The Top Ten Most Memorable Rock Concerts Ever Held in Philadelphia

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© Linda Wolf 2015 © Linda Wolf 2015

Over the years I have been fortunate to see hundreds of concerts.  I was able to do this because those of us in the business get passes to almost all the shows.-or at least we used to. Things have tightened up over the years with the changes in the record and concert business.

Out of those many concerts I have tried to narrow it down to the top ten. It wasn’t easy.  There were many great concerts that I left out.  I also stayed away from the BIG concerts at places like the stadiums, where they were more like events than enjoyable shows.

1) Joe Cocker with the Mad dogs and Englishmen at the Academy of Music April 5, 1970

The thing that made this such an historic concert wasn’t just because of the music. The music was indeed sensational, despite the fact that the band was on a very lengthy tour that left them exhausted.  The music director was Leon Russell.  The Mad Dogs and friends included:

Vocals: Don Preston, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Donna Washburn, Claudia Lennear, Denny Cordell, Daniel Moore, Pamela Polland, Matthew Moore, Nicole Barclay and Bobby Jones

Guitars: Don Preston, Leon Russell

Bass guitar: Carl Radle

Hammond organ, keyboards, piano: Leon Russell, Chris Stainton

Drums, percussion: Jim Gordon, Chuck Blackwell, Jim Keltner, Sandy Konikoff

Saxophones: Bobby Keys

Trumpets: Jim Price

These were among the very best musicians available at that time.

The way the show was presented still has some people talking to this very day.  Besides the crowded stage of musicians, there were kids in diapers and dogs were actually walking all over the stage. What a sight! Before the night was over there were babies crying and dogs barking.  Undoubtedly, the management looked on in complete horror. Rumor has it that this was the show that got rock music banned from the Academy of Music. 

NOTE: Linda Wolf has just released a great new book with exclusive photos of Joe Cocker and this tour.  For more information or to purchase, please visit Linda's website by CLICKING HERE or on the photographs below:

joe cocker book 5

2) David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars tour at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby November 30, 1972

Bowie was already a star in Philadelphia thanks to the air play by the Philadelphia radio stations.  As a result, he was mobbed at the Tower Theater as if the Beatles were scheduled to play. 

The show itself was spectacular. Bowie made a grand entrance suspended on a wire from the ceiling.  The music was certainly Bowie at his best.  Bowie was so popular in Philadelphia that he played at the Tower for a week.  The best moments were captured on his double album “Live at the Tower Theater”.

3) Bruce Springsteen live at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr On February 5-7, 1974. 

 Actually you could pick any of the Main point appearances by Bruce in the early days. His first appearance was as the opener for Travis Shook on January 4-7, 1973.  Virtually no one saw him then, but by 1974, Bruce was a star in Philly.  The early band was extremely hot and Bruce was in top form. One of the shows was broadcast live over WMMR.  Bruce was even funny with his intros. For those who thought that the early Springsteen music was his best, this was the perfect show in the perfect setting of this legendary small club. .  

4) Bruce Springsteen at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby December 31, 1975.

What a way to end the year.  Bruce and the E Street Band played five straight nights before sold out crowds. The show was electric and the crowd was really into it. Even though this was a larger venue than the Main Point, it still seemed very intimate.  This was still before the rest of the world found out what a talent Springsteen was and Bruce went all out to show the crowd he appreciated their early love for the soon to be superstar.. 

5) Bob Dylan and the Band at the Spectrum January 6 & 7, 1974

It is very tempting as a huge Bob Dylan fan to make this the number one concert.  Many would agree.  Rolling Stone named it as one of the top 20 all time.  Bob was in top form and the Band showed why they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even in a larger venue like the Spectrum, the performers were able to project to the adoring audience the true feelings of the songs. This just barely beat out the Bob Dylan at the Academy of Music show in the 60’s where it was just starting to do a half acoustic and half electric show and his very last appearance at the Spectrum where the crowd was singing along. A Bob Dylan concert is almost like a religious experience. Most of his shows could be in the top ten.

6) Jeff Beck and Ten Years After at the Electric Factory.  October 10 25 & 26, 1968

This was the first American tour for both Ten Years After and the Jeff Beck group with Rod Stewart. Opening night Ten Years After, who were second on the bill, went on first and were absolutely sensational.  The group was completely dazzled the crowd with their musical abilities.  After their performance I went back stage to talk to my friends in the band. I was talking to drummer Ric Lee when Jeff Beck started their act.  I heard this voice that was so different than any I had ever heard.  I asked Ric who he was.  He replied that is Rod Stewart who had been the lead singer for another English group called Steampacket.  I had never heard of them either, but that was about to change. Despite the fact that Rod and Jeff put on a great show, it was Ten Years After that stole the show, just like they did later at Woodstock. They were so good that Jeff Beck’s management wanted Ten Years After to be taken off the bill.  The promoter, Larry Magid refused and the bill stood for the next night. Ten Years After played before sold out crowds at the Spectrum, and were amazing as always, but nothing could top the small club experience.

7) Jimi Hendrix Experience and Woody’s Truck Stop at the Electric Factory February 27 & 28, 1968.

 The Electric Factory was only open for about three weeks when the Jimi Hendrix Experience performed. The stage was set up with a huge wall of Marshall amps.  Most were not even plugged in, but it didn’t matter.  It was the look that counted.  Just before Hendrix took the stage it was darken except for special lights that showed only the fluorescent flowers that Jimi had painted on his face and hands.  In the dark, that was about you could see was his face and hands moving across the guitar. The crowd was not disappointed with the entire show. What a showman! 

8) Captain Beefheart and Little Feat at the Irvine Auditorium February 4, 1972

 Every show that Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band did in Philadelphia was beyond belief.  This show barely beat out his show at the Spectrum where he played with John Sebastian in one of the strangest concert pairings ever.  Little Feat played well, but the leader and lead singer the late George Lowell completely turned off the crowd by saying things like everyone in Philadelphia was stupid to live here. The good Captain completely changed the mood. A startled crowd couldn’t even believe what they were hearing, let alone seeing.  The attire that the group wore was worth the price alone.  You just never knew what they would be wearing from bathrobes to dinner jackets.  Beefheart was fond of wearing a top hat with a badminton birdie sticking out of the very top of it. The music was very complex and Captain’s voice soaring up and down the octaves with such ease, gripped most of the audience all night.  

9) Wings at the Spectrum May 12 & 14, 1976

 Usually a larger venue like the Spectrum isn’t the best place to put on a “show”.  Much of what artists do in the way of showmanship is lost when so much of the crowd is so far from the stage, but not that night.  Not only did Paul’s personality and a tight band come across, the light show just left the crowd in total awe.  There were laser lights bouncing all over the walls of the building.  Most had never seen anything like it before and cheered loudly.  After the show I was supposed to meet Sir Paul, but after waiting for about an hour backstage, that fell through.  Not even the botched interview could spoil a great night of music.  

10) Faces  with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood at the Spectrum July 2, 1971

The first time Rod Stewart came to Philadelphia he voice carried his performance.  After that first show I went to a party where Rod was sitting on the floor not talking to anyone and looking like he didn’t have a friend in the world.  That was 1968.  What a difference in 1971!  Rod had an outstanding stage presence and was just as outgoing off stage. The Faces, led by the guitar work of Ron Wood, were super hot.  If you were there that night, you know why so many people would like to see a reunion tour with Rod and the Faces.   Rock at its best!


  • Comment Link Donald Hunt Friday, May 31, 2024 posted by Donald Hunt

    Cream DID play @ the Spectrum. I was there on Nov. 1, 1968

  • Comment Link David Wednesday, January 10, 2024 posted by David

    Cream never played at the Spectrum. In 1968, they played the Electric Factory. One of my friends was at that show. They played over 3 hours! I. Saw Blind Faith at the Spectrum in summer of 1969.

  • Comment Link Harvey Saturday, October 1, 2022 posted by Harvey

    Midnight at Tower
    Jethro Tull-Aqualung Tour
    Jeff Beck Group- Spectrum Theatre

  • Comment Link T Morgan Wednesday, September 22, 2021 posted by T Morgan

    John, I don't recall Joe Cocker ever doing a concert in Conshohocken. My best guess is that you are thinking of the Leon Russell "mystery" concert that was held there. It was one of the great promotions of all time. WIBG promoted the concert as a mystery concert by a big name. You could get free front row seats if you could figure out who it was and where the concert was held. You got clues by listening to WIBG. Just before the concert they let everyone know the answer.

  • Comment Link John Ferry Saturday, September 18, 2021 posted by John Ferry

    I remember seeing that Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour at an outdoor site in Conchahocken, outside Philadelphia …. I think it was a radio promotion you had to guess the location…. Anything about this ?

  • Comment Link Richard Monday, April 6, 2020 posted by Richard

    NO ONE can take Joe Cocker's place!

  • Comment Link Kenneth kasper Thursday, December 19, 2019 posted by Kenneth kasper

    Emerson lake and palmer Dec. 11 1973
    rolling stones June 30 1975
    the who Dec 1979
    deep purple Feb 1985
    ten years after May 1974
    Emerson lake and palmer Aug 1974
    yes June 1979
    Def leppard Aug 1992
    wishbone ash March 1976
    black Sabbath Aug 1975
    ...all at spectrum

  • Comment Link Otto Greenleaf Friday, April 5, 2019 posted by Otto Greenleaf

    BOC & Rainbow...... Spectrum...... '79?...... Dharma, Blackmore, Powell, Glover, Bloom, Lanier, Bouchard Brothers, Bonnett….. Heavy Metal heavyweights.

  • Comment Link Nancy Sunday, July 22, 2018 posted by Nancy

    Ten years after. Bachman turner over drive and climax blues band. Most fun I’ve ever had

  • Comment Link breeze Sunday, September 17, 2017 posted by breeze

    YES, 1979, one of the shows was recorded video avail on youtube; YES fans in Philly absolutely LOVED YES; the '79 shows were incredible, as was '77; Starship Trooper recorded live in '79, best ever! Also should be on this list: ELP '77, incredible show, perhaps the best rock concert i ever saw.

  • Comment Link Kenneth kasper Tuesday, August 22, 2017 posted by Kenneth kasper

    Emerson lake and palmer spectrum December 11 1973 best show I ever saw. 9 more rolling stones June 1975 the who December 1979 deep purple February 1985 yes June 1979. All at the spectrum return to forever academy of music 1983 nektar. 2002 Trenton patriots theatre. Oregon 1984 painted bride. Spirit chestnut cabaret 1984 ten years after may 1974

  • Comment Link Eric G Thursday, April 6, 2017 posted by Eric G

    I don't remember the year - Traffic & Free were on the bill at the Spectrum. Steve Winwood came out and announced that Free couldn't make it and you could get a refund but if you wanted to stay Traffic "would play all f***ing night"- they did 5 songs and the show was over 3 hours of the best jamming you ever heard. Ahhh those were the days
    Rich Aregood doing concert reviews, would tell us about the best concerts to see

  • Comment Link Schlies Thursday, July 28, 2016 posted by Schlies

    Wow, this is fabulous! Was @ Capt. B
    @ Irvine & 10 Yrs After/Jeff Beck @ the
    Factory. What a great town & time for
    live music! Saw the Mother's @ the
    Trauma, Floyd open for Savoy Brown
    (Factory- didn't KNOW Floyd before
    that night), Buddy Guy @ Main Point,
    Cream Goodbye (1st time), on and on.
    Thanks for stirring some great, neglected

  • Comment Link steve Wednesday, July 27, 2016 posted by steve

    The 1974 Dylan & the Band concert was the best concert I ever attended. Tull Thick As A brick should be in the top 20 also.

  • Comment Link giant gene arnold Saturday, October 10, 2015 posted by giant gene arnold

    Great news letter As to concerts I emceed hendrix at the factory and spectrum head in the Marshalls plugged in believe me best of luck with your book

  • Comment Link Frankie Sunday, August 23, 2015 posted by Frankie

    As I remember it, a revolving stage was used for the 1968 Cream Spectrum concert and the sound faded in and out as the stage turned.

  • Comment Link Donna Condoli Wednesday, December 31, 2014 posted by Donna Condoli

    So Glad Joe my man Cocker was listed first. Saw him with Joe my husband at the tower theater where he introduced his album Jamica Say You Will. I will clearly miss him. Remember Able Cane T

  • Comment Link jimmy two times Tuesday, December 23, 2014 posted by jimmy two times

    Til someone comes along and takes me place, with a different name oh and a different face yeah..... RIP

  • Comment Link Bob Monday, December 22, 2014 posted by Bob

    Shouldn't Cream in 1968 at the Spectrum make this list?

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