Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Goodbye Spectrum

Today in Philadelphia, they're tearing down The Spectrum, the last of the triumvirate of stadia that consisted of The Spectrum, JFK Stadium and Veterans Stadium. These three venues entertained millions of Philadelphians for years, but from 1975 to 1995 these three places played a significant role in my tastes in music, sports and live events.When I think of these three venues, memories flood back: buying scalped tickets to a ballgame, eating stale pretzels and sitting in the parking lot for what felt like an eternity after a concert.

JFK Stadium in its finest hour during Live Aid, somewhere in this photo is a 15 year old me suffering from fiberglass burns on the back of his legs while Billy Ocean lip syncs.

Each venue had a different niche. By the the time I came around, JFK was on its last legs...I only saw one event there (we'll get to that), but what a doozy. I spent a ton of time at The Vet growing up, mostly for baseball...the Phillies had some great teams while I was living there, and they were always entertaining. The Spectrum, on the other hand, was the most versatile of the three...it hosted Flyers games, Sixers game and pretty much any other event you can imagine. At one point in its history, I remember reading that The Spectrum hosted events something like 360 days of the year.

All good things come to an end - JFK was condemned in 1989 (a point could made for having it happen four years earlier..more on this later) and demolished in 1992, making way for Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play football; The Vet closed up shop in 2004 to make room for the new Phillies ballpark and today marks the end of The Spectrum.

In honor of these fallen venues, I present, in no particular order, the most memorable concerts and events I saw at these three venues:

Live Aid (JFK, July 1985) - I'll start with the biggie. To this day, this is the most amazing event I've ever been to. I remember getting up at 5am, piling into my friend Toby's van with his sister and friends to drive up to Philly. We couldn't wait to get there...all these great acts...Duran Duran! Led Zeppelin! Madonna!...and even more on the big screen, live from London! So many bands to take in. The good news: so many bands to take in. The bad news? So many bands to take in. For every Duran Duran, I had to slog through sets by Joan Baez, Billy Ocean (to this day I'm convinced he lip synced) and every incarnation of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (I think they had performances of Crosby and Stills; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Young; Crosby; Crosby and Bing Crosby...it never ended). Despite the clunker acts, the performances were amazing. It was also hot. SUPER HOT. 100 degree hot, and I think between us we had a small jug of water. It's amazing no one died of heat stroke. Thankfully they sprayed fire hoses on us throughout the day. And if the heat wasn't going to get us, the seats were...JFK had fiberglass bleachers. Normally this wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that the protective plastic coating separating fiberglass from mid-80s Op short shorted teenager legs was non-existent. Heat plus fiberglass plus short-shorted legs equals itching...lots of itching. I've never been itchier in my life. But I didn't mind...it was an incredible day. I'll most remember Phil Collins arriving from London on the Concorde (kids, look it up...it was the fastest passenger jet in the world that no longer flies), Teddy Pendergrass on stage and Simon LeBon butchering A View to A Kill...

Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt Tour (The Vet, July 1990) - This was just a great show. It was the first time I'd seen Paul McCartney live...he had a solid band behind him, was embracing his Beatles past and gave the fans what they wanted. It also helped that Flowers in the Dirt was an excellent album to tour behind.

David Bowie's Glass Spider Tour (The Vet, July 1987) - Many regard this tour as the exact moment David Bowie's career went off the rails. I think that's a bit harsh. I do think that this tour marks the exact moment when David Bowie embraced all things people hate about the 80s. One look at this video sums it up perfectly. By the way, Never Let Me Down (the album he was promoting during this tour) does have a handful of good tracks on it.

David Bowie's Sound and Vision Tour (The Spectrum, July 1990) - From one of Bowie's stumbles to one of his gems. I ended up liking the show the first night so much, I ended up going the next night (he performed for four nights at The Spectrum for this tour). The concert started with the houselights up, curtain down with the band (with Adrian Belew on guitar) playing the instrumental intro to Sound and Vision, and at the exact moment you hear David sing "Don't you wonder sometimes, 'bout sound and vision", the curtain drops and the lights go out...a great way to start out a great show. Almost like this:

By the way, this was, by my count, the second tour Bowie was "performing my hits for the last time". There would be others....

Duran Duran's Strange Behaviour Tour (The Spectrum, June 1987) - This was the first time I'd seen Duran Duran live in the US, and it was a different experience...gone where Andy and Roger and with their departure came a different sound from them. For years, I wrote this tour off as not their best, but with this year's reissue of Notorious came a DVD of a show from Brazil, a second look revealed a tight setlist, and even tighter band and some interesting takes on their recordings.

The Power Station (The Spectrum, August 1985) - For my first concert after Live Aid, I'm not sure a Robert Palmer-less Power Station was going to cut it. For those of you not steeped in Duran Duran history, The Power Station was an offshoot of Duran Duran consisting of John and Andy Taylor from Duran, Tony Thompson from Chic and Robert Palmer on vocals. It was supposed to be a one off, but John and Andy decided they wanted to take the band on the road. Robert Palmer wanted no part of this, so the band recruited Michael Des Barres to fill his shoes. He didn't, but he was a serviceable singer for the band. Here's their Live Aid performance from a month prior to The Spectrum concert:

Hall and Oates, Big Bam Boom tour (The Spectrum, March 1985) - Note to 15 year old me:
Dear Paul,

How did you like that Hall and Oates concert you attended tonight? Granted, the Spectrum in Philly wasn't the best place to see a concert, but trust me on this one...you'll see a lot more shows there over the years: Power Station, REM, The Cure, Duran Duran, Tina Turner and a few others.

I hope you paid attention to the opening act, 'Til Tuesday. You don't realize it now, but somewhere around the mid-90s, the lead singer of that band is going to be one of your favorite music acts. Don't get too attached to the big hair, braid and combat boots Aimee Mann's wearing today...they don't last long. Listen the the music. She's the real deal...a great songwriter.
Waiting for the Mets to clinch the National League pennant (The Vet, September 1986) - In 1986, the New York Mets were the dominant team of the decade, with players who were household names even to non-baseball followers: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra (time has proven they were mostly household names for the wrong reasons). In 1986, I was a huge Mets fan, following the team on paper, on TV and in person. I was working at a TV station at the time and I had a stadium pass that got me into any Phillies game for a buck...which means I went to a lot of baseball games that summer. By the end of the '86 baseball season, the Mets were ready to move onto the World Series, and many predicted they'd clinch against the Phillies at The Vet during a three game stand there in September. They didn't, but the crowd was incredible...way more Mets fans than Phillies fans...it was like being at a concert.

Phillies Calendar Day (The Vet, 1989 (est.)) - The Phillies always had good giveaways: Larry Anderson masks, Harry Kalas bobblehead dolls, Phillie towels, etc., but the most memorable for me was when they gave each attendee a Phillies calendar. One wouldn't think a calendar would fall into the sweet swag department, but when paired with a game where the Phillies were taking a beating, the giveaway becomes interactive. My details of the game are a bit cloudy, but it seems to me that by the third inning, the Phillies were way behind and the natives were getting restless...it was then a single, solitary paper airplane made from one of the months sailed from the upper deck and onto the field. That was all the masses needed...within seconds, thousands of paper airplanes flew onto the field from all points within The Vet. It was like a precursor to a flash mob.

Tug McGraw's Personal Box (The Vet, 1990) - I know these last three entries aren't music related, but one could make an exception for this one, since Tugger is Tim McGraw's father. It's a stretch, so please indulge me. Tug McGraw was one of the most beloved Phillies to ever put on the uniform. In 1990, I was fortunate to have worked with someone who knew Tug...and was able to procure seats in his personal suite at The Vet. The details of the game are insignificant, but I do remember the kindness of Tug McGraw while he sat next to me for a few innings of this game, put up with my crazy questions (I'm a Mets fan with a deep Phillies knowledge base...he couldn't have sat next to anyone worse). The world lost a special person when he passed away...I was glad I was able to meet him and talk to him.

I sort of feel the same way about these three venues. Sure, they were only buildings and if they didn't exist, I would have seen these acts/events elsewhere, but they're part of the memory...you can't always separate the two. A memorable concert isn't always just the show...it's the people you see in the parking lot, it's the lousy food you eat at the concession stand before the show because you couldn't find something better outside or it's the wallet you left at home. More importantly it's the people you go with, how you get there, the conversations you have on the way and the laughs you share inside.