OK, I have to tell you a story. The other day I was sleeping off my annual four-day Thanksgiving bender when my phone rang at the crack of midnight. It took me a second to figure out that the woman with the strange accent on the other end of the line was asking if I would accept charges from a Mayor Cass.
I said “Sure,” but I was a little apprehensive, because anytime you have to accept charges at midnight, well, you have a problem.
I heard a few clicks, then a loud voice said, “Duuuuuude, I got your Spectrum hanging,” followed by peals of braying laughter that quickly disintegrated into a coughing spree.
“Oh, shit,” I thought. The mayor obviously didn’t take my advice about avoiding the cocktails with the little umbrellas in them. While I was waiting for him to continue, I heard the obvious melody of “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” being played on kettle drums. I also heard a voice that sounded like the woman who kept saying “Bienvenido à Miami” in that Will Smith song.
Mayor Cass finally caught his breath long enough to say, “Dude, write more about the Spectrum. I have just the show for you.”
I was thinking, “No problem. The Spectrum was one of the top historical arenas in the top three historical cities in America.” I could come up with something. I was sure of it. (The mayor then rattled on about something or other, but I fell back asleep pretty quickly.)
I woke up the next morning and wasn’t sure if the whole thing was a dream until I checked my e-mail and found a ZIP file of Peter Gabriel performing at the Spectrum on July 21, 1987. I then did a little research about the man and the venue and remembered something pretty cool about the Spectrum, and what my friends and I used to call “curtain shows.”
I don’t know if this is still done, but arenas used to place big ceiling-to-floor curtains in strategic places to make the space appear smaller if needed. My personal “home arena” was the long-gone New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum (Doors fans will recognize the joint), where I probably saw more events than in all other places combined.
The Coliseum would use two curtains that covered the upper half of the seats on the sides; I first saw them when I was in elementary school during a weekday-afternoon matinee of the circus. They came out at other times, like high school basketball tournaments and the like, but I never saw them used during a concert. Until 1987, that is, when I walked into the arena for a Tom Petty/Georgia Satellites/Del Fuegos show.
Let me give you a second to process that. The Coliseum had to bring out the curtains for a concert so chock-full of awesomeness because not enough tickets had been sold.
And people wonder why I fled New England as soon as I could.
Instead of embarrassing the band — and the audience — with curtains that were obviously hiding seats, the Spectrum used a much better system: it put up a big-assed curtain that split the arena in half, basically creating two U-shaped spaces. They threw the stage on the floor in front of the curtain and called it the Spectrum Theater, with a cozier 5,000- to 8,000-person capacity.
I bring all this up because the first time Peter Gabriel played the Spectrum as a solo artist in 1982, he had to use the curtain. That’s understandable, though, even to those music fans who already knew who he was — he was simply that dude who used to be in Genesis.
Songs like “Solsbury Hill” and “Games Without Frontiers” showed up once in a while on AOR radio, but it wasn’t until MTV, which was still learning to walk, put “Shock the Monkey” in heavy rotation that all of America found out about the weird-ass visuals Gabriel was capable of. Longtime Genesis fans had told us, but we didn’t believe it until we saw it for ourselves.
Fast-forward five years, and not only did our featured artist say screw it to the curtain, he said, “Gimme two nights!!” So, what happened between ’82 and ’87 to increase Gabriel’s popularity in Philly exponentially?
Bwahahahaha! Just kidding — Cameron Crowe’s ode to teen love and nursing-home thievery didn’t come out until two years after the Spectrum show. It’s just that that picture makes me laugh every time.
But John Cusack holding up that radio is such an iconic image, don’t you think?
OK, I’ll stop now.
Between ’82 and ’87, Gabriel released So (1986). You know the album. You have the album. You’ve seen the videos. And you know about the nine million awards it won.
But like everything else in the world, no matter how good the music is on the CD, it’s a million times better when it’s played live. Guitarist David Rhodes and bassist Tony Levin anchor a band that seems to be more interested in the ambience of the music than the notes themselves.
Now, this is Philly, of course, so the audience doesn’t contain the sharpest tools in the shed, if you know what I mean. You might raise an eyebrow when you hear them continue to cheer as Gabriel talks about Nicaraguan orphans, but you have to remember — these are the same people who have a reputation for throwing snowballs at Santa.
So enjoy the show, everyone, and Mr. Mayor, please take my advice this time — stay away from those sexy-sounding Latin girls. I’ve seen too many Miami Vice episodes. Believe me, I know — chicks who talk like that are never up to any good.
Shock the Monkey
Not One of Us
Games Without Frontiers
No Self Control
This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
Don’t Give Up
Lay Your Hands on Me
Here Comes the Flood
In Your Eyes