5. The Syria Mosque
Man what a terrible place to see a show. Sound wasn’t great either. Boy do I miss it.
The vibe here was old school cool meets rock swagger. 3500 people piled on top of each other. The place started in 1916 and closed in 1991. I caught three shows there: Dylan’s second show in 1990 (his first was 1966) where he walked out of his limo and right onto the stage with the house lights still up and his coat still on. I almost caught a bible at a Stryper show there.
John Philip Sousa played there in 1924 for God’s sake. It hosted the first ever network tv show. Really! Everyone from Benny Goodman to Pink Floyd made it a regular home on their tours. I miss the shows I should have seen there before its demise.
4. The Civic Arena
Based on sheer numbers and time, I have had more fun and happiness here than any other place on earth. My first show there was Billy Joel and he ended his three and a half hour show there laying under the piano playing Big Shot. It was the first of hundreds of great experiences for me and the rest of Pittsburgh.
My favorite non-Springsteen show there was probably the recently sober Aerosmith on the Permanent Vacation tour rising from the ashes of drugs and a ruined career. The opening act was an unheard of band who broke after the tour was booked – Guns and F’n Roses. I still see Tyler riding the mike stand and remember Hangman’s Jury
The venue is legendary – Elvis’s last show. The Doors recorded a live record there that captured the elusive space between chaos and cohesion that Morrison was rarely occupying. The first ever Jesus Christ Superstar show. Sinatra, Zeppelin, Neil Diamond and everyone in between graced their stage. Many local bands too.
I have a piece of the arena in my living room and when I die part of my ashes will be scattered there (the other part will become a record btw). This is how highly I regard this holy ground.
3. Metropol and Rosebud
In addition to great regional and national acts, these 2 clubs-in-one joint in the Strip District boasted an amazing line up which still had a club feeling. I saw Southside Johnny for the first time there. One day they opened the doors and hosted each and every Pittsburgh band there for an amazing festival which entailed running back and forth between the two stages. It was on this day that I realized Pittsburgh was something special musically.
The Strip used to be the Southside before the Southside was. There were at least five places hosting live music nearly every night including Whiskey Dicks, The Floating Boardwalk, Sanctuary, among others. I came in at the tail end of its reign but caught enough to appreciate it. My first show there was Mighty Mighty Bosstones I think. Most music fans in Pittsburgh have enough memories there to fill two life times.
Many bands played M/R on their way up and down. Zevon played his most famous Pittsburgh show there solo. I found out Joan Jett played my hometown of Rural Valley, there, oh and Joe Grushecky closed this place too.
2. The Decade
How can the Decade be second? This is the fabled Oakland venue where U2, The Police, The Ramones, Joe Jackson, Springsteen, and David Johansen stopped on tours and Billy Price, The Iron City Houserockers, The Mystic Nights, and Bon Ton Rouette become regional power houses is second. Heck a book was just published about there.
Quite simply – I never went there. The refused my fake ID and when I turned 21 and went there to see some music – I was told by some biker looking dudes that my 6-2 135 of preppy style was NOT welcomed. I went over to Zeldas and cried in my beer – alone because my date stayed.
It makes the list based on reputation but not on experience.
1. Nick’s Fat City
I saw Springsteen twice, The Strokes, almost stepped on Prince, got shut out of Hootie and The Blowfish, and fell in love there. Oh and I got to watch Pittsburgh’s South Side ALMOST become the next Seattle there. It was the place to be. Their weekly no cover line up included Dave and Sherri, The Dick Clarks (Clarks acoustic), and The Gathering Field – right up until they signed with Atlantic Record – back when that meant serious life changing stuff.
Some day I have to write a book about this place. Unlike every other club I’ve been in before or since, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. Oh they had dollar beer specials too and bar food to die for. The staff was both cool and warm. This remains the best rock club I’ve ever been in.
Every Pittsburgh band of the 90’s played there and packed the place 600 plus people. Crowds waited around the block every Saturday to see Rusted Root, Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, Donnie Iris, Brownie Mary, Grape Vine, and every band in the Tri State area grace the star covered floor and rock in front of the giant guitar. It is still missed.