[One of many Billy Joel stories in the Newsday archives, this article originally appeared in the July 19, 2008 edition.]
The final concert at Shea Stadium nearly ended as the first show there began in 1965, with Paul McCartney singing "I Saw Her Standing There" and a deafening roar from a stunned, capacity crowd.
The final song also went to McCartney, with "Let It Be. "
The concert drew an all-star cast of guests together, for "The Last Play at Shea" for more than three sweltering hours Friday night, with Joel capping the evening by singing "Piano Man" backed by 63,000 fans.
Joel ended the concert era at Shea Stadium with a nod to the past and a celebration of his present, as the uncertain future looms like the newly built walls of Citi Field behind his stage set.
"This stadium opened up to play baseball in the year 1964 and that was the first year I joined up in a band," he said. "They're gonna tear this house down but I want to thank you for letting me keep doing this job. It's the best job. "
And Joel did it well, shining brighter than usual with his expanded backing band and guests including The Who's Roger Daltrey, Garth Brooks, Tony Bennett and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who seemed to bring out the best of him.
Joel dug deep into his vocal reserve to match Brooks on "Shameless. " When Bennett came on stage for a stunning "New York State of Mind," Joel's entire demeanor changed, as both singers strived to hit grand notes with their own unique phrasing.
And in honor of Roger Daltrey doing "My Generation," he smashed a guitar.
Joel stretched to pull out a register-stretching version of his doo-wop tribute, "This Night," which he dedicated to Little Anthony and The Imperials. "This song had a lot of high notes and I am 59," he added. "That's the last time I'll do that one. ... I hope it was wonderful. "
These "Last Play at Shea" concerts were his parties, but Joel was careful to make Shea Stadium's history and his beloved New York as the guests of honor - in the way he tucked a bit of "Spanish Harlem" into "An Innocent Man" or the way he wore a badge from the jacket Ringo Starr wore when he played the first concert at Shea in 1965 or by inviting members of New York's Finest and Bravest, alongside the military to sing the chorus of "Goodnight Saigon. "
"Yes, we will all go down together," they sang to an enormous ovation.
It's a powerful message, one that sits at the core of much of Joel's catalog and one that seems to bond him to his fans.
It's why the singalongs on "She's Always a Woman" or "Captain Jack" or "My Life" are as passionate as any in music.
And "Piano Man? " Fuggedaboutit.
"Billy Joel represents the common man," said Eric Roth, 46, who sat at a piano at his wedding in Massapequa 16 years ago and played the lesser-known Joel song, "You're My Home. " Friday night he and his wife, still devoted fans, were sitting on the field at Shea.
Staff writer Dave Marcus contributed to this story.