If the United States gave out knighthoods to musicians, Billy Joel would certainly be a Sir. He is, essentially, the American Elton John. In 1994 these two piano men even embarked on a hugely successful series of “Face-to-Face” tours together, and their music continues to share an enduring worldwide appeal that few artists have matched. I have always been more of an Elton man myself— um…figuratively speaking—but the chance to watch Joel rock a packed-to-the-rafters Shea Stadium just months before it would be demolished was something I could not pass up.
I first got into Billy Joel when I was in elementary school, back when The Stranger climbed to #2 on the U.S. album charts, and hit songs like “Just The Way You Are,” “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” “Only The Good Die Young” and “She’s Always A Woman” were just about all you heard on the radio. A year later, 52nd Street was even more successful, reaching the #1 spot, and spawning three more Top 40 singles. Joel retired from recording pop music in 1993, but up to that point he had already scored an incredible 33 Top 40 hits, 23 Grammy nominations (and 6 wins), and has sold over 150 million records worldwide.
Live At Shea Stadium was filmed over two nights—July 16 and July 18, 2008—before a combined crowd of about 110,000 fans, marking the last two shows ever played at the historic stadium before it was torn down in 2009. The video begins with some marvelous overhead shots of the stadium and its capacity crowd, which brilliantly capture the enormity and excitement of this event, leaving no doubt that this will be one of the most impressive looking Blu-ray concerts you might ever see.
Joel wisely kicks off the show with a spirited performance of “Prelude/Angry Young Man,” from his Turnstiles album of 1976, and the energy in the place is amazing. “My Life” keeps the electricity flowing a little longer before Joel slows it down a bit with one of his best early ballads, “Summer, Highland Falls,” also from Turnstiles. This would be the favored album of the first half of the set, with fours of its songs played, including the classic “New York State Of Mind,” and the deeper cut, “Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway).”
Joel is one of the few artists who have the luxury of being able to leave out over a dozen Top-20 hits from his setlist and still be able to fill a two-hour show with smash hits and fan favorites. Sure, I was wondering where in the hell “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Big Shot” were, but fans of his ’80s mega-hits like “It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me,” “Tell Her About It,” and “Uptown Girl” could be disappointed as well that so many of those songs were overlooked. I certainly wasn’t, however. The setlist does feature at least one song from every Joel studio album, the only exception being 1974′s Streetlife Serenade.
As the concert wears on, though, it becomes ever more apparent just how tired and unengaged Joel seems, especially when compared to other recent performances, such as his 12 Gardens Live concerts of 2006. He half-asses his way through “New York State Of Mind” with Tony Bennett, mostly just doing a cheesy lounge-singer imitation. Around the midway point, Joel invites Garth Brooks out to perform “Shameless,” which the country music legend had turned into his own hit back in 1991. To follow, Joel brings out John Mayer, who lends some of his tasty blues-guitar licks to “This Is The Time.” For the most part Joel seems to come alive during such guest performances, as if playing his own songs in front of a packed stadium of 55,000 adoring fans is just too “been there, done that” for him to get overly inspired.