News » News Features

Scene Turns 40: The 40 Most Memorable Concerts of the Last 40 Years

Looking back over four decades of shows for Scene's 40th anniversary


When Alan Freed hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball — arguably the first rock concert — at the Cleveland Arena back in 1952, he probably had no idea he had spawned a musical form that would change the world. Thanks to Freed, Cleveland will always be known as a rock and roll city. And for the past 40 years, it has certainly lived up to the rep. David Bowie played his first-ever stateside show here, and classic rock acts like Bruce Springsteen and Meat Loaf were embraced in Cleveland before they became big elsewhere. Founded 40 years ago as a music magazine, Scene has been part of that history through it all. In honor of our 40th anniversary, we look back at some of the most memorable concerts from the last four decades.

Featuring the memories of Anastasia Pantsios, Michael Gallucci, Jeff Niesel, and others.

David Bowie

Music Hall

September 22, 1972 

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. (Anastasia Pantsios) 

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. (Jeremy Willets) 

Black Flag


Oct. 13, 1984  

Black Flag were releasing albums so prolifically during this period, it's hard to tell which one they were actually promoting. Either way, the band was on fire this Saturday night, literally tearing apart the tiny stage at JB's, a small Kent club that played host to a number of punk shows over the years. Frontman Henry Rollins plunged his micstand into the ceiling, causing debris to fall all over him and the sweat-drenched audience below. He left another giant hole in the club that didn't get repaired for months. The set list — including faves "Beat My Head Against the Wall," "Rise Above," and "My War" — was pretty brutal too. (Michael Gallucci) 

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. (Jeff Niesel)

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. (Pantsios)

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." (Pantsios)

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. (Niesel) 

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. (Niesel) 

Hold Steady

Grog Shop

Dec. 11, 2006 

The Hold Steady had performed in Cleveland a few times before this rapturous show in support of their third album, Boys and Girls in America. But not too many people saw them. "Where were you the first 4,000 times I played your city?" asked boozed and bearded frontman Craig Finn. Between swigs from an ever-present bottle of beer, he shared stories about growing up in Shaker Heights, recalled his first baseball game at the old stadium, and dedicated a song to former Browns Gregg Pruitt, Ozzie Newsome, and Brian Sipe. The set included cuts from the Hold Steady's three albums, including "Stuck Between Stations," "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," and "The Swish." By the time the show wound down with a woozy "Killer Parties," a couple dozen audience members were onstage with the band, caressing instruments and hugging a smiling Finn, who looked like he finally got the Cleveland welcome he'd been hoping for. (Gallucci) 

Michael Jackson

Richfield Coliseum

Oct. 10 and 11, 1988 

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. (Samantha Fryberger) 

Kuyahoga Fest

Blossom Music Center

August 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. (Niesel)


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. (Gallucci)

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. (Pantsios) 


The Odeon

April 26, 2003 

Cleveland always has 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. (Norm Narvaja) 


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. (Pantsios) 

Nine Inch Nails

The Odeon

Dec. 28, 1994  

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. (Narvaja) 


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. (Gallucci) 


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. — Pantsios


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. (Gallucci) 


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. (Willets) 

The Plasmatics

Agora Ballroom

January 21, 1981  

It was pandemonium at the Agora when the Plasmatics, featuring mohawked, hard-bodied "singer" Wendy O. Williams, made their first area appearance in front of a sold-out crowd. The band's music was something of a sideshow, enabled by the amateurism of punk but far more calculated. In fact, the crowd came to see the scantily clad Williams destroy various objects with an electric saw and a sledgehammer while the band ground out sloppy but easily ignorable noise behind her. Williams' ultimate weapon was a can of shaving cream, which she deployed all over the stage and herself until she was a dripping mess. Following the show, Cleveland police, apparently having run out of real crime, arrested Williams for "pandering obscenity." Although she was eventually acquitted, Agora management had to appear before the state liquor board in Columbus to debate, with a straight face, whether the shaving cream ever melted off enough to reveal the areola around Williams' nipple. The defense claimed that dark spot was actually electrical tape, Williams' primary attire in the late part of the show. (Pantsios)

The Pretenders

Agora Theatre

March 17, 1980  

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. (Pantsios) 


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 1990s — "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. (Niesel)



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. (Willets) 

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. (Michael David Toth)


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. (Gallucci)

The Replacements


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. (Gallucci) 

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'." (Niesel) 

Bruce Springsteen

Agora Theatre

August 9, 1978  

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. (Pantsios) 

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. (Pantsios)


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. (Gallucci)

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." (Niesel)

Tom Waits

House of Blues

August 13, 2006 

The doors were scheduled to open at 11 p.m. for the midnight show, but the concert didn't start till 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. (Niesel) 

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. (Niesel)

Scott Weiland


May 19, 1998  

In 1998, after a stormy departure from Stone Temple Pilots and public battles with drugs, singer Scott Weiland stopped at Cleveland on a warm Tuesday night in May while touring behind the solo album 12 Bar Blues. The Odeon doors were open to balmy river breezes, and a crowd clad in shorts listened while producer Daniel Lanois played a beguiling opening set of delicately textured music with influences from around the world.  Then he and his drummer were joined by a bassist and another guitarist to play with Weiland onstage. But where was Weiland? "He's caught in traffic," Lanois offered (at 9:30 on a Tuesday night in Cleveland?). So he and the band played a couple more songs before announcing they were taking a break to look for the headliner. Finally, the band came back and played the introductory music again. This time Weiland appeared — bundled up in a hot pink fake-fur coat, wool hat, and sunglasses. He clung to the microphone and barked out a couple of songs in a hoarse voice before his throat cleared enough to give passable renditions of a mix of Pilots favorites like "Vasoline." His affectless, desultory manner didn't give fans any reason to believe his handlers' claims that he was finally drug-free. Less than two weeks later, he was arrested in New York trying to score heroin. (Pantsios) 

The White Stripes


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 grungey "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. (Niesel)


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. — Pantsios 

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.