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Billy Joel gives Nassau Coliseum epic sendoff


Long Island's Piano Man, Billy Joel, took the stage for Nassau Coliseum's last concert before its renovation on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. Elated fans started lining up hours before the show, during which the entertainer was introduced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (Credit: Newsday Staff and Nassau Coliseum)

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 section 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."

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"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.

SETLIST: Movin' Out / Zanzibar / Summer, Highland Falls / Everybody Loves You Now / No Man's Land / Just the Way You Are / The Entertainer / MEDLEY: I Do/The Lion Sleeps Tonight/In the Still of the Night / For the Longest Time / The Downeaster 'Alexa' / Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard (w/Paul Simon) / Homeward Bound (w/Paul Simon) / Late in the Evening (w/Paul Simon) / Ballad of Billy the Kid / New York State of Mind / Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) / Until the Night / Allentown / Goodnight Saigon / Keeping the Faith / She's Always a Woman / Battle Hymn of the Republic > My Life / Captain Jack / I've Loved These Days / River of Dreams > Hard Day's Night / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORES: It's Still Rock and Roll to Me / Uptown Girl / Big Shot / You May Be Right > Rock and Roll / Only the Good Die Young

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