Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Joyous Finale for a Philadelphia Institution

It’s the end for a Philadelphia institution that was much loved by everyone who lives in the region: The Spectrum. The arena is to be razed (possibly by implosion on New Year’s Eve) to make way for a hotel and entertainment mall.

The facility, completed in 1967, is best known as the home of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and the 76ers basketball team. However, it also hosted circuses, ice shows, boxing and wrestling and just about any other event that could be crammed into the building, which held anywhere from 17,000 to 20,000 persons depending on the performance. It was in constant use.

While I have attended many wonderful sports events at the arena, what I remember most are the concerts, particularly during the ‘70s and ‘80s when live music ruled. I don’t know how many concerts I attended (could be in the hundreds) but I have seen everything from the Allman Brothers to Frank Zappa. The short list also includes Willie Nelson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Cat Stevens, Grateful Dead, Muddy Waters, Yes, Rick Wakeman, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Electric Light Orchestra, Edgar Winters, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. I’m taken aback with the breadth of music I experienced.

The first show I ever attended there was a 1973 charity concert by AM radio station WFIL (remember rock ‘n’ roll AM radio?). There were only a few thousand people to see a bill that included: Billy Preston, Lou Reed, Slade, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show and a new band from California called The Eagles.

During the past year, a number of acts known for their many and memorial performances at the arena returned for a final shows. Among them were Neil Young, the Grateful Dead (which played the Spectrum 53 times, more than any other musical act) and Bruce Springsteen. On Oct. 23, Philadelphia area musicians The Hooters, Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates headlined a concert titled "Last Call."

For some reason (probably just scheduling), Pearl Jam (which according to the Spectrum's historical listing of concerts, only played the venue once) was given the honor of being the last band to perform at the legendary arena, on Oct. 27, 28, 30, 31 (Halloween). From what I read (here and here) and the videos I’ve seen, the management couldn’t have chosen a better act to close the building. Over the four nights, the band performed 103 different songs, exhausting their own catalog of songs and playing covers that included The Who’s “Baba O'Riley,” Divo’s “Whip It” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The final show was a marathon event of more than 3 hours and 40 minutes in which the band played 41 songs. The set included one of the band’s first hits “Alive,” which lead singer Eddie Vedder said in honor of the closing of the Spectrum they will never play again.

Below are four videos from the Pearl Jam shows, three from the final night on Oct. 31 and one from the Oct. 30 show.

The Who's Baba O'Riley from the Oct. 30 show:

Divo's "Whip It":

Neil Young "Rockin in the Free World":

"Yellow Ledbetter," with a "The Star-Spangled Banner" guitar solo ending, the last song played at the Spectrum.

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