BILLY JOEL: LIVE AT SHEA STADIUM (2011)
1) Prelude/Angry Young Man; 2) My Life; 3) Summer, Highland Falls; 4) Everybody Loves You Now; 5) Zanzibar; 6) New York State Of Mind; 7) Allentown; 8) The Ballad Of Billy The Kid; 9) She's Always A Woman; 10) Goodnight Saigon; 11) Miami 2017 (Seen The Lights Go Out On Broadway); 12) Shameless; 13) This Is The Time; 14) Keeping The Faith; 15) Captain Jack; 16) Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel); 17) River Of Dreams/A Hard Day's Night; 18) We Didn't Start The Fire; 19) You May Be Right; 20) Scenes From An Italian Restaurant; 21) Only The Good Die Young; 22) I Saw Her Standing There; 23) Take Me Out To The Ballgame; 24) Piano Man; 25) Let It Be.
In 2008, they decided to tear down Shea Stadium, and three guesses who was selected to play the venue's last couple of shows... nay, not even Sir Paul McCartney, although he does make a guest appearance. Up to date, Live At Shea Stadium has been Billy's last live album, and with at least two others under his belt from the new millennium (the previous one was 12 Gardens Live, once again from Madison Square), it will really be sort of pathetic if he tries out yet another one, what with the setlist generally repeating itself over and over.
At the very least, this is a tighter, better controlled affair than the half-drunk slop of The Millennium Concert, but there are disadvantages to this as well — everything is a bit too strict this time, and the songs are played the way Billy's live audience at the stadium wants to hear them, not the way a skeptically minded live album listener would. Tight band, good singer (adapting the songs to his ever-lower range and not trying to pull any weird stuff like the «constipation blues» coda of ʽNew York State Of Mindʼ on Millennium), what else?
Well, a few guest stars couldn't hurt, and this is where the CD edition makes some bad choices: the first CD features singing duets with Tony Bennett (appropriate for ʽNew York State Of Mindʼ, perhaps, but multiplying the song's cheese factor by two) and Garth Brooks (on ʽShamelessʼ, which was never even that good a song to begin with), as well as new generation guitar hero John Mayer adding bland blues-pop licks to ʽThis Is The Timeʼ. With these three guys close together in the setlist, it's like he had to have a special «quota on bad taste» to fulfill, and this is a little sad considering that Steve Tyler and Roger Daltrey were also among the invited guests on those nights, singing, respectively, ʽWalk This Wayʼ and ʽMy Generationʼ — even if they were out of vocal shape, I'd rather have a hoarse Daltrey than a perfectly well-calibrated Garth Brooks.
At the end of the show, Sir Paul McCartney is being dragged out by the breeches to sing ʽI Saw Her Standing Thereʼ and ʽLet It Beʼ — how come it was Paul McCartney as a guest of Billy Joel and not vice versa is still a mystery to me, but then, why should Paul McCartney ever consider adding Billy Joel as a guest? These are decent performances, anyway, except that Billy's guitarist is so stiff that he can't even grasp the art of spiritually igniting the solos on these songs. Oh, and there is another stiff Beatles moment when Billy inserts ʽA Hard Day's Nightʼ in the middle of ʽRiver Of Dreamsʼ where it has no reason to belong.
Stage banter is kept to a minimum this time, if you don't mind Billy giving the people a little bit of mundane advice every now and then — for instance, at the end of the show: "drive safe, not like me, and don't take any shit from anybody!" Whatever you say, O Great Champion of the People — 50,000 fans have presumably never taken any shit from anybody ever since (whether they all still drive safe, though, is an unresolved issue). The setlist does include a few relative «rarities» from the old days, like ʽEverybody Loves You Nowʼ, but not a lot, and you'd do much better with Songs From The Attic for those purposes.
The one classic moment worth experiencing here is when the band launches, without announcement, into the rock drive of ʽI Saw Her Standing Thereʼ, and then... "ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Sir Paul McCartney!" and the whole stadium explodes in a way that no Tony Bennett or Garth Brooks could ever have dreamt of — no Billy Joel, for that matter, either. I am not saying that «Paul stole the show»: he's not that long on the stage, and Paul's own band would have performed the songs in a livelier manner than Billy's — but the roar over the tribunes certainly brings on analogies with the Beatles' classic performances in 1965-66 at the same location.
Is it symbolic that they brought in Billy to draw the curtains on one of the most famous landmarks of 20th century pop art (especially if you also add sports to pop art)? Probably not, but it is still curious how the man is constantly used to close the door on something, be it the old millennium or simply fifty years of baseball and rock'n'roll. The irony is that Billy Joel does not really belong in the new millennium — where «intellectual» styles of music have long since advanced to unreachable (for him) heights, and «popular» styles of music have mostly sunk to unthinkable (for him) lows. These are good old-fashioned simplistic family values celebrated here, from the good old boys of ʽGoodnight Saigonʼ to the unemployed factory workers of ʽAllentownʼ, sung to old-fashioned chords and with old-fashioned words, and as corny as those songs used to be in the 1970s and 1980s, now there is a certain «relic from the past» aura around them that might, for a few moments, make even a veteran Billy Joel hater come to terms with the man and his values. (Even if it only takes Sir Paul McCartney a few seconds to show who's really timeless here.)
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