The Herald’s Ben Strack checked in on opening night at the new Coliseum.
“It’s like they just stopped painting last week,” one concertgoer said, as he walked down Section 104’s shiny grey-and-yellow stairs that seemed to sparkle in the dim pre-concert haze. After a $165 million renovation, the Uniondale venue, now called NYCB Live’s Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, was complete, and fans filed in on April 5 to see Long Island’s favorite rock legend reopen the place. “It’s still wet,” the man joked.
At 8:07 p.m., the crowd waited anxiously. A faint “Let’s Go Islanders” chant quickly dissipated; there would be none of that. The venue’s former occupants were no longer the draw. People had come to see Billy Joel.
Finally, the proverbial curtain rose, and the anticipatory buzz emanating from the 14,000 fans became a tameless roar. A blue spotlight found the stage’s grand piano, where Joel sat, his fingers piloting its keys to the popular intro of “Miami 2017.” People’s phones came alive, as they jockeyed their devices overhead in search of the best angle to capture the moment.
After three songs, the local legend looked out to the sold-out Coliseum crowd, then up to the ceiling. “This place sounds a lot better than the old Coliseum,” he said with his signature smile. “It’s got a lot more ambience in it.”
A banner bearing Joel’s name and the number 33 — the amount of shows he has played at the arena, including a sold-out, nine-show run in 1998 that set the venue’s record for the most sellouts in one year — was raised to the new Coliseum’s rafters on April 3.
Though big-name acts like Barbra Streisand, Metallica, Barry Manilow and Bruno Mars are slated to perform at the Coliseum in its first six months, none are as widely anticipated as was Billy Joel’s reopening performance, during which he played to his Long Island crowd for nearly three hours.
Some of the South Shore’s finest musicians joined Joel for the landmark show. “That’s Mr. Carl Fischer on the trumpet,” he announced after a spirited performance of “Zanzibar,” recognizing the Baldwin resident. “South Shore,” Joel asserted. Also performing with the rock icon was Joel’s longtime guitarist Tommy Byrnes, a Lynbrook native and former Oceanside resident.
Long Beach’s Joan Jett performed two songs with the Hicksville native — rock classics “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” — as the decibel level seemed to reach a new peak.
Television couple Kevin James and Leah Remini, of CBS’s “The King of Queens,” also joined the fun with a goofy, light-hearted interpretive dance to Joel’s “She’s Got A Way.”
Local veterans came on stage during “Goodnight Saigon,” Joel’s 1983 anthem about the Vietnam War. “Lest we forget this is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum,” Joel said.
One of the event’s ushers, a Merrick resident who identified himself as Johnny D, said he was impressed with the roomier walkways inside the renovated arena, as well as its outside concourse and overall atmosphere.
It was 10:30 on a Wednesday when Joel began “Piano Man,” and the crowd did their part in helping him sing the 1973 hit, his first-ever single. He walked off the stage at its conclusion, momentarily leaving the audience in angst before returning for a six-song encore, which began with “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and concluded with “You May Be Right.” Finally it was time to go.
“Don’t drink and drive,” Joel said, bestowing his final wisdom on the faithful fans. “Do what I do: drink, and jump into a limousine.”