. And to add to the magic of the evening he sprinkled in some more special surprise guests. To the crowd’s delight, Joel duetted with Garth Brooks on a most amazing version of “Shameless.” At the stroke of 11:00, who does he bring out, but Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler to do an off-the-hook “Walk This Way.” And if that wasn’t enough, he later introduced The Who’s Roger Daltry, who jammed on “My Generation.” How do you possibly top that showcase of musical legends?
There’s only one way, baby. The final show ended just as the first one began more than 40 years ago – with PAUL MCCARTNEY! The roar was deafening as McCartney relived his Beatles days with a raucous version of “I Saw Her Standing There” during Joel’s final set. Following the encores of “Scenes from An Italian Restaurant” and the massive singalong to “Piano Man,” Joel graciously turned the stage over to Sir Paul, who sat down at the piano and ended the historic show in the most glorious way possible – with a rapturous version of “Let It Be.” I never in a million years dreamed I’d see Paul McCartney perform live. It gave me chills.
I can’t imagine another musical event that will ever come close for me. The evening was officially declared a religious experience by my friend and rabbi, the lucky recipient of our extra ticket. After all, it was Shabbat. It was the “chai of July.” It was the “Last Play at Shea.”