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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A Look Back at 50 of the Best Concerts in Cleveland From the Past 50 Years

Posted By on Wed, Oct 20, 2021 at 8:04 AM

click to enlarge Petty playing Cleveland in 2017 - PHOTO BY SCOTT SANDBERG
  • Photo by Scott Sandberg
  • Petty playing Cleveland in 2017

Founded 50+ years ago as a music magazine, Scene — along with the commercial radio station WMMS and heavyweight promoter Belkin Productions — helped contribute to Cleveland’s emergence as a hotbed for rock ’n’ roll in the ’70s, a reputation that still carries significant weight to this day.

In honor of the paper’s 40th anniversary in 2010, we looked back at some of the most memorable concerts from the last four decades. Now, to mark the paper’s 50th anniversary and to celebrate the Rock Hall’s upcoming inductions in Cleveland, we’ve reprinted some of that article and dug into the archives to add a few other reviews that didn’t appear the first time around. We’ve also added concerts that Scene has reviewed in the past ten years too. Is it subjective? Damn straight it is. For all the shows we saw, there were plenty we missed, and critics don’t always agree amongst themselves or with fans. But it’s still a mammoth Mount Rushmore of Cleveland shows.



Scene staffers past and present, particularly Anastasia Pantsios, Michael Gallucci and Jeff Niesel, contributed to this list.

Arcade Fire
Beachland Ballroom
March 3, 2008

At first blush, it seemed odd that a Canadian band was shilling for a U.S. Presidential candidate in Barack Obama. The Montreal band had bypassed Cleveland on its tour behind 2007's buzzworthy Neon Bible, so it was extra special to have these two abbreviated (but free) shows to get out the vote for the Illinois senator. The concerts were announced only a few days before they took place. After the mad scramble for tickets ended, concertgoers with and without tickets were (literally) left standing out in a cold spring drizzle waiting to get inside. When the faithful finally made it inside, they saw the band work through a set list highlighting their best tunes and an eclectic mix of covers that included David Bowie's "Heroes," John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth," and Sam Cooke's "Change is Gonna Come." To the chagrin of many, the political overtones were sometimes heavy-handed — frontman Win Butler's between-song banter wasn't exactly veiled. But at the end of the night, it was the Arcade Fire more than a presidential candidate that everyone believed in.


Beyonce and Jay-Z
FirstEnergy Stadium
July 25, 2018

PHOTO BY RAVEN VARONA/PARKWOOD/PICTUREGROUP
  • Photo by Raven Varona/Parkwood/PictureGroup

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Shaun "Jay-Z" Carter need you to know they are still crazy in love. They want you to know that they have moved on from their tabloid fodder years, that they have fought for their marriage and that they are stronger. But they couldn't just prove this to themselves; they had to prove it to the rest of the world by heading out on a giant spectacle of a tour together. Hammering home the point, the two arrived at FirstEnergy Stadium on a descending platform while wearing gleaming white and holding hands. There were no dancers yet to fill the expansive, two-runway stage — there was only the two of them and the shadows of the band behind. Through the cheers and screams, they rolled into Jay-Z's hit with Justin Timberlake, "Holy Grail," stomping and gliding around the stage. This was quickly continued by "Part II (On the Run)" and "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," a song written back when the couple was still only dating. There was clearly no lip syncing in this show. Beyonce's impeccable vocals may have sounded pretty much flawless, and Jay's rhymes were shot off with perfect abandon, but it was most certainly real. From "Drunk in Love" to "Crazy in Love," the concert featured nearly 40 songs from the pair, and it lasted more than two and a half hours.

The Black Keys
Beachland Tavern
May 7, 2008


Although perfectly capable of filling large theaters, Akron's Black Keys decided to hold a secret MySpace show in the Beachland's tiny tavern simply because it's where they played their first-ever show. "We are the Black Keys. We are from Akron, Ohio," singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach said at the outset. Looking a bit more Grizzly Adams than normal with his lengthy hair and beard, Auerbach tore into the opening tune, "Same Old Thing," with as much abandon as he would if he were playing a far bigger stage. Two of the band's best-known (and catchiest) tunes — "Girl Is on My Mind" and "Set You Free" — kept the groove going strong. By the time of the closing number, the band was in a sweaty fervor and the audience, which had the Tavern floor shaking, was right there with it. A two-song encore was followed by Auerbach politely saying, "We'll see you next time." Fans received a free poster on their way out.


David Bowie
Music Hall
Sept. 22, 1972

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Before Bowie ever touched American soil, Clevelanders knew and loved him, thanks to WMMS and its program director, Billy Bass, who pushed Bowie's groundbreaking 1972 glitter-rock album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. So anticipation was high for his sold-out show at Cleveland's 3,000-seat Music Hall, Bowie's first-ever concert in the U.S. With their dyed, rooster-shag haircuts and sparkling jumpsuits, Bowie and his band introduced a whopping dose of theatricality to a music scene mired in earnest granola folk and the flannel-shirt rock of bands like the Allman Brothers — an influence already clear in the satin and velvet sported by audience members. Bowie delved into Ziggy Stardust and its predecessor, Hunky Dory, for tunes like "Moonage Daydream," "Suffragette City," "Hang on to Yourself," "Life on Mars," "Changes," and the soon-to-be-released single "The Jean Genie" — all tunes that would eventually become classic-rock staples, but were fresh and offbeat at the time. The show only whetted Clevelanders' appetite for Bowie: He wedged two more Cleveland shows into the brief tour, returning in November to play two sold-out nights at the 10,000-seat Public Hall, one of the city's busiest music venues at the time.

Garth Brooks
Dusty Armadillo
Oct. 28, 2019


It might be a cliche, but country singer Garth Brooks clearly loves to perform whether he’s playing to a few hundred people or several thousand fans. While in the midst of a stadium tour that was reportedly averaging 83,000 fans per stop, Brooks played a handful of shows at what he calls dive bars across the nation. For this gig, he and a police escort rolled into the Dusty Armadillo in Rootstown to play one such show and left a lasting impression as he truly embraced the intimate club’s atmosphere, shaking hands with fans who stood up against the stage and sharing stories about the early days of his career. Fans could win tickets through country radio station promotions, and about 700 lucky patrons made the trek to the bar and restaurant for the show. Brooks started the 90-minute set with “All Day Long,” and as he sang the line “somebody’s gotta find that honky-tonky out on the county line,” he gestured emphatically to suggest the Dusty Armadillo was just that kind of place. With its mix of heavy guitars and chirping fiddle, the tune served as the perfect opening number for this terrific set.


David Byrne
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Aug. 7, 2018

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SCOTT SANDBERG
  • Photo by Scott Sandberg

Annie-B Parson, the artistic director at Brooklyn’s Big Dance Theater, worked with former Talking Heads singer David Byrne on the choreography for the tour in support of his solo album, American Utopia. While it was in the planning stages, Byrne told Parson that she would have a completely empty stage to work with. None of the instruments he planned to use in the concerts would have to sit on the stage. The novel concept would allow Byrne and his 12-piece backing band to dance and sing as if they were on the street or performing around a campfire. Byrne brought the result of that collaboration with Parson to town for this terrific 100-minute show at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. The visually striking concert combined music and performance art in an extremely unique manner.

Chance the Rapper
Blossom Music Center
May 19, 2017


If God's will was to dampen the mood of Chance the Rapper's set at the Blossom Music Center with a messy bout of rain, it wasn't enough to deter the showman, or his legion of young followers, from staying positive throughout this sold out show. In fact, the rapper’s Christian faith seemed to stoke the fire that ignited his exuberant performance, though it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anybody who has heard Coloring Book, the artist’s latest mix-tape, whose spiritually-steeped songs factored largely into the 80-minute set. Fittingly, Chance, short for Chancelor Bennett, opened the show with a mash-up that heavily featured “Blessings,” a song whose soulful melody roared from the audience in the packed pavilion. Even on the lawn, which overflowed with teens dressed in skimpy summer clothing despite the chilly rain, fans didn’t let the week’s only night of less-than-ideal weather stop them from praising the act, which also featured backing band the Social Experiment. Much of the performance’s artistry can be attributed to the members of that group, a three-piece that also included a small ensemble of singers, which supplied the show’s mostly-live soundtrack. In particular, the trumpeting of Nico Segal — whom Chance referred to by his stage name, Donnie Trumpet — injected a crisp and jazzy tone that carried songs such as “All We Got” and “Angels.” Chance rounded out the show with a tender rendition of the reprise of “Blessings,” and white confetti showered the elated crowd on its way out of the venue.

The Choir
Beachland Ballroom
Nov. 3-4, 2018


These two sold-out shows at the Beachland Ballroom reaffirmed the band's significance. Early in the first show's set, the band established it wouldn’t be performing “It’s Cold Outside,” as it belonged to the 1966 garage-y Choir incarnation, who played a one-night “40th Anniversary” show at the Beachland back in 2006. This show, rather, celebrated the reissue of a terrific lost 1968-recorded Choir album, Artifact. To celebrate the release’s warm response, all five Choir boys who played on the album reunited to perform together for the first time in years. The lineup featured Jim Bonfanti on drums with Ken Margolis and Phil Giallombardo on keyboards, Randy Klawon on guitar and Denny Carleton on bass. These guys, along with two female backing vocalists, nailed the instrumentation and vocals with relentlessly rockin’ energy and proficiency. The crowd ate it up. The weekend’s sets followed 1960s custom of original material (the Artifact songs) plus favorite cover tunes. Procol Harum was a primary influence on the 1968 Choir, and no less than five Procol Harum covers were among the 20 total songs performed. Procol Harum’s piano-plus-organ sound was central to the 1968 Choir’s aesthetic. The only disappointment of the evening was that the band wimped out with electronic keyboards to avoid the hassle of lining up and setting up a proper acoustic piano and a vintage Hammond organ with Leslie speakers.


Eric Church
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
April 19, 2019


At the start of an epic, three-hour-plus concert at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, country singer-guitarist Eric Church warned the capacity crowd about what he had in store. “We are going to give it everything we got,” he said. “If you just meet us halfway, it’ll be the best damn show you ever saw.” He wasn’t kidding. Church and his terrific backing band gave a Springsteen-like performance that drew from all six of his studio albums and featured more than 30 tunes. The concert, the first of a two-night stand at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, featured all the trappings of an arena rock show too. There was a multi-tiered stage, a gigantic video screen that occasionally separated into panels that hung from the arena’s rafters, and a party pit filled with rabid fans who brought items for Church to sign (and he obliged them throughout the night).


Concert for the Rock Hall
Municipal Stadium
Sept. 2, 1995

It was a long day and night on the lakefront when dozens of contemporary stars and rock pioneers gathered to celebrate the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The ten-hour concert mostly alternated sets by inductees like Little Richard, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Cash sampling the tunes that got them inducted. Brief sets also were turned in by younger acts like Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, and Natalie Merchant, offering tributes to long-gone artists. Jerry Lee Lewis joined Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band for renditions of "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin'," while Springsteen, unlike most of the non-inducted artists, performed an exceptionally lengthy set that included his own tunes. Akron native Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, a devoted vegan, pulled the diva move of the day by refusing to go on until a Burger King sign was covered up.


The Dead Boys
Agora Theatre
March 22, 1977

Most Clevelanders — even those in the underground/punk scene of the mid-'70s — wouldn't have picked chaotic loudmouths the Dead Boys for a breakout band. Even the other bands in that scene just wished they would stop being obnoxious and go away. Fat chance. Singer Stiv Bators, guitarists Cheetah Chrome and Jimmy Zero, bassist Jeff Magnum, and drummer Johnny Blitz unleashed their recorded mission statement, Young, Loud and Snotty, on Sire Records in 1977. That same year, they headlined a show at the Agora, a big step up from smaller clubs — like the Pirates Cove and the Viking — they'd played in their earlier days. The band thrashed and sneered its way through tunes like "Sonic Reducer" and "What Love Is," while Bators drooled copiously, rolled on the floor, and rooted around in his unzipped pants. But they saved the best for last: Bators' role model and the band's inspiration, former Stooges frontman Iggy Pop, staggered onstage to join his protégés in a rendition of the Stooges' "Search and Destroy."

Future and Migos
Blossom Music Center
May 27, 2017

LeBron James led the charge of a small entourage of then-Cavs that came to this gig, including dad-hat rocking Tristan Thompson, Deron Williams, Dahntay Jones and the fashionably late but ever-smiling, J.R. Smith. In front of semi-entrancing, semi-stock footage-y background visuals, the three rappers known as Migos came onto stage armed with their A-game. Offset wore his denim-on-camo-on-denim, Takeoff was in his typical Cobain-referencing white sunglasses and Quavo looked like a spelling bee champion with a beige T-shirt tucked into some faded sky blue jeans strapped with a light brown belt. Running through almost the entirety of their latest record, Culture, Migos unleashed a round of album cuts to drum up their base, from “Get Right Witcha” to “Slippery” to “Kelly Price.” As security guards contained the small mob of concert-goers taking photos around the Cavs’ section, champagne bottles were popped, and Lebron puffed a cigar – the party was in full effect. In front of dueling “FUTURE” and “HNDRXX” DJ booths, a suave, understated Future slowly emerged, yellow hoodie and dark shades enveloping his alien aura. He’s the top billing on this tour, but a bigger font couldn’t convey the composed veteran performance that Future brought to emerge as the headliner amongst headliners. The 33-year-old Atlantan fully inhabited this rockstar role. He owned the stage, and his almost 90-minute performance was diverse and immersive.


Green Day
House of Blues
April 16, 2015

When the Sex Pistols were belatedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, singer Johnny Rotten wanted nothing to do with the hoopla. Not Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. Prior to its induction, Green Day, which single-handedly reintroduced punk rock to the masses thanks to some monster hits it had in the ’90s and ’00s, played a sold out show at House of Blues that served as a celebration for both the band and its fans.

In the band’s first live performance in a year, Armstrong appeared genuinely humbled by the experience, and the band sounded sharper than ever as it really fed off the energy of the packed-to-the-gills club (some fans even camped out overnight to ensure a good spot on the stage floor in front of the stage). Regularly hopping on top of the speaker monitor to beckon the audience to sing-a-long, the bushy-haired Armstrong reveled in the capacity crowd’s adoration. The concert began with a stripped-down performance by the band’s original lineup, which featured Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and original drummer John Kiffmeyer. The set gave the band an opportunity to share memories and play a few early tunes. That set’s opening tune “Don’t Leave Me,” suggested the elements that would make Green Day famous — snarling vocals and infectious guitar riffs. Playing many of the songs for the first time in years, the guys clearly enjoyed revisiting their back catalog.


Hard Travelin': The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie
Severance Hall
Sept. 1, 1996


This concert launched the American Music Master Series, an annual conference and concert series that is now one of the Rock Hall's marquee events. The first installment paid tribute to Dust Bowl-era folk icon Woody Guthrie, inducted in 1988 as an early influence. Guthrie's protest singer son Arlo gave the keynote address, and the concert that followed featured big-name acts such as Bruce Springsteen, the Indigo Girls, and Ani DiFranco, all of them belting out Guthrie songs. Highlights captured on the 2000 live album 'Til We Outnumber 'Em include Springsteen's take on "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" and DiFranco's hushed version of "Do Re Me." A mix of music and spoken word, the concert was immortalized in a collection of essays published by the Wesleyan University Press.

The Hives
Beachland Ballroom
June 7, 2002


Thanks to a ticketing glitch, the Beachland oversold this pairing of Sweden's Hives with the Mooney Suzuki and the New Bomb Turks, all hot bands riding the wave of yet another garage rock revival. Some fans were miffed to discover that even having a ticket didn't guarantee entry, and one of them climbed atop the Beachland's roof and pulled the fuse on the air conditioner, turning the Ballroom into a sauna. That didn't prevent the Hives from coming out in suits and ties and rocking their asses off. Frontman Pelle Almqvist climbed atop speakers and dove into the crowd as the band rumbled through tunes from its second studio album, Veni Vidi Vicious. It was a true coming-out party for the Beachland, which had been open for only about two years. This is still widely considered one of the club's best shows — quite a feat for a place that hosts some 600 concerts a year.

KISS/New York Dolls
Allen Theatre
June 14, 1974


Kiss came on with a malfunctioning P.A. system, but it was repaired during the first song. Once this was fixed, they were received enthusiastically. People were screaming and whistling after each song. For a new group with only one LP to work from, they’re pretty good. And their stage antics helped keep the audience amused. Fireworks, sirens, lights and acrobatics; they had it all. Sure, it was childish, but Kiss plays damn good music; fast, loud and raunchy. The Dolls’ show opened up with a black and white movie, in which they were depicted as gangsters or lipstick murderers, to be exact. Then, all of a sudden, they presented themselves with “Just Lookin’ For A Kiss.” The audience loved it, and the Dolls continued with familiars like “Trash,” “Stranded In the Jungle,” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin’.” Then, the unexpected happened. The applause dwindled until there must have been only twenty or thirty people applauding after each song. They just sat there with dumb looks on their faces. It was embarrassing. I’ve heard groups that were much worse than the Dolls. They’re still far from being the most mature band in the world, but they have an absolute familiarity with their material which more than compensates. Let’s be a bit nationalistic. They’re America’s best answer to all that glittery glam-rock that’s been coming from overseas. What makes the Dolls so wonderfully different is that every bit of energy at their disposal was exhausted in reaching out to make that precious rock ‘n’ roll connection possible. And any band that believes in its audience enough to work that hard for them should see that energy reciprocated.

IDLES
Beachland Ballroom
May 14, 2019

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACOB DESMIT
  • Photo by Jacob DeSmit

To a bystander observing the Beachland Ballroom on the night of this show, the line of ratty teens-to-boomers decked in clothes black, ripped or studded waiting outside the bar’s entrance, combined with the sound of buzzsaw-sharp guitars that leaked from the bar throughout the night, might have suggested that blood, or at least sweat, would spill on the dance floor for English rock quintet Idles stop in Cleveland. Those inside the club saw a very different, though no less sweaty, outcome, as the hardcore punks inspired the most loving mosh-pit to hit the city in some time with a tight 75-minute set. Just this year, the band released a song that pays homage to the Collinwood club.

Michael Jackson
Richfield Coliseum
Oct. 10 and 11, 1988

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Michael Jackson's Bad tour — his first solo concert run and one of the highest-grossing rock tours ever — was one of the year's concert highlights. Though Jackson's bloom had faded ever-so slightly since his mega-smash Thriller — these were the years predating his sexual-abuse allegations and sham marriage to Lisa Marie Presley — Jackson continued to top the charts with hits like "Dirty Diana" and "Man in the Mirror." This elaborately orchestrated spectacle lit up the rural Richfield Coliseum. Through the haze of time, we distinctly recall two things about the night. One was the jaw-dropping moment when Jackson disappeared from one side of the stage and nearly instantaneously reappeared on the opposite end in another costume. The second was that Don King and Mike Tyson were seated in front of us. Cordoned off and out of reach, the boxer's muscular frame and the promoter's gravity-defying 'do created distinctive silhouettes. In the end, a killer stage show, a strong musical performance, and a cast of talented, perfectly synced backup dancers that became the King of Pop's trademark cast its spell on the crowd.

Kuyahoga Fest
Blossom Music Center
Aug. 3, 2006


Conceived as an annual event, the Kuyahoga Fest was yet another ill-fated attempt to give Cleveland a defining music festival. Though it didn't take hold, the daylong concert put on as a joint effort between House of Blues and the Grog Shop was still a helluva good time. Headliners the Flaming Lips predictably wreaked havoc while Death Cab for Cutie delivered a typically reserved set that was appropriately punctuated by a cover of the R.E.M. tune "Cuyahoga," a song that's explicitly about our cherished burning river. Sonic Youth, the Hold Steady, the Go! Team, She Wants Revenge, and Wolfmother rounded out the terrific lineup. Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne proudly declared it "the greatest festival that anyone can put on" and continued to rave about it years later. Too bad it didn't survive to see a second summer.

Led Zeppelin
Richfield Coliseum
April 27, 1977

This show in particular was nothing less than a reassertion of Led Zeppelin’s status among the Rolling Stones, Who and any other acknowledged deities of rock. It presented a challenge — as well as a set of standards to equal — to new-wave heroes such as Aerosmith, Frampton and Blue Oyster Cult. Zeppelin’s three-hour set passed with flying colors. In my personal shorthand estimation of a concert’s quality: it didn’t seem that long. The amount of material played, the musicianship involved, and the internal and external (special effects) manifestations of their music merged into an impressive, at times awe-inspiring, whole. The width of styles, moods and atmospheres, paired with consistent authenticity, crossed one of the widest spectrums of which any current combo seems capable. Zeppelin’s show, considerably revamped since their ’75 appearance in the same arena, was in general a reaffirmation of the two musical forms upon which their style was first constructed; improvisational blues-rock and acoustic-dominated, folk stylings. After opening with an apropos “The Song Remains the Same,” the first third of their show was dominated by lengthy, open-ended structures such as “In My Time Of Dying,” “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The maximum amount of instrumental stretching out, however, came on “No Quarter." Working from both electric and acoustic pianos, John Paul Jones again impressed with his general versatility. Jimmy Page later joined in for what was his apogee of an evening’s worth of standout soloing. It was one of the best rock “jams” I’ve ever witnessed. About midway through, Zep revived something they haven’t done in concert since the early ’70s — an acoustic set. The show wound up with more conventional crowd-pleasers such as “Kashmir” and the Zeppelin signature song, “Stairway to Heaven” (with the biggest mirrored ball in rockdom used to wind it up). John Bonham constantly kicked ass on drums, Robert Plant was 100 percent improved in voice and stage demeanor since their last time here, and a warm, lucid, in-group chemistry projected even across the Coliseum’s vast terrains.


Lollapalooza
Blossom Music Center
Aug. 5, 1991


The headliners of the first Lollapalooza were Jane's Addiction, the band led by festival founder Perry Farrell. But the daylong music extravaganza's real stars were Nine Inch Nails, whose late-afternoon/early evening set encompassed everything glorious, violent, and messy about the rise of alternative rock in the '90s. The day didn't get off to a promising start: The Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers, and rapper Ice-T's hardcore group Body Count played to a meager, uninterested Blossom crowd under a blistering sun. By the time Nine Inch Nails — fueled by the buzz of their 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine, which reached the height of its popularity during the summer of '91 — took the stage, the sweaty and beer-soaked throng was ready to rock. They also tore out pavilion seats and chunks of the lawn, serenaded by the band's fittingly aggressive soundtrack. It was scary, cathartic, and totally awesome.

Meat Loaf
Blossom Music Center
Sept. 6, 1978

Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell was released on Cleveland International Records in October 1977. The florid album was nobody's pick to be a hit — in fact, its rejection by a multitude of labels caused Epic Records exec Steve Popovich to return home to Cleveland and launch the label and album together. Through the dogged persistence of Popovich and his small staff — who went against the industry practice of abandoning a record if it didn't hit in its first weeks — the album snowballed; in less than a year it had sold a million copies. Meat Loaf's headlining show at Blossom was a sort of homecoming for a market that had been early to embrace him. WMMS DJ Kid Leo dressed in a baseball uniform to deliver the play-by-play commentary in "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" that legendary announcer Phil Rizzuto did on the record, while Meat Loaf and his female foil, Karla DeVito, enacted the panting and groping they sang about in the tale of adolescent lust. The head of CBS — Cleveland International's distributor — flew in from New York to present Meat Loaf with a platinum album award onstage. Among the congratulatory crowd backstage was Cleveland's polka king Frankie Yankovic, another artist championed by Popovich.

Ministry
The Odeon
April 26, 2003


Cleveland has always been a hot spot for Al Jourgensen and Ministry, one of the longtime heavyweights of industrial rock. Look no further than the list of performances in various venues in the area — the confines of the long-shuttered Lift in '88, the Phantasy Theatre gig during the infamous tour for The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste in '89, and the near-riot conditions during their Lollapalooza set in 1992. For the most part, Cleveland crowds registered well for Ministry even past the apex of the band's popularity. But this performance stood out for several reasons: First, the band would be touring on the strength of the Animositisomina album, an incredibly focused effort that was the audio equivalent of polonium exposure. Second, it would turn out to be the final tour featuring Ministry in its most memorable lineup, namely with Jourgensen and creative partner Paul Barker. The set provided a thorough cross section of the band's musical history at the time, transforming even songs from the lesser-received Filth Pig and Dark Side of the Spoon into inescapable sonic barrages. The best way to describe the moment "Stigmata" blew through the speakers? Two words: Instant bedlam.

Motorhead
Variety Theatre
Dec. 2, 1984


For a few years in the mid-'80s, the Variety Theatre at Lorain Avenue and West 118th Street hosted a series of rock concerts that included L.A. punk band X with the Replacements opening, new-wave hitmakers Missing Persons, and metal bands like Metallica and W.A.S.P. Already falling into ruin, the place didn't have much concern about rock fans trashing the place, although the fact that it abutted a block of small homes caused conflict about decibel levels. Those two factors converged when that wall of noise known as Motorhead rolled in on this early December evening. Taking the stage following sets by Exciter and Mercyful Fate, and immediately hitting a volume level that made standing up front painful, the British metal band quickly reached "Overkill." Fans who opted to listen from the lobby (where the music was still deafening) were soon confronted by others running out, screaming, "The ceiling is falling!" Sure enough, it was. Apparently, Motorhead's assault had loosened the already crumbling plaster, causing it to rain down on the crowd. A group is now trying to raise funds to restore the 1927 theater; safe to say Motorhead won't be invited to the grand reopening.

Nine Inch Nails
The Odeon
Dec. 28, 1994

click to enlarge SCENE ARCHIVES
  • Scene archives

To this day, it's interesting to look at how unbelievably popular a decidedly difficult, at times hostile, an album like Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral became upon its release in 1994 — and how quickly Trent Reznor's touring schedule escalated from smaller theaters to sold-out arenas within that year. With each leg of the extensive tour, the production and crowds grew larger, allowing Reznor to match visuals to the jarring live performance. But this surprise performance at the Odeon in December 1994 marked a brief return to the environment where Reznor had cut his teeth. By the time the show had been announced on local radio, a line had already formed at the Odeon's front door and up Old River Road. When the set started, rabid fans locked out of the show tried to break in through adjacent buildings. For the fortunate 500 who made it in, the $5 ticket remains the best investment they've ever made. Reznor and crew fed off the energy of the frenzied crowd, taking the punish-your-machine aesthetic to new levels over the course of a set that lasted more than two hours. Perhaps the band's most incendiary live performance of that period, the show was unmatched in sheer ferocity.

Nirvana
Empire Concert Club
Oct. 10, 1991


Nevermind was a little more than two weeks old when the band that would save rock and roll in the '90s played the Empire club. It was a typically haphazard Nirvana show from the period: They screwed around a little bit (riffing on "Another One Bites the Dust"), ran through raw versions of Nevermind cuts ("Drain You," "Lithium") and older songs ("Aneurysm," "About a Girl"), and tested a few new tracks ("Pennyroyal Tea," which would show up on 1993's In Utero). They dispensed with the hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" relatively early in the set and with casual indifference — their standard reaction to the song as it became a generational anthem. Even then, Kurt Cobain seemed freaked-out by the sold-out crowd. He kept his distance, rushing through songs and hiding behind his guitar — until the end of the night, when he smashed it to pieces. The world would never be the same, for them or us.


Ozzfest
Blossom Music Center
June 3, 1997


The first Ozzfest hit Cleveland on a wave of anticipation: In addition to sets by Pantera, Fear Factory, Type O Negative, Machine Head, and Ozzy Osbourne himself, the touring festival — fashioned as a Lollapalooza for metal fans — would feature a reunion of three-fourths of the original Black Sabbath lineup, bringing Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, and bassist Geezer Butler together for the first time since 1979. After Pantera's steamroller sound brought the crowd up, Osbourne's own set let them down again, what with its cutesy video intro in which Ozzy injected himself into a Princess Di interview, a Beatles performance, and Alanis Morissette's then-ubiquitous "Ironic" video. The set exposed Osbourne's vocal weaknesses, leaning too heavily on the radio-friendly ballads that drove his solo career and exposing the creakiness of '80s pop-metal tunes like "Crazy Train." But Sabbath's eight-song set reminded the audience why today's heavy metal is still built upon their foundation. They raged through classics like "War Pigs," "Iron Man," "Sweetleaf," and "Paranoid," fleshing out the recorded versions into epic blasts that flowed on the back of Iommi's solos. Even Ozzy's limited voice was not a problem with material that better suited his range and a band that carried much of the weight.

Panic! At the Disco
Grog Shop
March 19, 2018


Mid-way through this surprise show at the Grog Shop, singer Brendon Urie paused between songs to slap high fives with the fans pressed up against the front of the stage. “Fuck, I miss this,” he said. “This is crazy.” Fans lined up along Euclid Heights Blvd. the day before to try to get tickets. The club reportedly turned away hundreds of people after quickly reaching capacity once doors opened at 7:30 p.m. Panic!'s frenetic 65-minute set certainly didn’t disappoint the lucky 300 to 400 fans who managed to see the show. The group opened the 18-song concert with a rousing rendition of “Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time.” Urie arrived on stage wearing a gold lame jacket, his hair perfectly coiffed. But as he and the band launched into the tune, his hair quickly became disheveled, and he began to sweat profusely. Apologizing because the band hadn’t played a show in nine months, he asked fans to sing the lyrics with him to help him remember the words. The audience often served as a choir as fans sang in unison with Urie. He would sometimes just pause mid-song to listen to the audience sing. In the intimate setting, Urie’s vocals sounded particularly sharp. Near the concert's conclusion, Urie growled and screamed his way through “Positive Hardcore,” a throwaway track, but the song suggested the punk rock approach the band took the gig and didn’t detract from the unique show’s appeal. Plus, the group got back on track with the final number, the emo-pop anthem "Victorious."


Pavement
Euclid Tavern
June 15, 1992


Pavement's debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, was released two months before their first Cleveland show and had yet to become a watershed of '90s indie rock. The Euclid Tavern, which could hold about 300 people, wasn't even half full. But it seemed like everyone there knew every song; the band's brief but taut set was made up of Slanted tracks, as well as cuts from the various EPs they had recorded since 1989. Contributing to the intimacy was the band's wild-man drummer Gary Young, who was 39 at the time — at least a dozen years older than his bandmates, and looked like a serial killer on furlough. He walked into the club with a big-ass watermelon he had picked up at a farmers' market down the street. After borrowing a knife from someone in the audience, Young cut up the melon and handed out chunks to fans. It was kinda like a picnic — a picnic for cool Clevelanders way ahead of the curve.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Quicken Loans Arena
June 10, 2017


The evening’s 19-song setlist leaned heavily on two specific fan favorite albums, pulling four tracks from Tom Petty’s initial solo excursion, 1989’s Full Moon Fever and five more from its eventual follow-up, 1994’s Wildflowers. Playing what Petty referred to as a “small set of songs” from Wildflowers, Petty and the Heartbreakers peeled off three tracks in a row from that record, which often had a beautifully stripped back feel. The title track, which has made a long overdue return to the setlist with this current tour, proved to be one of several nuggets of the night. Petty strummed the opening chords on acoustic, with airy harmonies from the Webb Sisters (“our newest friends,” as he referenced Hattie and Charley Webb, who provided background vocals for the shows). This would mark Petty’s last performance in Cleveland. He would die just a few months after this concert.


Pixies
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Scene Pavilion
June 8, 2005


The Pixies kicked off the first-ever CMJ/Rock Hall Music Fest (a short-lived music festival that lasted a total of two years) with two shows in one night — one of which was at the Rock Hall. Their first set saw them playing to an intimate crowd in the Rock Hall atrium, fitting climes for a band that may find itself inducted someday. They cheerfully worked their way through a set of classics like "In Heaven," "Debaser," "Caribou," "Gouge Away," "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)," "Where Is My Mind?" "Bone Machine," and "Monkey Gone to Heaven." Their second set found them at nearby Scene Pavilion, essentially playing the same set list, this time with Trompe Le Monde material like "U-Mass," "Alec Eiffel," and "Subbacultcha" added to the mix. Like the majority of the shows on the band's reunion lap around the U.S., both were recorded and pressed to CD in limited quantities. So there's no reason to let this legendary evening fade into Cleveland rock lore.

The Pretenders
Agora Theatre
March 17, 1980

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ANASTASIA PANTSIOS/SCENE ARCHIVES
  • Photo by Anastasia Pantsios/Scene archives

When Chrissie Hynde left Akron for London in the mid-'70s, her musical gifts were unknown, since she had never actually performed. After dabbling in journalism and flitting around the edges of the U.K.'s burgeoning punk scene, she formed the Pretenders in 1978. They found rapid success when their third single, "Brass in Pocket" hit No. 1 in England in the fall of 1979, displaying Hynde's cool, confident-yet-vulnerable soul-tinged slink. Two months after the group's self-titled album was released in January 1980, Hynde returned home in triumph to headline a sold-out show at the 1,000 capacity Agora on a Monday night. She stopped by WMMS that afternoon for an interview in which she showed a wariness and distance. But her reserve melted that night as she and the other three Pretenders ripped through most of their debut album including "Kid," "Tattooed Love Boys," and "Precious," with its Cleveland references. Her legendary snappishness returned after the show when a crush of relatives and old friends crowded into the tiny backstage area to congratulate her and take photos, demonstrating her ambivalence about her newfound success.

Prince
Gund Arena
April 17, 2004

Playing his "hits" for what he said would be the last time, Prince worked every inch of the in-the-round stage during this remarkable show, which confirmed that the then-45-year-old artist hadn't lost a step. That he was able to dance and play the heck out of the guitar while wearing white silver-heeled stiletto boots was all the more remarkable. Backed by the bombastic New Power Generation, Prince played several tunes from his current album, Musicology. But it was his material from the 1980s — "Let's Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," "When Doves Cry" — that really resonated. He even revisited "Nothing Compares 2 U," a tune that Sinead O'Connor turned into a chart-topping hit, and ended with an extended "Purple Rain" jam that received an exclamation point of sorts as confetti fell from the rafters during its final notes.

Radiohead
Blossom
Aug. 21, 2003


Those expecting to hear a rundown of greatest hits on this intolerably humid night were clearly unaware of Radiohead's penchant for playing new material in concert. "Sit Down, Stand Up" would be the first of 11 songs from Hail to the Thief to appear throughout the evening. The crowd was extremely receptive to the new songs and more than prepared to sing every word. Singer Thom Yorke's spastic dancing and vamping during "Myxomatosis" was a clear sign he's confident fronting one of the biggest bands on the planet. He spent much of the song prowling the apex of the stage, wearing the look of a Cheshire cat who'd just devoured a bird. OK Computer selections "Paranoid Android," "Lucky," and "Exit Music (For a Film)" received tremendous responses and "The Bends" made a rare live appearance, but the biggest ovation came during "No Surprises." As Yorke sang, "Bring down the government/They don't, they don't speak for us," the crowd erupted in a delirious fit of confirmation. Yorke's devilish grin accentuated their meaning at a time when George W. Bush ruled the nation.

The Raspberries
House of Blues
Nov. 26, 2004


The first live appearance of all four original Raspberries in more than three decades was one of the biggest local music events of the year, with an estimated half of the tickets plucked by out-of-towners from as far away as Japan. The crowd burst into Beatlemania screams — and that was even during the pre-show video montage depicting vintage TV and Super-8 film footage. The band opened with the masterpiece "I Wanna Be With You," which, along with Eric Carmen compositions like "Go All the Way" and "Tonight," typified what made the Raspberries so legendary. Augmenting Carmen's pop genius, the set also showcased the fine songwriting contributions of other Raspberries Dave Smalley and Wally Bryson. Surprises included two songs by pre-Raspberries band the Choir and covers of Who and Beatles tunes. The evening could have been potentially soured by Carmen's ego — notorious for 30 years running. But he actually seemed somehow humbled by the occasion, and his stage presence was rather endearing.


R.E.M.
Variety Theatre
July 10, 1984


When R.E.M. played the Variety Theatre in 1984, they were already on their way to becoming college music kings. Their second album, Reckoning, was released three months earlier, and their 1983 debut, Murmur, had recently topped year-end best-of lists. This concert included punked-up versions of songs from the two albums ("Radio Free Europe," "Little America"), as well as a few from the 1982 Chronic Town EP ("Gardening at Night") and a couple of new tunes ("Driver 8," which wouldn't show up on a record until the following year). R.E.M. played a fast, furious show in front of a packed, devoted audience, who hung on Michael Stipe's every mumbled word.

The Replacements
Peabody's
Aug. 20, 1985

The Replacements were still a couple of months away from releasing their major-label debut, Tim, when their record company sent them on the road to test their new songs and sustain the buzz they developed with the previous year's Let It Be. Bad move. The Replacements played two kinds of shows in the mid-'80s: drunkenly brilliant and drunkenly crappy. This show in front of a sparsely populated Peabody's in the Flats (before the area received a makeover) was a mess, but it was one of those concerts the 'Mats built their myth on. The four members hung out before the show in an empty bar across the street, drinking with a few fans. By the time they got onstage, they could barely hold their instruments (frontman Paul Westerberg apologized, suggesting that everyone deserved a refund). The songs they managed to complete — and there weren't many — were barely discernible through all the missed notes. And the new songs they played ("Can't Hardly Wait," "Kiss Me on the Bus," "Bastards of Young") were far from the powerhouse polished versions that ended up on Tim. But what a glorious mess of a night.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions
Public Hall
April 4, 2009


Held in Cleveland for the first time in more than a decade and open to the public for the first time ever, the 2009 Rock Hall inductions were one of the best ever. Some highlights: Jimmy Page inducted Jeff Beck, whom he said had been his friend since they were both in their early teens. Page even joined Beck for an instrumental rendition of Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." After a passionate speech by Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea, who dropped the f-bomb more than once in articulating just how much "Metallica rules," Metallica clambered onstage to deliver a two-song set featuring "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman." The all-star finale found Wanda Jackson, Roseanne Cash, Little Anthony, and Rev. Run all singing "Jailhouse Rock" together as Ron Wood and Jeff Beck dueled on guitar and D.J. Fontana held down the backbeat. Aerosmith's Joe Perry joined in on guitar as an all-star ensemble led by Metallica ripped through the closing number, "Train Kept A-Rollin'."


The Rolling Stones, Etta James
Richfield Coliseum
Nov. 16, 1981


The first of two consecutive performances by "the greatest rock n roll band in the world” went surprisingly routinely and without a snag. Like a well-oiled machine, the Rolling Stones churned through their two-and-a-half hour, 26-song set with all the precision of a Swiss watch. In fact, their performance that night was almost too precise in its execution. Maybe this is nitpicking, but when one is talking about "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world,” one expects that something extra. Etta James, one of Jagger and Richards’ musical inspirations, came on around 8:30 p.m. to mixed boos and cries of "We Want the Stones.” Her 30- minute performance consisted of bluesy covers of such standards as “I Just Want to Make Love To You,” "Something’s Got A Hold On Me” and "Take It To The Limit.” At approximately 10:05 p.m., the house light dimmed, and the opening beat to "Under My Thumb” was met with a standing ovation as one-by-one the Stones came onto the kidney-shaped white stage. The rock ‘n’ roll party had begun. Mick Jagger, dressed in white football pants, white stockings, white slipperd and a blue nylon jacket looked and acted like a cocky 15-year-old as he danced, strutted and karate-kicked his way through the show. Only stopping to sing into the microphone while he strummed an electric or acoustic guitar, Jagger was a human dynamo making full use of the increased stage area. The string of Stones classics included a ferocious version of "When the Whip Comes Down,” "Neighbors,” Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock” and Smokey Robinson’s "Going To A Go Go.” The obligatory encore was a frenzied version of "Satisfaction” with Jagger donning a cape that was half British and half American flags and with a wave of his hand and a "See Ya Tomorrow Night,” he and the Stones were gone.

Rush
Quicken Loans Arena
April 15, 2011


This sold-out show coaxed out the loudest inner 16-year-old air-drummers and -guitarists Cleveland has ever seen. With a jam-packed time-warp set list and stunning visual display, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart really rocked the house. Energy and volume was equaled on both sides, blow by glorious blow, as filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen captured the crowning glory of the band and C-town's amped fans for what would become a live DVD release. Adrenaline-fueled renditions of "Freewill," "La Villa Strangiato," and "YYZ" were just perfect, with Lee and Lifeson's virtuoso playing taking center stage. And newer tracks "Faithless," "BU2B," and "Caravan" — replete with ironic "led zeppelins" flying over a building that looked suspiciously like a bombed-out Terminal Tower — showed the trio's future won't be spent seated on creative laurels. Moving Pictures in its entirety was expectedly stunning, including the "The Camera Eye" suite. Does any fan (or critic) really need to address Peart's drumming or his solos? Pushing 60, the man is still the most proficient and possessed percussionist in the rock business. Visually and musically arresting, live shows don't get better than this.


Bruce Springsteen
Agora Theatre
Aug. 9, 1978

50showsspringsteen.png

Thanks to a relentless push from WMMS, by the summer of 1978 Bruce Springsteen had been a superstar in Cleveland for almost four years — well before his breakout album Born to Run. By the time of 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town, he had grown to arena stature. But he demonstrated his appreciation for Cleveland by returning to the 1,000-capacity Agora — the scene of two of his earliest Cleveland shows — to play a tenth-anniversary concert for WMMS. The show was broadcast live on WMMS and a handful of stations in other cities, including Cincinnati and Detroit. The show featured nearly two dozen tunes, mostly the roaring anthems ("Badlands," "Thunder Road") and morose reflections ("Factory," "Racing in the Street") of urban/suburban working-class street life that packed Darkness and Born to Run. Bruce and the E Street Band also ripped through a cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and their own version of Springsteen's co-write with Patti Smith, "Because the Night," clearly feeding off the energy provided by the revved-up crowd pressed against the shallow stage mere inches from them.


Michael Stanley Band
Agora Theatre
Oct. 22-24, 1976


Michael Stanley debuted his eponymous band in the fall of 1974, and they quickly found favor in Cleveland. After releasing two studio albums, MSB taped a live set at the Agora, then the city's premier concert club, for their third release, Stage Pass. There was some precedent: Frampton Comes Alive was the biggest album that year, breaking the journeyman guitarist to superstar level, so labels and bands were jumping on the live-album bandwagon. The four drastically oversold Agora shows were an early hint of how explosive MSB would become by the end of the decade. The band still featured its early lineup, with Stanley and singer-songwriter-guitarist Jonah Koslen offering vocal and songwriting contrast. The show reprised favorites from their two albums, plus rocked-up takes of "Rosewood Bitters" and "Let's Get the Show on the Road," two anthems from Stanley's solo albums, which were already crowd favorites. Then there was the epic "Midwest Midnight," a new song the band added to its repertoire on Stage Pass. The album was no Frampton Comes Alive, but it provided a document of the excitement MSB could create live and spring-boarded them to local stardom.

U2
Music Hall
Dec. 9, 1984


The Unforgettable Fire was a little more than two months old when U2 played this transcendent show, which sold out in less than 15 minutes. The band, with more than a little help from MTV, had broken big over the past year, and The Unforgettable Fire seemed destined to make them global superstars. They ran through a typical set from the era — a mix of songs from their first four albums — but they had their eyes on something grander even then ("This stage just isn't big enough for this band," Bono told the audience at the outset). There were messianic poses, onstage hugs for anyone who wanted one, and fan-made flags draped over microphone stands. And there was "Pride (In the Name of Love)," a crowd sing-along for everyone who knew they were seeing something special.

Vampire Weekend/Chicano Batman
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
June 14, 2019

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SAMANTHA FRYBERGER
  • Photo by Samantha Fryberger

Vampire Weekend’s stop at Jacob’s Pavilion at Nautica couldn’t have landed on a better night, as a mostly millennial crowd of fans caught a sold-out show of tunes as breezy and fun as the Lake Erie waves that backdropped the venue. Compared to the band’s last stop in Cleveland, a greater ensemble of supporting musicians flanked frontman Ezra Koenig on this tour, which supported the band’s latest album, Father of the Bride. Joining founding members Chris Baio, Chris Thompson and Koenig, guitarist Brian Robert Jones and guitarist/keyboardist Greta Morgan —along with an additional percussion player stationed behind a second drum set — helped fill out the band’s sound and allow for a more diverse range of instrumental interplay. Chicano Batman opened the night with soulful jams.

Vote for Change Concert
Gund Arena
October 2, 2004

Politics can make for strange bedfellows, and for this "Vote for Change" show, R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen's musical differences were outweighed by what they had in common — a desire for a change in the Oval Office. "We're R.E.M., and we approve of this concert," singer Michael Stipe said before the band launched into a vigorous rendition of "Life and How to Life to It" that he said had "zero political message." A cameo by the Boss, who joined the band for "Bad Day" and "Man on the Moon," brought the band's set to a convincing close. Springsteen opened with "The Star-Spangled Banner" on a 12-string guitar and then segued into "Born in the U.S.A." Even a somber reading of "The River" seemed appropriate, given the line "lately there ain't been much work on account of the economy." A blistering "Youngstown" was followed by a guest appearance by John Fogerty, who played three songs, "Fortunate Son" among them. Stipe returned to sing lead on "Because the Night," the one Springsteen song he's best suited to sing, and he nailed it. All the opening acts, including Bright Eyes, joined in for the terrific conclusion that featured Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny ('Bout Peace, Love and Understanding)" and Patti Smith's "The People Have the Power."


Tom Waits
House of Blues
Aug. 13, 2006


The doors were scheduled to open at 11 p.m. for the midnight show, but the concert didn't start until 1:20 a.m. The reason? Anti-scalping measures taken by the club at Tom Waits' insistence required each ticket buyer to present an ID and the credit card he or she used to purchase the tickets, creating a logjam at the box office but effectively warding off scalpers. Playing around here for the first time in 20 years, Waits sold out every show on his small eight-city tour, including a gig that took place earlier in the evening at the Akron Civic Theatre — a show that also started late. Midway through a two-hour, 20-song set (yes, the show concluded after 3 a.m.), Waits himself checked his watch and mumbled something about it being well past everyone's bedtime. Film director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Coffee & Cigarettes) enjoyed the show from a suite at the House of Blues.


Warped Tour
Tower City Amphitheater
Aug. 2, 2007


While it was never officially declared a tornado, some strange rainstorm/waterspout ripped through the festival midday, destroying side stages and shutting down the main stage. Indie-pop act Meg and Dia were in the middle of their set when the stage started to collapse, and they took cover in a nearby semi truck that itself didn't seem stable as it shook continuously during the downpour. Festival founder Kevin Lyman announced to the crowd that in ten years of putting on Warped Tours, he'd never seen anything like it. Even more amazing was that the show went on after crews cleaned the water off the main stage. Paramore rescheduled its set for later in the day, while New Found Glory trudged through its performance even as band members received numerous electrical shocks while they were playing.

The White Stripes
Odeon
March 29, 2002


The White Stripes had played Cleveland regularly prior to this sold-out show at the Odeon. They started out at tiny Pat's in the Flats, then graduated to the Beachland, first playing the small tavern and then moving into the larger ballroom. But this show, with its crowd of hipsters and drunken frat boys, marked their real breakthrough. The band commenced with the grunge-y "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," then ripped through another 20 songs, including a poignant cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself." The band would return for bigger shows at Playhouse Square and the Agora, but this was its best performance, and the one that signaled crossover success was on the way.

The Who/James Taylor/the James Gang
Public Hall
June 27, 1970


In the summer of 1970, the real concert action was at the Convention Center's Public Hall. No 20,000 arena existed yet, and this 10,000 seat auditorium was where acts like Led Zeppelin and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young made the rounds. It was the scene of the Who's triumphant return to Cleveland, following their breakout Tommy show at the smaller Music Hall the previous year. The group shattered eardrums with its deafening volume (always a problem in this long, narrow facility), as they bashed out a good hunk of Tommy, bookended with the more straightforward rock tunes from the rest of their repertoire, displaying their wild, irresistible magic in both. For good measure, guitarist Pete Townshend bashed and broke one of a stack of Gibson SGs he had piled in the wings. Opening act the James Gang were just heading into their prime: The classic trio of guitarist Joe Walsh, drummer Jim Fox, and guitarist Dale Peters would release their breakout album, The James Gang Rides Again, in a few months, and they dazzled the crowd with a set that injected subtlety and dynamics into powerful, heavy music. Sandwiched between the Who and the James Gang was folksinger James Taylor, whose own recent breakthrough album, Sweet Baby James, didn't save him from being ignored or talked over by the crowd at one of the most legendarily mismatched bills in Cleveland history.


World Series of Rock
Richfield Coliseum
June 23, 1974


The Beach Boys—how can anyone hate ’em? In talent, consistency and popularity, they were America’s answer to the Beatles, and unlike the Fab Four, they’re still around to be appreciated today. They took a cold and music-weary crowd at the Stadium and brought them back to life in a way damn few other groups could match. The two Wilsons, Al Jardine and Mike Love were backed by six other musicians, with Joe Walsh also appearing now and then. The response to material from more recent albums like Holland was lukewarm, which must have been a bringdown for the group, but there’s no doubt that everyone got off on their oldies. Most of the biggies were played: “Help Me Rhonda,” “Sloop John B,” “Good Vibrations," which started snake dancing in front of the Indians’ dugout, and a four-song encore ending with “Fun Fun Fun.” Many in the audience were toddlers when these songs first came out, but the band’s dance music of the ’60s became the boogie music of the ’70s and lost nothing in the process. The Beach Boys are as all-American as McDonald’s and Chevrolet, and their timeless music will always be appreciated, and more importantly, danced to. As strong as the Beach Boys set was, however, it barely edged out the show put on by Joe Walsh and Barnstorm. Cleveland's most talented native son in rock returned with a vengeance. His tight, talented backing group is possibly the best line-up Walsh has played in since the James Gang. His material didn’t contain many surprises, mainly things from The Smoker You Drink and some old James Gang things like “The Bomber” and “Tend My Garden.” The surprise was that nearly every number improved on the original, stronger, more-driving versions, allowing more of their quality to shine through. The highly appreciative crowd got two encores, the second one perfect for the occasion- “Get Back.” After the performances of these two groups, REO Skynyrd and Lynyrd Speedwagon tended to merge into one bland, boogieing mass. Both bands travel the same well-worn path of good time rock ’n’ blues, which still has its audience, no doubt. They're doing the same thing today bands like Cactus and Catfish were doing a few years ago, and a few years from now we’ll have new bands doing the same thing. Disposable rock for a disposable society. Thank God there was proof at the show that some of it does last.

X
Music Box Supper Club
Sept. 10, 11, 12, 2014

“Cleveland actually does rock,” said shaggy-haired X singer Exene Cervenka last night as the veteran punk band started a three-night stand at Music Box Supper Club by playing its first two albums (and then some) in their entirety before a crowd that filled about three-fourths of the club. She clearly reveled in the warm reception she and her bandmates received from the crowd that came to hear the band play its first two albums, 1980’s Los Angeles and 1981’s Wild Gift, in their entirety. The band didn’t disappoint either. Singer-bassist John Doe proved he could still sneer and sound like he means it on the hard-driving “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” and guitarist Billy Zoom let loose some tasty solos in songs such as “Sugarlight” and “Los Angeles.” Drummer DJ Bonebrake proved to be no slouch. He kept time with accuracy and hit just as hard as he ever has. The band’s version of the Doors tune “Soul Kitchen” was punked up beyond all recognition and sounded sharp. The group closed the opening set that was devoted to Los Angeles with a bit of jam as it delivered a freewheeling rendition of “The World’s a Mess; It’s in My Kiss,” a song that started off with a menacing whisper from Cervenka. By the end of the 90-minute concert, you got the sense that the band was just getting accustomed to the room and was properly warmed up for the next two night’s shows, which were just as thrilling and featured performances of 1982’s Under the Big Black Sun and 1983’s More Fun in the New World.

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