Arts & Events » Music

Too Hot for Sinatra

A look back at some legendary concerts from the last 25 years.



It's pretty hard to come up with a list of great shows that have gone down in Richmond over the last 25 years — there've been so many. Over a long enough period, most people have a hard time remembering who played what where, much less the exact dates. But with all the colorful clubs that have come and gone, and with the currently lacking atmosphere for live music in Richmond, we present an admittedly subjective list of legendary, sometimes infamous, local shows since 1982. Apologies for the many obvious ones we left out.

Feb. 12, 1984: Van Halen at Richmond Coliseum

The original Van Halen lineup in its twilight hours, before guitarist Eddie Van Halen ruined the group in every way possible by bringing in crappy lead singers and relying on keyboards and cheesy Top 40 material (Latest news: His young son Wolfgang is the new bass player!) This show was highlighted by a rocking "Unchained," wherein Diamond Dave threatened to march his buttless chaps into the crowd and kick someone's ass. Nonstop talker, what a rocker!

Dec. 5, 1985: R.E.M. and the Minutemen at the Mosque

Unfortunately we couldn't include the Iggy Pop riot of '81, but suffice it to say the Mosque was chock-full of killer shows back in the day. Although the Minutemen also played a headlining gig at Goin' Bananas in Richmond that would influence many a young local musician, we couldn't help but include this show from back when R.E.M. wasn't a bunch of melodramatic whiners trying to save the world. A few weeks later, the Minutemen's legendary frontman D. Boon was killed in a van accident.

Halloween, 1985: GWAR at Shafer Court

The stories that have circulated around this legendary freakfest would make Jerry Springer vomit. Nudity, mind-altering chemicals, top-notch stage theatrics — all were included here. Sadly, GWAR would soon be banned from Richmond thanks to lead singer Dave Brockie's wielding of a giant, prosthetic schlong. Apparently, there was some deep-seated envy from local officials of the "Cuttlefish of Cthulhu."

Nov. 1, 1985: Grateful Dead at the Richmond Coliseum

This show is legendary among Deadheads for a great set list (including a moaning cover of Van Morrison's "Gloria"). However, the number of drug arrests and poor drivers that came with this traveling bazaar got them forever banned from Richmond.

Deadheads were bummed, but others, like local AM radio DJ Chris Bopst, saw it as a golden moment in Richmond's history. "It was a hippie freeze-out that cemented my decision to move to this fine city," Bopst recalls.

April 14, 1989: The Red Hot Chili Peppers at Shafer Court

Yessir, a before-they-were-famous moment! Back in 1989, The Red Hot Chili Peppers gave it away for free to a large Friday-night crowd at VCU. The no-security concert lasted only about 30 minutes until fans rushed the stage, messing up the PA and ending the show. This was before the band was selling out stadiums and playing a watered-down Top 40 version of their original, high-energy, skateboarder punk-funk.

Early '90s: Dave Matthews' gigs at the Flood Zone

Not much to say here: If you were looking for emotionally sensitive frat-boy love jams, they could be had regularly on Wednesdays at the Flood Zone. I once stopped in for a drink and was accosted by the sight of a drunken, babbling Matthews dropping trou on stage for the ladies. There was surely a memorable concert in there somewhere.

Aug. 5, 1991: Smashing Pumpkins for free at Twisters

Sure, Twisters (pre-Nanci Raygun) was a grungy little spot, but a lot of great bands played there. Jay Leavitt from Plan 9 says that it was obvious at this show that the Pumpkins' sound was "way too big for Twisters."

December 26, 1994: Notorious B.I.G. and Keith Murray with Busta Rhymes at the Flood Zone

The late legendary rapper Notorious B.I.G. played a club show here that was "hot," according to one report. It was also marked by a embarassing episode when support act Keith Murray attempted a stage dive and the audience moved out of the way. Murray landed flat on the floor and then jumped up and started swinging. At least nobody got shot.

March 6, 1994: Frank Sinatra collapses at the Mosque

One of the world's most famous crooners collapsed from heat exhaustion during a climactic performance of "My Way" about two hours into his show. The 78-year-old Sinatra had complained earlier about the heat, and after passing out and smacking his head on a speaker, he must have thought, groaning on the stage floor, "Not here, Lord, anywhere but this Southern-fried hellhole."

April 1995: Medeski, Martin & Wood at the Hole in the Wall

They've since been embraced by hordes of jam-band fans (to their own chagrin), but this Brooklyn-based jazz groove trio once played $5 shows within the tiny confines of the Hole in the Wall, now the Nile Ethiopian restaurant. These intimate jams were unbelievably good, even though the band was hounded afterward by mind-blown hippies to the point that Medeski had a full-fledged meltdown. I remember stand-up bassist Chris Wood nearly spearing my magic burrito with his bow.

Feb. 20, 1996: No Doubt at Plan 9 Records

Right when they were starting to break with the success of the hit single, "I'm Just a Girl," Gwen Stefani and No Doubt played a packed in-store show at Plan 9 Carytown. They were in Richmond to open for Bush (the band), which, of course, featured the pretty boy frontman that Stefani eventually married, what's-his-name.

March 6, 2003: Bruce Springsteen at the Richmond Coliseum

A lot of people don't know it, but in the early to mid-'70s, before he became famous, Springsteen used to play Richmond all the time with his band Steel Mill. He even had some local players like Robbin Thompson in his band. So when he returned to the Coliseum after a long layoff, it was like a warm homecoming gig.

Jan. 14, 2005: Lenny Kravitz's private show at Lucky Lounge

A lot of people think Lenny Kravitz is just a pompous retread ripping off classic-rock styles — an egomaniac better suited for the fashion industry than music. But he's still pretty famous. So when he played an intimate two-hour acoustic set at Lucky Lounge (now Lucky Buddha), it was big news. Hardly anybody was there, though, considering there were only 50 tickets available and those were controlled by Q94 radio station. It's hard to let love rule with such strict admission policies. S

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