Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Spectrum’

The second of the three Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion-tour shows I attended was no mere concert, but a blow-out bash; and while not the favorite Springsteen concert that I’ve enjoyed, it ranks near the top. Originally slated to take place on September 16th, it was pushed back eight days due to Hurricane Floyd’s unexpected visit to the East Coast. That meant the shindig fell on the day following a major Springsteen milestone: His 50th birthday. 

Unlike the other five nights in Philly, the concert took place at the Spectrum, which seemed positively tiny and quaint in comparison to the barn-like First Union Center. The site holds a special place in Springsteen lore for two reasons: When he and the E Street Band first played it on June 6th, 1973, during a 13-date stint opening for Chicago, they were greeted – for the first and possibly last time – not by shouts of “Bruuuuce!” but actual boos; in response, Bruce is said to have flipped the finger to the over-eager fans, who were no doubt clamoring for “Roxie” instead “Rosalita.” (Oh, wait – wrong Chicago!) Fast forward three years, however, and he and the band played their first and second large arena shows as a headliner at the venue on Oct. 25th and 27th, 1976. (Both nights, as all nights in Philly, sold out.)

My first memory of this show: The traffic and parking, which were insane. The Phillies were at Veterans Stadium, which was situated across the street from the Spectrum, and the Flyers were hosting the New York Rangers at the F.U. Center, which was next door. The Schuylkill Expressway and I-95 were both backed up, and Broad Street was at a standstill. We pulled into and parked in a distant lot that, I’m fairly certain, was in Timbuktu.

Although – as I mentioned in my post on the Sept. 20th F.U. Center concert – my ticket stubs have been lost to time, I recall Diane and I being situated in first or second-level seats, about 5 o’clock to the stage’s midnight. Not the world’s best, obviously, but much better than one show in ’92 when I found myself sitting in one of the Spectrum’s “obstructed” seats (aka behind a cement pylon).

My next memory: Bruce strolling stage center with a boom box, which he held to the microphone. He played a song that a fan – a neighbor of his mother’s, no less – had sent to him for his birthday. After that, he launched into one of my favorite songs by him, “Growin’ Up,” and soon enough we were havin’ a party. As on the 20th and the 25th, highlights included the five-song stretch from “Youngstown to “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” In short, the night was raucous and meaningful at once, exactly what this thing called rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be about. 

Unfortunately, video-capable cell phones were still a ways away, so YouTube is not littered with clips of the concert. But two cool, fan-shot videos, both from behind the stage, are present. The first: the first performance of “The Fever” since the Darkness tour…

The other: the closing number of the night, “Blinded by the Light.”

All in all, for me and mine, it was a great show.

The set:

  1. Growin’ Up
  2. No Surrender
  3. Prove It All Night
  4. Two Hearts
  5. The Promised Land
  6. Spirit in the Night
  7. Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street
  8. Mansion on the Hill
  9. Independence Day
  10. Youngstown
  11. Murder Incorporated
  12. Badlands
  13. Out in the Street
  14. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
  15. Working on a Highway
  16. The Fever
  17. Backstreets
  18. Light of Day
  19. Bobby Jean
  20. Born to Run
  21. Thunder Road
  22. If I Should Fall Behind
  23. Land of Hope and Dreams
  24. Blinded by the Light

February in the Philadelphia region can be a cruel, cruel month. It’s usually cold and often snowy, with icicles dangling from gutters and tree limbs like daggers aimed at spring. Such was not the case in 1990, however. We were in the midst of a mild, mild winter – the mean temperature for December 1989 was 41; January’s was 56; and February’s was 60.

That’s not to say the days and nights were sans inclement weather – it rained 10 days and flurried on two. This specific day, Tuesday the 6th, the temps aligned with the overall warming trend: We experienced a high of 59 and a low of 30. But it was an even hotter night in South Philly, where Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played the Spectrum.

At the time, I managed the CD departments at two locations for a regional video-store chain, one of which had a Ticketmaster machine – which was how two floor tickets for this concert fell into my lap. Just as the store’s doors opened at 10am sharp, the person manning the machine pushed a button, and my tickets printed and were put to the side as a stream of fans flowed to the counter to purchase theirs.

At least, that’s how it usually worked; but time, distance and memory being what they are, I don’t recall this specific transaction.

Why I bought the tickets: I’d been a fan of Petty’s since 1979 and “Refugee”…

…and bought many – though not all – of his albums in the years that followed. He was dependable – even his worst LPs were better than most. And, too, he seemed like a good guy. Not only did he fight to keep record prices low (famously threatening to title the album that became Hard Promises “Eight Ninety Eight” if his label upped its retail price to $9.98), but in the late ‘80s he showed up on one of my favorite TV shows, It’s the Garry Shandling Show, as a friendly neighbor.

Anyway, by 1990, he was riding high from the unexpected blockbuster success of Full Moon Fever, his first solo album, which had been released the previous April. But, for me and my tastes, I preferred and played his previous album with the Heartbreakers, 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), more often. It was looser and less polished, and had hooks galore. His under-appreciated 1985 album Pack Up the Plantation was another (double) platter I often played, in those days. It wasn’t just a run-through of his greatest hits, but a smart set with some way-cool covers. Here’s one of my favorites from it:

To the show itself: My memory is decidedly cloudy – I didn’t even remember that Lenny Kravitz, who we’d seen three months earlier at the Chestnut Cabaret, opened until Diane reminded me of it a week or two ago. What I do recall: Our view of the stage was stellar; the early portion of the set spotlighted Full Moon Fever, which was followed by Stan Lynch’s “Down the Road a Piece” and Benmont Tench’s “Ben’s Boogie” (an extended bathroom break/beer run); and the totally unexpected (by me, at least) cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air.”

It was a a magical moment, that song.

I also recall the show’s final quarter, when Petty and the Heartbreakers cranked up some of their biggest, best and hardest-hitting numbers: “You Got Lucky,” “Rebels,” “I Need to Know,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

The encores were good, too: “The Waiting” and “American Girl.”

All in all, it was a solid concert with stellar moments – not great, but good. The emphasis on Full Moon Fever, while understandable, would have been fine if the show ran longer than an hour and a half, or if the extended bathroom break/beer run had been replaced with a few more of Petty’s past classics.

In the years that followed, I often contemplated seeing Petty and the Heartbreakers again. That I didn’t is easily, now, one of my greatest regrets. He had a knack for creating cool and concise tunes that were packed with hooks, and for writing lyrics that said something.

Here’s an entire concert – same setlist – from five days earlier, in Providence, R.I.

The set-list:

  1. Love Is a Long Road
  2. A Mind With a Heart of Its Own
  3. Breakdown
  4. I Won’t Back Down
  5. Free Fallin’
  6. Down the Road a Piece (Stan Lynch)
  7. Ben’s Boogie
  8. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  9. A Face in the Crowd
  10. Listen to Her Heart
  11. Something in the Air
  12. Alright for Now
  13. Yer So Bad
  14. You Got Lucky
  15. Rebels
  16. I Need to Know
  17. Refugee
  18. Runnin’ Down a Dream
  19. The Waiting **
  20. American Girl **

(** = encore)

My first concert was supposed to be Roxy Music with Modern English on Saturday May 28th, 1983. I was 17, about to graduate high school and, as I’ve written before, somewhat of a music-obsessed geek. Two friends and I had tickets for the show, and all systems were a go despite a last-minute change in venue (due, I believe, to poor ticket sales) from the Spectrum in South Philly to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby.

The rest of that specific memory is for another post, however. The reason I start with it is this:

One of those same friends came to me the week of the 16th: Would I like to see the Kinks on Saturday with him and a mutual friend’s older sister? I don’t remember why the mutual friend (who was more of acquaintance to me) couldn’t go or if he even wanted to go, just that the ticket fell into my lap because of his absence. It’s possible that he was a casualty of the concert having been rescheduled – the show was originally slated for March, but pushed back to May for reasons unknown. In fact, the sister – who was a few years older than us – may have originally intended to attend the March fest with her friends only to see those plans wrecked by the date change.

Whatever.

All I knew was: the Kinks! Yes, I wanted to go! I liked them. Many of their songs were standard fare on Philly’s two rock stations, WMMR and WYSP, so even though I didn’t own much by the British rock group, I was familiar with all their classic tracks; and “Come Dancing,” their latest single, was getting much airplay – especially on MTV. (And when I say “I didn’t own much by them,” I mean it quite literally. The double-LP One for the Road live album, which I bought in late 1980 after reading a review of in Rolling Stone, was it.)

To the night in question: The ride to the Spectrum was far simpler and straighter than the ride to the Tower Theater would be the following week: a straight shot down I-95, off at the proper exit and…there we were, ready to rock. I remember our seats as being first-level, but I doubt they were – and no seating chart that I can find dates back to the early ‘80s. Wherever Section R was, that was us. I do recall we had a good view of the stage, however, and that our section was sparsely filled.

Oh, and the sister was annoyed most of the night – not with me, but my friend.

According to Doug Hinman’s The Kinks: All Day and All of the Night, the Maryland hard-rock band Kix opened, but I have no memory of them. None. Nada. Zip. What I do remember: the arena going dark, spotlights skipping across the crowd while ambient noise cascaded from the sound system – and then the killer chords of “Around the Dial” spiraling from the suddenly well-lit stage. Ray looked dapper in a sport coat and tie; I’m not sure about the rest of the band.

One other memory: “Destroyer.” The drum-and-bass intro lasted a tad longer than on record; and Ray sang-spoke to the beat in his pre-rap rap, “Met a girl called Lola and I took her back to my place/Feelin’ guilty, feelin’ scared, hidden cameras everywhere/Stop!” The arena went pitch-black – well, as pitch-black as it could get. The band went silent. The audience roared. Maybe 30 seconds. Maybe less. And then the lights doused the stage again. “Hold on,” Ray spoke-sang. “Stay in control…”

What else? I’m afraid my memories have become intertwined with the audio from One for the Road, which I still listen to with regularity, and my second time seeing the Kinks, at Penn State’s Rec Hall in late 1985. So when I hear “Lola,” I hear Ray teasing the audience – and, according to the set list below, he did it this night, too. And when I think of “Come Dancing,” I see lights swirling and twirling across the crowd. The same with “Celluloid Heroes…”

In my desk diary, I noted that the show was “excellent” and referenced “Lola” and “You Really Got Me” as being high points.

Anyway, I searched the ‘net for more information about this concert and came away with only this blog post, from which I’ve borrowed the set list; it may or may not be accurate. I should also mention that State of Confusion, the album-home of “Come Dancing,” had yet to be released – that would come in June – so the title track, “Don’t Forget to Dance” and “Bernadette” were not known entities at the time. (Wikipedia pegs the release as the 10th, but I record buying it and Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” single on the 2nd in my desk diary.)

What else? I picked up Give the People What They Want the week after the concert. It was a great show.

The set:

  1. Around the Dial
  2. Definite Maybe (intro only)
  3. State of Confusion
  4. The Hard Way
  5. Destroyer
  6. Yo-Yo
  7. Come Dancing
  8. Don’t Forget to Dance
  9. (Lola intro)/Lola
  10. (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman
  11. A Gallon of Gas
  12. Art Lover
  13. Till the End of the Day
  14. Bernadette
  15. All Day and All of the Night
  16. Pressure
  17. Low Budget
  18. Celluloid Heroes
  19. You Really Got Me

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I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Moody Blues fan. Yet, on a late afternoon in the fall of 1983 – October 21st, to be exact – I found myself riding shotgun in a boxy Renault with a college pal heading to the Philadelphia Spectrum to see them. “Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Questions” and whatever other of their songs played on WMMR and WYSP were the extent of my knowledge of their repertoire.

Oh, wait – and “Go Now,” their first hit. I knew that one, as Denny Laine sang it. And he, of course, sang it on Wings’ world tour in 1976, as documented on the 1977 Wings Over America triple-LP set and the 1980 Rockshow concert film.

But, after Laine left the band in ’66, they traded the blues for something a tad more airy. Some might call it progressive or “art” rock; I tend, these days, to call it dull. Back then, however, I liked what I’d heard on the radio, though not enough to buy anything by them – and given the rate that I bought music in those days, that’s a statement in an of itself.

In fact, I likely wouldn’t have shelled out the $12.50 for the ticket except for the opening act: bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. I’d yet to pick up their debut LP, Texas Flood, but it was on my list of things to get. (If I’d been aware of it, I may have skipped this concert and gone the night before to see them at Ripley’s on South Street.)

What I remember: Stevie Ray sauntering out to a half-filled house and, despite most folks paying him no mind, putting on a damn good show. It may seem bizarre that he was ignored given the lore that now surrounds him, but he wasn’t well known at the time; and, too, he was paired with a group that appealed to a very different audience. What I most remember: him playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” while sitting on the edge of the stage. At least, I think it was “Mary”; it may well have been one of the set’s other treats, such as “Pride and Joy” or…I’m not sure. My memory has blurred the non-“Mary” tunes into one long, mesmerizing guitar solo. (As Neil Young says, “It’s all one song!”)

Anyway, after he finished, the Spectrum filled with people, the lights dimmed and a roar of approval from the crowd filled the arena as the Moody Blues appeared on stage. Well, less a roar and more the simultaneous clicks of thousands of Bic lighters. By evening’s end, the secondhand marijuana smoke was so thick that everyone, whether or not they’d wanted to, had inhaled multiple times.

We were high in another sense, too, due to our second-level seats; the folks on the first level and floor looked like ants. What I most remember: those ants streaming toward the concourse whenever the band launched into a new song and then, just as it ended, streaming back.

The Moody Blues were a band trapped by time, in a sense. The audience consisted primarily of yuppies (and wannabe yuppies) reliving the carefree nights of their youth; fanatical followers who fawned over the band’s Mellotron-driven mysticism of yore; and young stoners yearning to trip through time to the group’s prime. Few, if any, cared about the new material. (That’s a fairly common phenomena faced by many veteran acts.)

Of course, it doesn’t help when the new material consists of things like “Blue World,” the lead single from their then-current LP, The Present. It’s far from the cosmic candy the group doled out in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, or even ’81, when they enjoyed some success with the Long Distance Voyager album.

Also in attendance: wide-eyed kids like me, taking it all in as if at a circus sideshow. And on that note, another memory: a yuppie (or wannabe) a few rows in front of us dozed near the set’s end. While “Nights in White Satin” boomed through the arena, his snores echoed through our section until his date/girlfriend/wife nudged him. He jolted upright, rubbed his eyes…and by song’s end was out again.

The final memory: the sound. Stevie Ray’s set was clear, but the Moody Blues’ was not. They became the Muddy Blahs. Their instruments blended together into one velvet-covered sludge (as opposed to sledge) hammer and, at times, the vocals were inaudible.

Yet, I enjoyed the show. Not the best concert, but not the worst. In my desktop calendar, I summarized up the night as thus: “Had a good time listening to the Blues’ made-for-mellowing-out music. Stevie Ray Vaughan opened and was electrifying.”