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Pop music history came full and perfect circle Friday night, when Billy Joel performed the last-ever concert to be presented at the soon-to-be-torn-down Shea Stadium. As part of his dynamic three-hour, career-spanning show featuring an array of surprise guest stars, the final performer was Paul McCartney, who with the rest of the Beatles gave birth to stadium rock with their landmark 1965 show in the same venue.
Dubbed “The Last Play at Shea,” the evening, which was being filmed for an upcoming documentary feature, was the second of two sold-out shows. The first, two nights earlier, featured such surprise guests as Tony Bennett, John Mayer, Don Henley and John Mellencamp.
Bennett made a reprise appearance Friday, demonstrating his vocal agelessness on a touching duet with Joel on his hometown anthem, “New York State of Mind.” Later in the evening, he was followed by a Mets jacket-clad Garth Brooks, performing “Shameless” and apparently returning the favor from when Joel did a cameo at his own massive Central Park show; Steven Tyler, delivering a full-throttle rendition of “Walk This Way”; and Roger Daltrey (the Who played Shea in 1982), who galvanized the crowd with “My Generation.”
But it was the late appearance of the former Beatle who provided the evening with its chief emotional resonance. McCartney nostalgically referenced the ’65 appearance by performing “I Saw Her Standing There,” with Joel happily reduced to the role of backup singer. “It’s so cool to be back on the last night,” McCartney said. “We were here a long time ago. We had a blast that night … we’re having another one tonight.” He then closed the show with “Let It Be,” providing a suitable emotional capper to the historic event.
Well, it wasn’t really the emotional capper. That was left to the headliner, who sent the crowd off with the attitudinal stance of a true New Yorker: “Don’t take any shit from anybody!” he admonished.
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