Movie review: Billy Joel – The Last Play at Shea (2010)

Sing us a song, oh Piano Man. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Bill Joel’s star studded concert brought the life of the historic Shea Stadium in New York to a close.

All the way back in 1965, The Beatles played the first ever large stadium concert in Shea Stadium. 55,000 screaming fans witnessed history as the Fab Four barrelled through 12 of history’s most enduring songs, and over 40 years later, Billy Joel stepped onto the stage to play the very final concert of Shea Stadium. This whole experience is captured in the magical concert documentary DVD, The Last Play at Shea.

Far from being a straight forwards concert film, The Last Play at Shea documents the life of the stadium, starting with The Beatles playing there in 1965. It tells the story of the highs and lows of Major League Baseball team, the New York Mets, and generally shows you how important Shea Stadium is to New York.

The concert has taken over two and a half years to be released; however it’s worth the wait. Billy Joel is in fine voice, and from the moment he sits down at his piano and belt out the American National Anthem, Star Spangled Banner, you are caught up in the emotional rollercoaster of that summer night back in 2008.

The concert is full of classic songs that every single person in the stadium sung along with. The Ballad of Billy the Kid, Goodnight Saigon, Angry Young Man. Songs that generations of people have grown up listening to.

New York really shows its musical output when fellow New Yorker Tony Bennett steps into the spotlight to sing the poignant New York State of Mind. Although Tony Bennett is well into his 80s, he proves that he still has the voice of his younger self and he seems so happy to be on stage at such a historic concert singing to his city.

The highlights of the concert documentary come as the Billy returns to the stage for his first encore. He has tears in his eyes as he played Scenes From an Italian Resturant, and the powerful and emotional rendition obviously moves the entire audience.

However there is a SPECIAL special guest waiting in the wings. There had been rumours all night of a certain special guest joining Billy on stage, however no one, not even Billy and his amazing band, was sure if it would happen…

Having still been flying en route from London as the concert was in full swing, the SPECIAL special guest landed at JFK airport, passed through customs and made it all the way across town through heavy traffic to Shea Stadium in less than 15 minutes. Which is in itself nothing short of a miracle.

Billy suddenly gets the thumbs up from one of the crew and he starts playing a song which his band quickly join in with, then, from the side of the stage, bounds Sir Paul McCartney who rips into an electric version of The Beatles classic I Saw Her Standing There. As Macca stood playing the same Hofner bass as he played at Shea Stadium 40 years ago, it was like a blast from the past, and the audience went wild. Even Billy looked star struck and was grinning from ear to ear as he took the backseat to Paul’s vocals.

Billy, Paul and the band take their bows and leave the stage to thunderous applause, and seconds later Billy returns to sit at his piano and play one of his most famous ballads: Piano Man. Again he is nearly in tears and he stops playing mid song to soak it all in and let audience take their turn.

Billy takes a bow and disappears into the wings, but after a brief discussion with the band backstage they return to the stage once more. This time Billy perches himself on the end of the piano, and gives up the hotseat to Sir Paul, who, somewhat appropriately, brings the life of Shea Stadium full circle and closes the concert with The Beatles anthemic Let It Be.

Accompanying the song is a montage of the last 40 years. Starting with The Beatles concert it takes you on an emotional journey showing major baseball games, clips of the concert, and finally the demolition of Shea Stadium to reveal the ultra modern Citi Field Stadium that has been built in Shea’s shadow.

The Last Play at Shea isn’t quite a concert film, and it isn’t quite a documentary. But it’s a very good buy. It’s the perfect combination of music, sport, memories, nostalgia, and a fitting tribute to the closing of a musical and sporting landmark. While the music is often broken up by interviews with Billy and various sporting stars, this doesn’t take anything away from the film.

For those that want to just see the concert in all of its glory, a separate CD/DVD called Billy Joel – Live at Shea Stadium will be released March 8th.

It really is interesting to hear people’s thoughts and memories of not only the concert, but the last 40 years of Shea Stadiums life. It may not have been the best stadium in the world, and it may have had its ups and downs, but it is steeped in both musical and sporting history.

Throughout the DVD it becomes clear that Billy Joel is immensely proud of the show he put on, and very happy that he was the one that got to close one of the New York’s most iconic landmarks, but I guess Shea is summed up in the interview with legendry New York Mets player Darryl Strawberry. Reminiscing about his old stomping ground, he sadly smiles and says “Shea stadium was a dump…but it was our dump.”

Songs featured on The Last Play at Shea

Prelude / Angry Young Man
My Life
Summer, Highland Falls
Everybody Loves You Now
Zanzibar
New York State of Mind (with Tony Bennett)
Allentown
The Ballad of Billy the Kid
She’s Always a Woman
Goodnight Saigon
Miami 2017 (See the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
Shameless (with Garth Brooks)
This Is The Time (with John Mayer)
Keeping the Faith
Captain Jack
Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
The River of Dreams / A Hard Day’s Night
We Didn’t Start the Fire
You May Be Right
Scenes from an Italian Restaurant
Only the Good Die Young
I Saw Her Standing There (with Paul McCartney)
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Piano Man
Let It Be (with Paul McCartney)

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