It Came From YouTube: Classic concerts at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum

By Benjamin Leatherman

The Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, site of rock 'n' roll history.

Long before either the U.S. Airways Center or Dodge Theatre were even a twinkle in some architect’s eye, the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum was the premier concert venue in the PHX. Besides its status as the original stomping grounds for your Phoenix Suns, a virtual “who’s who” of classic rock superstars from the past four decades have performed underneath the coliseum’s distinctive saddle-shaped roof since it opened during the LBJ administration.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience stopped by in ‘68. Both “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin blew the roof off the place in ’70. And in '76 (the year I was born) the “Madhouse on McDowell” was visited by The Who and “Ziggy Stardust” himself, David Bowie (albeit in separate concerts).

It’ll be a damn shame when they finally tear down the aging venue (which really only hosts concerts during the annual Arizona State Fair in the fall), as it’s got so many memories attached to it. Hippie burnout friends of mine speak in reverential tones of attending gigs by Three Dog Night and Rush at the venue way back in the day. And my own personal coliseum concert-going experience didn’t happen until I was 18 years old and saw INXS in 1994 (three years before vocalist Michael Hutchence accidentally offed himself -- allegedly -- through autoerotic asphyxiation). I’ve also witnessed the Ramones, Pearl Jam, Beck, Reba McEntire, and “Weird Al” Yankovic (twice) performing at the joint.

Like I mentioned in the inaugural version of ICFYT, YouTube is a paradise for concert footage, both bootleg and bonafide. And amongst its billions of videos are clips of numerous shows from the coliseum. (Shame there’s isn’t more…c’mon bootleggers, get your uploadin’ mojo working!!!).

Here’s a glimpse of the Jimi Hendrix Experience performing “Little Wing” (from the album Axis: Bold as Love) during his 1968 show. It’s audio only (and a rather muffled version at that), set to a painting of the late guitar savant.

And on the flipside, here’s a way-blurry and audio-free clip of Elvis Presley that’s purportedly from his AVMC concert on September 9, 1970. According to Wikipedia, it was the opening gig of Presley’s first tour since 1957, and footage of the show was used in the opening credits of the documentary Elvis: That's the Way It Is.

Arguably one of the biggest events ever at the coliseum was Bruce Springsteen’s gig on July 8, 1978. Backed by the E Street Band, “The Boss” apparently sold out the 14,870-seat arena on a hot Saturday night almost exactly 30 summers ago. The Phoenix stop was a part of Springsteen’s “Darkness Tour,” and, again, per Wikipedia, his performance of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” that evening was turned into a video for MTV.

Check out the clip (as well as the female fans who rush the stage):

(NOTE: The chyron says “1979” at the beginning, but the clip is definitely from the 1978 Phoenix show).

The New Jersey native also whipped out an ultra-energetic version of “Born to Run"...

…as well as “Raise Your Hands.” It was the second-to-last song of the night, and (bizarrely) has a four-second clip of Col. Klink near the end, as well as a commercial for a Springsteen compilation. The video looks different from the other two, but since this is clearly at the coliseum (verified by its distinctive ceiling), Bruce must've wanted the house lights to be up for the number.

For completists, the "Killing Floor Database" states that Springsteen also performed “Badlands,” “Spirit in the Night,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The Promised Land,” “Because the Night,” and “Thunder Road,” among other hits.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

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