Earlier this year, we made a list of Philadelphia concerts from the city’s rock-era history that, given access to a time machine, would be amazing to check out. It would be the live music junkie’s dream: being able to see Chuck Berry in his prime as well as catching huge bands like Nirvana and The Black Keys when they were just starting out. Of course 20 doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of Philadelphia’s concert history, and when the list got a lot of response, we compilied another round of noteworthy performances from days gone by. Check it out below.
1. The Replacements – July 27, 1987 at Chestnut Cabaret
The Replacements are a very underrated band. In fact, they are the favorite band of a lot of your favorite bands like the Goo Goo Dolls, The Hold Steady and Green Day (just to name a few). The Minneapolis rock heroes have been back together and are playing a few shows at festivals here and there for a couple years now, but The Mats were in their prime in the 80s. So use your time machine to see them then at West Philadelphia’s long-gone Chestnut Cabaret (more recently The Blockley, currently available for rent).
2. Queen – February 2, 1976 at Tower Theater
Mid 70s was a good time to see Queen live. Obviously, Freddie Mercury was still alive, and most of their best albums had already been made by this point including A Night at the Opera, Queen, and Sheer Heart Attack. This show was the third of three Philly shows played on this tour.
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd – June 11, 1977 at JFK Stadium
No band in all of rock and roll history has dealt with as much perseverance as Lynyrd Skynyrd. June 1977 was about 4 months before a tragic plane crash killed original Skynyrd members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and Cassie Gaines. As if that wasn’t bad enough, guitarist Allen Collins would later be paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident, preventing him from performing with the band. As great as the current lineup is, it would be great to see the band with its original members. Also, they’re a band that really deserves to have more of their songs heard; too many radio stations on play the bands’ hits. If you like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird”, try listening to less popular but just as good (if not better) tunes such as “The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” “All I Can Do is Write About It,” or “Comin’ Home.”
4. The Ramones – March 16, 1983 at Ripley Music Hall
The Ramones were one of those bands whose drug use affected their live performance in their later years, so it was best to see them in the late 70s or early 80s. Also, Ripley Music Hall was an old Philly venue located on the 600 block of South Street that housed lots of popular national acts. So it’s a good show to time-travel to not only because the Ramones are one of the biggest punk rock bands in history, but it also provides you get to see a historic venue that’s not there anymore.
5. David Bowie – February 19, 1973 at Tower Theater
Bowie actually released a film called Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which was a concert movie of a show on this tour directed by D. A. Pennebaker. Despite the film being really grainy, watching it just makes you want to go to the concert. The version of “Moonage Daydream” that appears on the film makes you feel like you’re riding on a spaceship through the depths of the universe. You’d have to assume the show at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby would be equally as good.
6.Chuck Berry – February 21, 1958 at Uptown Theater
The guy who practically invented rock and roll did actually play a show here in 1958 at the Uptown Theater, which closed 36 years ago. Travel back in time to this show and see Chuck Berry do the duck walk to “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”
7. Live Aid – July 13, 1985 at JFK Stadium
Live Aid is a staple of Philadelphia’s music history. The charitable event, which raised money to combat African famine, was shared with London, England ‘s Wembley Arena, was held on a brutally hot day, and featured classic performances from the likes of Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, REO Speedwagon, The Pretenders, The Cars, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Philly’s own The Hooters were also on the bill. Notably, Led Zeppelin played their first reunion since the band’s breakup in 1980 – but it kind of sucked.
8. Neil Young – September 23, 1978 at The Spectrum
Neil Young has long been one of rock music’s greatest songwriters. If you’ve seen any videos of him perform lately, you know he’s definitely still got it. You can actually make the argument that his guitar playing has even improved since the 70s and 80s. However, Neil Young’s voice is a huge part of what makes his music special, and for that reason, I think 1978 would be a good year to drop in on him.
9. The Beatles – September 2, 1964 at Convention Hall
The Beatles only played two dates in Philly during their career. If you time-traveled to this show, you would see the first. The only bad part however, is that you probably wouldn’t hear the music over the screams of thousands of teenage girls. Read a chronology of the concert and hear some music from it in our 50th anniversary post here.
10. Bruce Springsteen – December 9, 1980 at The Spectrum
I really wanted to stick one of Bruce’s Main Point shows on this list, being that the legendary Main Line venue has not shown up on either of our roundups. But the story line to this show, which was a part of the Boss’s River Tour, is just way too good: December 9, 1980 was the day after John Lennon was murdered. The concert began with Springsteen giving a short speech about how it would be “a hard night to play,” and ended with a cover of “Twist and Shout” to pay tribute to Lennon.
11. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – December 7, 1977 at Hot Club
Elvis Costello has written a plethora of great music throughout his long and storied career. Albums like This Year’s Model, which features the highly underrated “No Action,” or My Aim is True, which highlights Costello’s best-known ballad “Alison,” are just two Costello albums in which there are virtually no songs that should be skipped. This particular show, which was Costello’s first in Philly, was held at the Hot Club, an old Philadelphia venue dedicated to punk music, which is now closed.
12. Cream – April 21, 1968 at Electric Factory
Fans in London and New York were lucky when Cream chose to play a handful of reunion shows in each city in 2005. Unfortunately, Cream hasn’t played Philly since the 60s, and with the recent passing of bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, our chances to see them are gone. But they were slim even before Bruce’s death. In 2010, he bluntly told the BBC “Cream is over.” This particular date was the third of three shows in a row in Philly. Originally, the band was scheduled to play April 12-14 at the Electric Factory, but the dates were postponed to April 19-21.
13. Red Hot Chili Peppers – May 27, 1999 at The Theater of Living Arts
The Chili Peppers have had a revolving door of guitar players throughout their history, but I think it’s safe to say that John Frucsiante was the best of them all. Their last album I’m With You (which was also their first with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who replaced Frucsiante after he quit the band) was described by one critic as having “a John Frucsiante shaped hole.” His relationship with RCHP has been historically on-again-off-again;
he quit the band after Blood Sugar Sex Magik, rejoined in 1999 (after being replaced by Dave Navarro on 1995’s One Hot Minute), and made Californication with them. This underplay at the TLA was part of the promotional Stop The Hate tour, aimed at combatting high school violence, and was Frusciante’s first time in Philly since rejoining the band.
14. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – May 16, 1970 at Temple Stadium, Temple University
Hendrix played a few shows in Philly throughout his career, and any of them would be great to go to. However, this one is particularly interesting because the Grateful Dead and Steve Miller Band were also on the bill.
15. The Doors – May 1, 1970 at The Spectrum
This concert was actually recorded and released as a double live album, so there are available recordings of the show and because it was professionally recorded, the sound quality is extraordinary. During the concert, singer Jim Morrison refers to Philadelphia as “the music capital of the world” before launching into a cover of the Chuck Berry classic, “Carol.”
16. Motӧrhead – April 12, 1987 at The Trocadero Theatre
In effort to prevent metal from being underrepresented on our list, I figured we’d go with Motӧrhead, an interesting punk metal band that draws a fan base consisting of many people who aren’t typically fans of metal. Since this show, it seems like Lemmy Kilmister’s years of living the rock and roll lifestyle have caught up with him. His health has taken a hit, but luckily he quit smoking and doesn’t drink anywhere near as much as he used to, so you can tell he’s doing what he can to soften the blow of diabetes and a hematoma in 2013. As a result, the late 80s would be a good time to see the band, back when Lemmy was still in good health. Here’s a Philadelphia Inquirer interview with the band that previewed the show.
17. Fleetwood Mac – March 21, 1977 at The Spectrum
Fleetwood Mac had already played Philly a few times by now at venues like Tower Theater and The Electric Factory, but this time was the best for two reasons: the band’s two most prominent members – Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks – were in the Mac at this point, and this was the tour in support of Rumors, which is arguably their best album.
18. Patti Smith – March 27, 1979 at Tower Theater
This was the only show Patti Smith played in Philly during her punk rock days — and it was closer to the end of them at that. Still, Smith is a legendary figure in punk’s history, and being from South Jersey, she’s particularly fond of the Philadelphia scene. Here’s a pretty cool video of Smith talking about why New York isn’t a good place for artists anymore, and as a result, creative people should move to Philadelphia (or Newark or Detroit) instead.
19. Rage Against the Machine – July 18, 1993 at
FDR Park John F. Kennedy Stadium
Rage’s “performance” at Lollapalooza in 1993 wasn’t so much a performance as it was a display. The band walked out on stage completely naked with duct tape on their mouths and the letters “PMRC” painted onto their bodies in protest of the Parents Music Resource Center, an organization founded by Tipper Gore, which aimed to help make parents aware of explicit lyrics in music. They stood nude for 14 minutes, and then left with no performance (although they did later come back to Philly to play a free show).
20. Pearl Jam – October 31, 2009 at The Spectrum
This was a special show for Philadelphians for a variety of reasons. One, Pearl Jam was playing (obviously). Two, it was Halloween. Three, the Phillies were in the World Series against the New York Yankees across the street (Game three was tonight, which unfortunately the Phillies lost 8-5; I still remember how badly the Phils’ awful bullpen haunted them throughout the series, ultimately leading to their defeat in six games). And four, perhaps most importantly, it was the final event at the Spectrum ever. I’m still kicking myself for not buying tickets to this. The band played a nearly three and a half hour set. covered “Whip It” dressed in Devo costumes, dropped balloons and confetti to “Rockin in the Free World” and ended on “Yellow Ledbetter,” which echoed the somberness of the arena’s closing. The Spectrum hosted four NBA Championships, six Stanley Cup Finals, and thousands of memorable concerts throughout it’s historic lifespan, and thanks to Pearl Jam, it went out on a high note.
Want more? Check out the first round of 20 concerts!
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