20 Philadelphia concerts you should go to if you ever invent a time machine

Led Zeppelin onstage at The Spectrum in 1970 | Photo via ledzeppelin.com
Led Zeppelin onstage at The Spectrum in 1970 | Photo via ledzeppelin.com

Every music fan has their own personal list of all-time favorite concerts. But imagine if you were old enough to experience a legendary rock and roll act like Chuck Berry in his prime, while in the same breath catching emerging bands like The Black Keys and Nirvana before they got huge. It’s pretty likely you never got to do either of these things. But there is one hypothetically feasible way to make it happen: invent a time machine. So let’s pretend for a minute this doable – here’s what I’d go back in time to see.

1. Led Zeppelin – March 31, 1970 at The Spectrum

The earlier you saw Led Zeppelin the better. Towards the middle of the 70s, Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction affected his onstage presence, and Robert Plant’s voice became noticeably strained. There’s a phenomenal video, which you can find on YouTube, of Led Zeppelin playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London from the same year, which features my personal favorite versions of “Communication Breakdown,” “Bring It On Home,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” and “How Many More Times.” The grainy video (which also features Page doing the seemingly impossible: making a sweater vest look cool) isn’t all that clear, but the sound is great and that’s really all that matters. It’s likely you would’ve gotten the same mind blowing performance in Philly (check out this vintage review by longtime Philly journo Clark De Leon).

2. The Strokes – October 9, 2003 at Tower Theater

Julian Casablancas’ voice in the early 00s was a thing of beauty. He had the perfect Jim Morrison-esque rock and roll growl, and is probably one of the most overlooked singers in rock history during his prime. Although, I’m a huge fan of The Strokes’s later stuff as well, there’s no denying their first two albums were two of the best rock albums in the early aughties – a time that was otherwise riddled with awful rock bands like Nickelback and Breaking Benjamin.

3. Oasis – October 23, 1994 at J.C. Dobbs

This was the first time Oasis ever played in Philly and also their first ever American tour. Around this time, tensions between Noel and Liam Gallagher had yet to reach the point of totally hating each other’s guts. Also, due to a randomly placed wall on J.C. Dobbs’ stage, this show was rumored to be the only time Noel played on the left side of the stage.

4. The Who – October 19, 1969 at The Electric Factory
The Who actually played two shows at the Electric Factory on this day (bands did that back then, apparently). Anybody who’s ever seen Who videos from the late 60s knows that the band was a powerhouse back in this time period — especially with the late Keith Moon on drums. Also, this probably isn’t the Electric Factory you’re familiar with. The original one was at 22nd and Arch and closed down in 1973. The current one at 7th and Willow opened in 1994. Listen to audio from the show here.

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The Clash at The Tower in September, 1980 | Photo by Todd Heft |

5. The Clash – March 6, 1980 at Tower Theater

The year 1980 was a good one to see The Clash live. You would have heard songs from all their best albums including Give ‘Em Enough Rope, London Calling and their self-titled debut. Also, you’d get to see their iconic lineup. By 1983, drummer Topper Headon and guitarist Mick Jones would eventually be kicked out of the band.


6. The Black Keys – February 5, 2009 at Electric Factory

There were at least two or three times I almost saw the Black Keys before they got huge. For whatever reason, I couldn’t go to the concerts, but I always knew they’d be back in Philly again so I never let it bother me much. That is, until they released Brothers and the band made it big time. Part of me is happy they got big, because it’s good that people appreciate good old fashioned bluesy rock music. However, I really wish I would’ve been able to see them before they started playing arenas. Also, as good as Brothers and El Camino are, I think their best music can be found on Magic Potion, Thickfreakness and especially (my personal favorite) Rubber Factory.

7. Aerosmith – October 10, 1977 at The Spectrum

I’ve always regarded Aerosmith as one of the most rock and roll rock and roll bands in American history, if that makes any sense to you. They’re a must have on this list. They certainly still have some gas in the tank, but I think seeing them in their prime in the 70s would have been best. However, this show was memorable for another reason: At the beginning of the encore, a fan threw a cherry bomb onto the stage, burning Steven Tyler’s cornea and rupturing an artery in Joe Perry’s arm. So let’s hop in our time machine and see Aerosmith while they still charged reasonable amounts for tickets, and before Steven Tyler began to look like an elderly woman.

8. Violent Femmes – April 15, 1989 at The Tower Theater

I used to have a job working at a gas station, and while working, my boss let me play music off my iPod through a small Bose stereo. Whenever I played the Violent Femmes, customers usually in their late 30s to mid 40s would always stop and ask me what band they were listening to, because it sounded so familiar. The Violent Femmes are that band you always forget about, but they had a handful of super catchy fun songs. Totally worth the time machine trip.

9. The White Stripes – June 19, 2001 at North Star Bar

Holy shit. The White Stripes played the North Star Bar. Can you imagine seeing such a legendary band in such an intimate venue? Well you don’t have to. You can see the whole thing below (Jack White’s voice is spot on throughout the whole performance). Anyway, I’m seriously contemplating devising a diabolical plan to rob Jack White of all his money. Why? Back in 2012, Jack White said that the only reason he would ever consider reuniting the White Stripes is if he “went bankrupt or really needed the cash.” So I need to find a way to make this happen, that way all of us who never got to see the band live might have a chance.

10. The Kinks – November 8, 1972 at The Spectrum

The best time to see The Kinks live would have been in the late 1960s, but unfortunately they were banned from playing in America at that time. The closest Philly Kinks date I can find to that era is this one.

11. Pink Floyd – June 29, 1977 at The Spectrum

The late 70s was the best time to see Pink Floyd. This tour was in support of the album Animals. By this time, the band had already recorded some of their biggest albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. The complete audio of this show can be found here.

12. Green Day – January 16, 1993 at J.C. Dobbs

Green Day is a band that has always been great live. Their last show in Philly was in April of last year at Temple’s Liacouras Center where Billie Joe Armstrong proved he is still one of the best frontmen in rock — even into his early 40s. During this Liacouras Center show, he mentioned J.C. Dobbs and dedicated “Burnout” to the legendary South Street venue and all who patronized it. So why not see them before they got huge? This January show was their first ever in the City of Brotherly Love.

13. Nirvana – October 1, 1991 at J.C. Dobbs

This show must have been wild. It was the third of three times the band played Philly and the first with Dave Grohl drumming. This was definitely the Nirvana show to go to. The Melvins were also on the bill. There’s no video, but there’s some pretty respectable audio from the show here. Supposedly, the crowd accusing the band of being sellouts after they refused to play an encore, according to the YouTube video’s description.

14. Big Brother & The Holding Company – November 2, 1968 at The Electric Factory

Big Brother & The Holding Company probably would have garnered more success if it wasn’t for Janis Joplin’s tragic heroin overdose in 1970, tragically ending the lives of one of the greatest singers in rock and roll history. This show was only a few months after the chart-topping Cheap Thrills album was released, one of the best albums of the 60s and famous for songs like “Turtle Blues” and “Piece of my Heart.”

15. Blind Melon – March 30, 1993 at Chestnut Cabaret

It’s criminal how underrated Blind Melon is. They’re widely regarded for being one hit wonders for their song “No Rain” off of their first album. However, it’s far from true that it was their only good song. Their entire self-titled debut is easily one of the best albums of the 90s, despite the fact it doesn’t quite have the notoriety that Ten, Nevermind or Dookie does.

16. AC/DC – June 15, 1979 at Tower Theatre

I think most would agree that the Bon Scott era of AC/DC was vastly superior to the Brian Johnson era. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a show AC/DC headlined in Philly with Bon Scott, so we’re going to have to go back in time for this 1979 show where they opened for UFO.

17. Amy Winehouse – May 5, 2007 at Electric Factory

I would have totally would have bought tickets to see her live had she not gained access to the 27 club. The troubled singer struggled with drugs throughout her life, and it’s a shame she couldn’t find a way to put her addictions behind her. Here’s a cool video of the shows opening number, “Addicted.”

The Rolling Stones at The Spectrum | Photo by Annie Liebowitz

18. The Rolling Stones – June 29, 1975 at The Spectrum

It’s completely ridiculous how expensive tickets to see the Stones were on their last tour (close to $1,000 for the best seats). Ticket prices for this show were probably a bit more sensible, and you probably got a better performance to go along with it. Don’t get me wrong, Mick Jagger is just as entertaining as he’s always been. But I wouldn’t say the same thing for the rest of the band members. Another interesting tidbit: This was the first Philly show the band played with Ronnie Wood, who recently joined after the departure of Mick Taylor, and the show was shot by famed rock photographer Annie Liebowitz.

19. Procol Harum – June 20, 1970 at Electric Factory

When old people who survived through the 60s and 70s talk about how good the music used to be, they typically mention bands like the Stones, Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc. However, one band you don’t hear that much about is Procol Harum. But you should. They’re mostly know for the song “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” However, the band is terribly underrated, as they’ve made at least three or four great records including their self-titled debut album, Shine on Brightly, and A Salty Dog.

20. T. Rex – September 26, 1974 at Tower Theater

T. Rex belongs in the same category of underrated bands from the 70s that Procol Harum belongs to. They also had a big song called “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” which still receives radio play. They made a few great albums, including Electric Warrior and The Slider before singer Marc Bolan died in a tragic car accident in September of 1977. But their big hit lives on, and was recently covered at XPN’s Free at Noon by the very unlikely pairing of The Black Lips and Boy George.

This list is just some of the many, many concert options we could have time-traveled to see from Philadelphia’s rich live music history. What would you have taken your time machine to see? Let us know in the comments.



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62 Responses to “20 Philadelphia concerts you should go to if you ever invent a time machine”

  1. Harris

    No locals…

  2. Tony G. Pizza

    No David Bowie at the Tower in 1974? Legendary transitionary show for him.

  3. Tony G. Pizza

    No KISS Christmas week 1977. That was the band at their loud, campy, theatrical best.

  4. Brian

    Bruce at Citizen’s Bank Park on Labor Day, 2012.

  5. Brian

    Grateful Dead when they played Unbroken Chain in ’95 – and Dylan at the Mann in ’97 when people were jumping up on stage.

  6. Jerry Lee

    You forgot Dave Alvin & The Skeletons at JC Dobbs, November 11, 1991.

  7. news360

    Maybe I missed something, but the Live Aid Concert in 1985 and the Amnesty International Concert in 1988 were pretty spectacular.

  8. sean

    Phish OWNED the spectrum on many nights in the mid/ late 90’s. you had to be there to get why it should be, but i don’t expect to see it on the list for obvious reasons.

  9. Greg Blass

    worst suggestion ever

  10. Greg Blass

    woahhhhhh man. this is wild

  11. Kyle Garvey

    The Who @ electric factory 1969

  12. Carne Asada

    Obviously written by someone too young to remember The Main Point, Ambler & Chestnut Cabarets, The TLA….

  13. Andy Schwartz

    20 Philadelphia concerts by white pop rock musicians you should go to if you ever invent a time machine

  14. Chance

    The Violent Femmes concert was at the Tower, and not the Electric factory… Luka Bloom opened. Not a bad show – Bloom was quite good, but the Femmes were not great that night… Here’s a review… http://articles.philly.com/1989-04-17/news/26143438_1_brian-ritchie-songs-gordon-gano

  15. qwopter

    worst comment ever

  16. Greg Blass

    Bruce is the WORST band ever and you’re referencing a concert from 2012 when this is clearly about old concerts form the 70’s and 80’s. Hence, you lose the comment game.

  17. Charlie Crystle

    The Who, 1982 at the Vet. The Daves, anywhere.

  18. qwopter

    What game? I don’t give a flying poo about Bruce. Maybe your comment was directed to the person that said it.

  19. Greg Papazian

    Soundgarden at the Tower 1994

  20. VinMan

    1981 Jun 20- JFK Stadium- The Allman Bros/Marshall Tucker Band/Outlaws/Molly Hatchet/.38 Special

  21. Sean


  22. jergar01

    1982 Clash show at Class of 23 rink was amazing, save for the unconscionable booing of Burning Spear till he had to leave the stage.

  23. jergar01

    Bruce July 1978 Spectrum: dat was a show

  24. brian

    Marley 76 tower, Phish 92 keswick, Hendrix temple campus 68

  25. Francine Ranft

    Maybe JFK in 1982? With Santana and the Clash.

  26. Francine Ranft

    I would agree. Anyone at the Main Point or any of the Cabarets!

  27. fuzzboxx

    no bowie no hendrix no beatles?…but you got Blind Fucking Melon? please…

  28. Charlie Crystle

    Sorry–yes! JFK with Santana and the Clash, and I think Joan Jett. Maybe even the Hooters. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hooters … turns out yes)

  29. Used to be a Philly musician

    I was at the Green Day show. They had to stop it because it was overcrowded. Literally no room to breath. Awesome to be there but stinks they only played a few songs.

  30. Used to be a Philly musician

    And they rolled up in a stinky white utility van.

  31. Laurie McVickar

    The Kinks played at the Electric Factory with Eric Mercury on January 31, 1970, and again on June 6, 1970 with Shorty with Georgie Fame and Mott the Hoople, then at the Spectrum on November 26, 1971 with Good God and the Edgar Winter Group- I was a fanatical Who nut during those years, and my best friend felt the same about the Kinks, so we went to every show they both played in Philly (including the amazing 1969 Who show at the Factory you listed, where they performed “Tommy” in its entirety!)

  32. Mike McGettigan

    Well, dang, there was that Hendrix/Steve Miller/Grateful Dead show at Temple Stadium–so hippiely-run that W. Philly colleague Jimmy Jones went up to the guy on the soundboard, said, “What’s that lame music?!”-ejected the cassette out and put in one of his own and pushed Play! Saw The Who at The Factory–but missed Joplin there–About to head to that show… My puzzled friends gawked as I jumped backwards off the #34 trolley steps, declaring, “I punk out!” ( in a paranoia attack about which no more details will be given)

  33. brian

    Marley at the Tower 76, Phish keswick 92, Jimi Temples campus 68

  34. alice215

    Peter Tosh @ The Tower, can’t remember the date…lol.

  35. Runner6

    Springsteen December 9, 1980, the day after John Lennon was shot.

    “I’ve seen people digging firebreaks to save their homes, and I’ve seen some desperate fist fights, and, God knows, I’ve seen hundreds of rock & roll shows, but I have never seen a human being exert himself the way Springsteen did that night in Philly.”

    -Fred Scheurs

    Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bruce-springsteen-and-the-secret-of-the-world-19810205#ixzz33t7pmoHg
    Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

  36. uncajoey

    I saw that show, but they were MUCH better at the Civic Center the previous April, though.

  37. uncajoey

    Tuesday, June 29th, 1975. Main Point. Muddy Waters!

    06/20/1975 Bob Marley, Spectrum Theater

    John Coltrane, anytime between 1960-early 1965. I’d trade ten Led Zeppelins and five Creams for that one.

  38. ChrissMari

    I was at the Amy Winehouse show. She slurred something about it being the holiday where we drink “tequilar”.

  39. ChrissMari

    She also did bumps of some sort she was pulling out of her hair all night

  40. uncajoey

    I was there. I consider myself very very lucky.

  41. thesestreets

    Arcade Fire opening for Chromeo in the church basement somewhere around 2005?

  42. darrinmc

    91 was the second time Nirvana played Philadelphia. The last show was at the Drexel Armory in 93.

  43. AndrewMilner

    Spinal Tap at Fidelity Hall in 1982.

  44. jeffs

    U2 at the Tower – December 1984 – last tour of small venues.

  45. Gregory F.

    I was at the Clash show at the Tower, but I would put their Pearl Harbor Tour show at Walnut St. Theater in 79 ahead of the Tower. Undertones were the opener. After blowing the roof of the Walnut, and playing behind the image of that infamous Philly paper at the time of the Pope in the crosshairs, Joe Strummer came out after the last encore and apologized to the crowd for putting on a bad performance.

  46. Kevin Meehan

    Old hippies will remember an all day festival at Temple Stadium circa 1971-1972 which ended with several hours of the Grateful Dead followed by Jimi Hendrix. When he opened in a darkened stadium he played “Machine Gun”. When the lights went on EVERYONE was on the ground looking for cover.

  47. Harold Messinger

    Jeff Buckley at Grape Street in early 90’s, U2 at the Tower on the Unforgettable Fire Tour

  48. Harold Messinger

    best non-concert ever.

  49. Harold Messinger

    I’ll throw in Bruce at the Main Point in the 70’s.

  50. marky d

    deadbeats at the shamrock june 2014

  51. Ridge8649

    That Dead show was pretty bad aside from the novelty of the Unbroken Chain breakout and the fact that it was the last of 50-some Dead shows at the Spectrum. Better choices would be 4/20/84 at the Civic Center, with an epic Scarlet>Fire, or the July 1989 show at JFK, last call for the historic old stadium.

  52. Brian M

    I was at the Blind Melon show–unreal concert. Soundgarden at the Tower in 1994 was so loud and crazy too. Pearl Jam at JC Dobbs isnt mentioned? Guns N Roses at the Spectrum in 1993 was awesome and a band opened up called Soundgarden and played BadMotorfinger album was a great great show.

  53. Steven Hutchman

    I was at that Black Keys show, it wasnt that good.

  54. TrentonMakes

    U2 at Ripleys, November 1981. Wednesday night, maybe 80 people there. They opened with Gloria, and notched it up from there. Bono was levitating off the stage.

  55. Mikey Ski

    Tom Beck, get your act together!! How about Pearl Jam closing down the Spectrum on October 31, 2009!! This concert has been described as epic. It was. I was there!! The Phillies were in the world series. The place was packed. The crowd electric!! The hair is standing up on the back of my neck writing this, just like it was that night. I remember the last two encores Yellow Ledbetter, then Mike Mcready playing a hauntingly good Jimi Hendrix-esque version of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’ One of the best shows I’ve ever seen and a proper sendoff to the Spectrum.

  56. niv

    who are the deadbeats?

  57. marky d

    New band from 2 st in south philly, killing it onstage. Jimmy Jimmy, one way janie and white water lilly girl are just a few of their songs, gonna have a cd out by end of summer. Next show is at 2stock. DEADBEATS

  58. Rodge

    I was at the Led Zeppelin show in 1970 at the Spectrum. My first concert at the Spectum. Plant was incredible.

  59. Chris Richards

    You’ve posted 40 great shows in Philadelphia, and you somehow manage to leave out the legendary Sun Ra, how actually lived in Philly (in Germantown) for most of the last 2 decades of his life?! Or were you just limiting this to “rock music”? Surely Ra must have played some incendiary shows somewhere in Philly during the 70’s (by the 80’s he had largely mellowed).

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