Five Iconic Nippertown Shows from Legendary Artists


Since we’re not seeing a whole lot of live music this year thanks to Covid, I thought it might be fun to take a look backwards.  I’ve taken five of the most influential artists of all time, and called out a single iconic Capital District show from each one.  By “iconic”, I mean their local show that you would most want to go to (again, if you already did).  It often means the best, but not always (see Bob Dylan).

This is meant to be fun, and to elicit some feelings of nostalgia.  It’s not meant to be “The five best local concerts ever”, just a look at five selected artists.  There obviously can be many more of these.  It’s also (by definition) completely subjective, and limited by my memory and/or my ability to find old reviews and accounts.  If you have other opinions, or knowledge of something I missed, please share them!

(Note: For this article, I’m only considering shows in the immediate Capital District – Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties.)

Joe Alper: Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Lena Spencer and Pasha the cat at Caffe Lena @ The Tang Teaching Museum
Joe Alper: Bob Dylan, Suze Rotolo, Lena Spencer and Pasha the cat at Caffe Lena @ The Tang Teaching Museum

Bob Dylan:  Dylan’s impact on music can hardly be overstated, and at 79 he continues to write some legitimately good stuff as recently as this year (Rough and Rowdy Ways).  But for a long time, the quality of his live performances has been more miss than hit.  Given that, if I could go to only one of his local performances, it would have to be his first show at Caffe Lena (July 7, 1961).  By all accounts, it wasn’t well received.  But just for the sheer history of it – this was his first booking outside of New York City.  How could you say no to that?

The Rolling Stones:  Well, you’ve got two choices.  The Bigger Bang tour in 2005 was undeniably a huge booking for the (then) Pepsi Arena and for the Capital District as a whole.  But given the choice, I’d jump at the chance to see vintage 1965 Stones at the Palace Theatre (April 29, 1965).  But it would have to be the evening show, not the three song aborted matinee.

David Bowie: This one’s easy.  Bowie’s one and only Capital District show was at SPAC (July 7, 1990), which makes it iconic by definition.  But what a show it was.  The Sound+Vision tour was everything that we needed to forget the lamentable Never Let Me Down era.  I had traveled to Syracuse to see him on the Serious Moonlight tour seven years earlier, but that was a stadium.  Seeing him up close and personal, inside the amphitheatre at SPAC, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Bruce Springsteen:  This was the hardest one to pick.  We are blessed to have the Boss roll through town quite a bit around here.  And many of those shows have been absolute barnburners…how do you pick?  Do you go with his first local appearance, at Union College in 1974?  How about the 1977 show at the Palace Theatre, warming up for the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour?  He liked that one enough to officially release it.  Or the legendary 1984 SPAC show in support of Born in the U.S.A. – the first sellout in SPAC history?  All deserving choices, but I’m going with the show at the RPI Field House (November 12, 1978).  The reviews at the time had him maintaining the crowd at an absolute frenzy level.  And the setlist…right in between Darkness on the Edge of Town and the yet-to-be-released The River.  Now THAT is a concert I want to see.

Radiohead: They’ve never played here, you may be thinking.  But, oh, yes they have.  Check out this exchange from an interview with Steve Lamacq from BBC Radio One:

Steve: “So what was your last gig in uh, in America?”

Thom: “Oh, it was awful. (laughing)”

Ed: “There’s a place called Saratoga Winners in this kind of like shack, up in ah, upstate New York in Albany. It’s a real, real dive and it’s like really humid there. So they’ve got this heat wave as well at the moment, you know – five English blokes, you know. We were wasting away.”

Thom: “And then a bit before that we had done two like amazing shows in Canada that were some of the most exciting shows we’ve ever done, really.”

Ed: “Yeah.”

But it was freaking RADIOHEAD, at Saratoga Winners.  Tell me you wouldn’t kill to go back in time for it (July 26, 1995).

Were you there for any of these?

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