By Peter Schwartz
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It was nice to be home. Make that, it was great to be home.
After 20 months of renovations, the “new” Nassau Coliseum opened on Wednesday night as Long Island’s own Billy Joel performed a terrific assortment of his greatest hits and album tracks.
I think the building looked really good in the wake of its major facelift. The new exterior, amenities and seats have given the Coliseum a bit of a new arena feel, but when you’re sitting down, you know where you are and where you were during the old place’s initial 43-year run.
It was opening night and there were some complaints from fans about the concourse still being too narrow, long lines for food and the parking. Now not every night is going to be as crazy as when Billy Joel is in town and it’s going to take some time for people to get used to the new situation. The concourses are a bit wider and I think people will see that when other events are taking place. The new bathrooms are nice, but hey, if you gotta go you gotta go and there are going to be lines.
The reality is that it’s not really a new building. It’s a renovated arena and it’s going to serve a purpose, just without a major tenant right now. Having said all of that, I like the place. I’m looking forward to experiencing everything it has to offer, like the Harlem Globetrotters, concerts and sporting events.
To be fair, I didn’t get a chance to walk around the entire place Wednesday night, so I have to hold my judgment until I’m there at some other events, but there was really only so much they could do. The structure is still basically the same, but the building does have a new feel to it, kind of like when you renovate your home.
I’ll say this, the acoustics are much better in the new coliseum and Joel made a point of that Wednesday night.
Speaking of the “Piano Man,” he was brilliant.
From his opening trio of “Miami 2017,” “Pressure” and “All For Leyna,” to hits like “New York State of Mind,” “Big Shot” and “You May Be Right,” to obscure songs (although not obscure to the true Billy fans) like “Sleeping with the Television On,” “Vienna,” “Sometimes a Fantasy” and “The Entertainer,” Billy tore the roof off the place.
He even had special guests like Joan Jett, who performed “I Hate Myself For Loving You” and “I Love Rock and Roll.” Also, Kevin James and Leah Remini provided a “King of Queens” reunion by dancing to “She’s Always a Woman.” The crowd was filled with celebrities and special guests but if there was one appropriate person that a ran into, it was former Islanders great Clark Gillies.
That brings up another subject.
So while there’s an impressive list of concerts, sports, and other events coming up at the new Coliseum, there still remains the one lingering question:
Will the Islanders return to their old home that now has a different look but kind of the same old feel?
I really don’t know. I think it has to remain an option for them should they opt out of the Barclays Center lease. It sure sounds like new co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin are determined to build a new arena either next to Belmont Park or next to Citi Field. If that doesn’t go according to plan, they would have to be convinced that the Islanders can flourish at the new coliseum and I believe that will remain a big question.
For someone like myself who grew up with the old coliseum, it was not hard to be a little nostalgic being at the show Wednesday night. I even ran into Gillies, who was there to enjoy opening night and, of course, it crept into my mind how cool it would be for the Islanders make their way back to where they belong. There were plenty of fans wearing Islanders jerseys and a few chants of “Let’s go Islanders!”
We’ll see how it all plays out, but even without the Islanders, Long Islanders still needed a sports and entertainment venue to enjoy and I think the new “old barn” will be just fine. I plan on going to many events there with my family and we’ll see what happens down the road. Hopefully, the revamped building will work the kinks out over the course of the first month of operation and going there will become an enjoyable experience for all.
Billy Joel was a great start to the new building’s history, but there’s still plenty of reminders about the old place. Like the traffic after the show.
But it’s great to be home!
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @billyjoel and the Nassau Coliseum at @nycblive