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.
But Joel, his band, and several of his famous friends wanted to offer one more memorable night at the Coliseum before the wrecking ball arrives. And that's exactly what they did for more than three hours.
At 8:50 p.m., Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came onstage to introduce Joel and was met with a chorus of boos, which only stopped when he announced Joel as a "Long Island boy." Joel himself was booed when he announced this was the final show at the original Coliseum, but the jeers quickly were replaced by chants of "Let's go Islanders!"
Joel started with the fitting "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" and followed it with songs he rarely plays, such as "No Man's Land" and even "Just the Way You Are."
"It didn't work out," Joel said of the love song he wrote for his first wife, Elizabeth.
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Joel was in good spirits, filling the set with Long Island-centric references and tales, including one about fight with his first wife in Pumpernickels, a Northport restaurant, and his first gig at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Hicksville. "The Downeaster 'Alexa,' " his tale of the plight of the baymen of the East End, became a crowd sing-along. And in "New York State of Mind," he name-checked Newsday, eliciting cheers.
"If they don't name a road after me, that's fine," Joel said of a proposal to rename a quarter-mile stretch of Route 107 in Hicksville. "I'd rather be alive."
The popular Joel tribute band Big Shot with Michael DelGuidice, of Sound Beach, opened the show -- a true nod to Long Island culture, and a way to pass the torch.
Joel had promised he would perform with a surprise guest and after much speculation -- Paul McCartneyy Bruce Springsteenn -- he introduced "fellow Long Islander" Paul Simon. They performed three songs: "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," "Homeward Bound" and "Late in the Evening."
When Simon pledged his allegiance to the Rangers, the crowd reacted predictably, but he touched on the sadness of the evening. "The idea of the Islanders leaving Uniondale to go to Brooklyn is as sad as the idea of the Dodgers leaving to go to San Francisco," Simon said (though they went to Los Angeles).
Another guest was "King of Queens" star Kevin James, a Stony Brook native, who asked Joel to get up so he could sit at the keyboard. James said the keyboard, on a revolving stage, "moves slower with me on it."
For the anthemic "Goodnight Saigon," several military men came out on stage as Joel played. The song ended with thunderous shouts of "USA!"
Joel received a standing ovation as he wrapped up the show with "Piano Man," which became a giant sing-along. Five encores followed: "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" "Uptown Girl," "Big Shot," "You May Be Right" and "Only the Good Die Young." As the house lights went up, it was clear from the marathon evening that Long Island loved Billy Joel and Billy Joel loved Long Island back.
Fans began tailgating in the early afternoon in the parking lot, brimming with anticipation.
Megan Lore of Bethpage left work early Tuesday at her medical distribution job to get a good spot in the parking lot at Nassau Coliseum to tailgate before her first Billy Joel concert.
"I don't think I've ever been this excited in my lifetime," said Lore, 35. "I normally see girl shows like Madonna and Pink. This is a new adventure for me."
Her husband, Joseph Lore, a 22-year Islanders season ticket holder, had mixed emotions about the night. He was looking forward to seeing the Piano Man for the 14th time, but was sad to see Nassau Coliseum close.
"This is my last memory here," said Lore, 43. "Now I have to go to Brooklyn."
Cuomo, who officiated at Joel's wedding to Alexis Roderick on July 4, spoke outside the Coliseum before the show. "Billy Joel is a great New Yorker and a Long Island boy," Cuomo said, standing with Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. He said it was a bittersweet day for the Coliseum and recalled Islanders and Nets games.
As the doors opened at 7 p.m., fans rushed in. Concession stands did a brisk business with T-shirts, mugs and magnets. The Coliseum rafters -- where Islanders championship banners once hung -- were bare save for one marking Joel's record nine sold-out shows in 1998.