Billy Joel ushered in the new, aluminum-finned era of the renovated Nassau Coliseum Wednesday night with a powerful set filled with Long Island references.
“We kind of have an attitude here,” Joel said, introducing the hard-rocking “No Man’s Land,” with lyrics written for Long Island that are still timely, right down to the cocaine bust news in the morning’s paper.
Joel’s concert was the first after the $165 million, 20-month renovation of the NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and he gave its sound high marks as he rolled through songs he rarely plays anywhere else — like “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’ ” about the plight of Long Island’s baymen. For “Goodnight Saigon,” Joel filled the stage with military veterans, who were greeted with a huge ovation and chants of “U-S-A!”
“Lest we forget that this is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” Joel said as the group left the stage.
Even Joel’s surprise guests had Long Island roots. Long Beach’s Joan Jett was commanding on “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Stony Brook’s Kevin James and his “King of Queens” “wife,” Leah Remini, did an interpretive dance to “She’s Got a Way,” ending with James’ passionate embrace of a hoagie.
When the singer paid tribute to the late Ray Charles with “What a Wonderful World,” Joel turned it into a gorgeous duet with Baldwin’s Carl Fischer delivering Louis Armstrong’s trumpet parts.
The two-hour, 50-minute show was remarkably well-planned. Joel played 33 songs to commemorate the 33 times he has now played The Coliseum, which was the first arena he ever played 40 years ago.
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Throughout the show, Joel was in fine voice, taking more vocal chances than usual in songs like “New York State of Mind,” where he opted for a bluesier take. He was also in fine spirits, delivering his best Elvis Presley sneer during “It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me” and a bit of a Bob Dylan impression to close out “Only the Good Die Young.”
It was clear early on that Joel was among his people when he offered them a choice. They could either hear “Just the Way You Are,” his Grammy-winning hit, or “Vienna,” the deeply personal ballad also from “The Stranger.” The crowd roared to hear “Vienna” and a smiling Joel began the song without pause.
This was a happier Joel show than the bittersweet one in 2015 that closed the first chapter of the Coliseum. There were jokes about paying too much for tickets, especially those in the back of the new arena, or as Joel referred to it, “Suffolk County.” But there was also plenty of hope and confidence in Mike DelGuidice’s poignant version of “Nessun Dorma.” And even more joy in the way “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” became a sing-along, as Long Islanders see themselves in Brenda and Eddie and build new memories at the new Nassau Coliseum like they did at the Parkway Diner.
SETLIST: Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway) / Pressure / All for Leyna / Vienna / The Entertainer / No Man’s Land / Goodnight Saigon / Everybody Loves You Now / The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ / Zanzibar / New York State of Mind / Movin’ Out / She’s Got a Way / Allentown / Ode to Joy > My Life / Sleeping With the Television On / She’s Always a Woman / Hate Myself for Loving You (with Joan Jett) / I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (with Joan Jett) / Sometimes a Fantasy / What a Wonderful World / River of Dreams / Nessun Dorma / Scenes from an Italian Restaurant / Piano Man // ENCORES: We Didn’t Start the Fire / Uptown Girl / It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll to Me / Big Shot / Only the Good Die Young / You May Be Right > Rock and Roll