Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara
Aug. 4, 2015 (1 show)
Nassau Coliseum closer
Long Island said goodbye to the Old Barn Tuesday night, as Billy Joel played his 32nd — and final — show at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Of course, the evening was more than just a celebration of the Hicksville native, playing his first solo show here in 17 years. It was a raucous, rowdy love-in tinged with sadness for the soon-to-be-renovated arena — as well as for its beloved Islanders, who are heading west to Brooklyn.
The Coliseum, which has hosted music royalty from Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to the Grateful Dead in its 43-year life, will be prepped for a $261 million renovation starting Wednesday, with partial demolition set to begin at the end of the month.
“If they don’t name a road after me, that’s fine. I’d rather be alive.” — Billy Joel, talking to the crowd about a proposal to rename a quarter-mile stretch of Route 107 in Hicksville.
There are not enough words to describe [how great the show was]. – Joel Weisinger of Mount Sinai, who attended with wife Kathleen and son Corey
Billy being Billy. – Paul Caracciolo, on the highpoint of the concert.
By the numbers
- Minutes the show took to sell out 5
- Average ticket price $89.50
- Number of times Joel has played the Coliseum, including final show 32
- Estimated cost of Coliseum renovation $261 million
Long Islanders’ Billy Joel memories
I first saw Billy Joel in February 1972 in the city where he was third billing after Captain Beefheart. … My date gave me his Cold Spring Harbor album before it was even released. I attended concerts at CWP, Nassau Coliseum and MSG. I was at the last play at Shea and would love to go to the last one at Nassau. Will always love my Billy. — Lin Fritz Katz, via Facebook
I was hanging out at the Old Curiosity Shoppe having lunch before work, and Billy walks in and orders a beer, then orders two more for myself and the bartender. Well one turned to two… then three. I ended up calling in sick and had a great afternoon talking with him. — Kenneth Ponsiek, via Facebook
I lived in East Hampton in the ’80s and ’90s. When Alexa Ray was a little girl, I would from time to time see Billy coming out of the North Main Street IGA. He would go in to get those long strips of lollipops for Alexa. It always struck me as so sweet, seeing her so happy and Billy loving the moment. — Lisa Waygood, via Facebook
Billy Joel’s final show at the original Nassau Coliseum was one for the ages, a three-hour marathon thrill-ride that touched on nearly every part of his career, as well as the arena’s 43-year history.
Joel craftily inserted the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” into his “River of Dreams,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” into a roaring “You May Be Right” – nods to Paul McCartney, who played the Coliseum several times, as well as Zeppelin, who was one of the arena’s first big rock concerts. But the true skill came in the way the Hicksville native built the show specifically for a Long Island crowd – whether he was talking about fights he had in a Northport restaurant or his first gig at Holy Family Church in Hicksville or his decision to play “Captain Jack,” a song normally reserved for his Philadelphia concerts, because it enable Joel to sing about taking you to “your special island.”
The unpredictability of the setlist made it feel like an intimate club show where the performer knows pretty much everyone in the club rather than a massive arena concert. Only at the Coliseum would an early combination of the jazzy “Zanzibar” and the soaring “Summer, Highland Falls” make sense – a way for Joel to telegraph within the first five songs that this was going to be a unique evening.
This was a show by (mostly) Long Islanders for Long Islanders to celebrate the area — and, apparently, to get fans to cheer “Let’s go Islanders!” a lot.
Joel even called his special guest Paul Simon “a fellow Long Islander,” a distinction Long Islanders understand about the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from Queens. Their connection was delightfully deep, born out of a long-term friendship rather than music collaboration, which Simon pointed out did not exist outside a jokey version of “Silver Bells” they did with Steve Martin for “Saturday Night Live” one year. It was tender during “Homeward Bound,” but truly came to life during “Late in the Evening,” where Joel had a great piano solo and his band, especially the horn secton of Mark Rivera, Carl Fischer and Crystal Taliefero, got to stretch and show off a bit.
After Simon and “King of Queens” star Kevin James made their appearances, Joel got the chance to relax a bit and show off some as well. He gave an emotional performance of “Goodnight Saigon,” punctuated by military personnel filling the stage to sing the chorus with him as the crowd chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” He offered a nice bit of misdirection starting off “My Life” with a bit of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” And before leading the sing-along of “Piano Man,” Joel seemed to shake off a bit of nerves and kid around by playing a bit of Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home.”
“Home” was a big topic Tuesday night. Yes, Joel gave the “Hard Day’s Night” line, “When I’m home, everything seems to be right” a little extra zing. But it went deeper than that. Throughout his career, Joel has chronicled his home – whether it’s the Brenda & Eddies he grew up with in Hicksville in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” or the baymen of the East End in “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’.”
Joel could tell that the capacity crowd at the Coliseum Tuesday night was on edge. (All the booing for Gov. Andrew Cuomo was probably a good hint.) They were angry about losing the Islanders and the Coliseum, about losing part of their home.
Sure, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will be back in December 2016, after a $261 million renovation. There will be countless improvements – hopefully including an air conditioning system that doesn’t require sweating concertgoers to fan each other for relief like they did Tuesday night. It will, no doubt, be better, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be The Barn. It won’t be home.
Joel’s show offered concertgoers one more memory at The Barn. He offered them plenty of moments to hang on to — from his flouncy, hands-on-hips delivery of “Uptown Girl” to the surprising release of his inner Robert Plant during “Rock and Roll” matched nicely by guitarist Tommy Byrnes unleashing his inner Jimmy Page. Joel offered them consolation in a time of upsetting change. He left them feeling all right. — Glenn Gamboa, Newsday, Aug. 5, 2015
Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)
Summer, Highland Falls
Everybody Loves You Now
No Man’s Land
Just the Way You Are
I Do/The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Still of the Night
The Longest Time
Me and Julio (with Paul Simon)
Homeward Bound (with Paul Simon)
Late in the Evening (with Paul Simon)
Ballad of Billy the Kid
New York State of Mind
Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
Until the Night
Keeping the Faith
She’s Always a Woman
I’ve Loved These Days
River of Dreams
Hard Days Night
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me
You May Be Right
Rock and Roll (Led Zeppelin cover)
Only the Good Die Young