NEW YORK Billy Joel bade a stirring farewell to Shea Stadium on Friday during an electrifying, sold-out final show at the same ballpark where the Beatles famously ushered in a new era in rock 'n' roll four decades ago.
"Good evening, Shea Stadium. Is this cool or what?" Joel told the crowd at the New York Mets' home field, which is to be razed after the baseball season to make way for a new stadium across the street.
"They're gonna be tearing this place down, but I wanna thank you ... for letting me do the best job in the world," he said.
The show paid homage to Shea's baseball glories, with Mets highlights playing on jumbo screens during "Zanzibar." But the concert also was a mark of the stadium's place in music history.
The show came 43 years after the Beatles' legendary show at Shea the first concert at the ballpark. The concert came at the height of Beatlemania and demonstrated the sheer power of rock 'n' roll and the Beatles: 55,000 screaming fans at a U.S. ballpark was virtually unheard-of at the time, and the show gave the Fab Four even more cachet among the Beatle-crazed American public.
Joel has always strongly embraced his New York and Long Island roots, and that makes for memory-making concerts every time he plays in the city. Throngs of fans know his music so well they can pretty much take over any chorus they like.
And as if the "Piano Man" playing the last concert at Shea wasn't thrilling enough, high-wattage guests turned up the excitement level.
Tony Bennett sang "New York State of Mind" with Joel on Friday, and Garth Brooks appeared on stage wearing a Mets jersey. In the audience, one of Joel's famous fans ex-wife Christie Brinkley sang along, word for word, to the chorus of "She's Always a Woman."
During the first installment of Joel's "Last Play at Shea" on Wednesday, John Mellencamp came on stage to perform his hit "Pink Houses," and Don Henley underscored the baseball theme with his standard "Boys of Summer."
The Beatles and baseball shared the spotlight at the concerts. Joel played three Beatles songs ("A Hard Day's Night," "Please, Please Me" and "She Loves You") during Wednesday's set, and introduced his signature "Piano Man" with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." He also played the national anthem to start the show.
"I want to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room. Best band that ever was, best band that ever will be," Joel told fans Wednesday.
Diane Gentile saw the Beatles play at Shea in 1966 their second visit to the stadium after the historic show a year earlier. Her recollection of that summer night 42 years ago: "Oh, my God, there are the Beatles on that stage, and here am I."
"It was unbelievable. It was exciting; you could feel the electricity. Right before the concert we were singing 'Happy Anniversary' to John because his anniversary was that day," Gentile recalled.On Friday, Gentile was back at Shea to watch Joel for what she predicted would be the best concert she'll ever see.
Associated Press writer Frank Eltman contributed to this report.