It’s sad, I know, get the tissues ready, but the final concerts in what has been a highly enjoyable tour of North America are to take place tonight and tomorrow night at the world famous Madison Square Garden.
The oldest and busiest major sporting facility in the New York metropolitan area, as well as one of the most popular and profitable music arenas in the world in terms of ticket sales, Madison Square Garden holds approximately 320 events annually. I’m sure we can all list a favourite historic performance or event; we’ve probably all seen something on television that was hosted here, be it music or sport.
Home to the Rangers of the National Hockey League, the Knicks of the National Basketball Association and the Liberty of the Women’s National Basketball Association, the Garden, being a major multi-entertainment venue, also hosts conferences, conventions, trade shows and other special events.
Few places can boast of such an illustrious history that has been beamed to all corners of the world in the television age: a first championship for the New York Knicks in 1970; the first Ali-Frazier fight in 1971 – billed “The Fight of the Century” and the first time that two undefeated boxers fought each other for the heavyweight title – where “Smokin’ Joe” felled Ali with a devastating left to the jaw in the 15th round before winning via unanimous decision; in 1976, gymnast Nadia Comăneci’s first ‘perfect 10’ at the inaugural American Cup; the first ever WrestleMania in 1985, where Hulk Hogan became the face of WWF (now WWE); the New York Rangers winning their first Stanley Cup after a wait of 54 years.
George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, the first benefit concert(s); the five No Nukes concerts organised by Musicians United for Safe Energy, or MUSE, an activist group founded by Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall in 1979; the 2001 Concert for New York City – ‘The Night The Who Saved New York’, wrote Tom Watson – which honoured the first on the scene at the World Trade Center that horrible day from New York City’s Fire and Police departments, whose bravery and selflessness humbled us all; 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Elvis Presley’s four shows before some 80,000 people in June 1972, at the time a Garden record (released as Elvis: As Recorded at Madison Square Garden); John Lennon’s last ever concert appearance, in November 1974, as a surprise guest at an Elton John gig; Billy Joel selling out 12 straight shows in 2006.
Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit, followed by a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, where he addressed 19,000 high school students and famously woo-hoo’ed back at them to cease the cheering and chanting usually reserved for pop stars; Pope Francis’ first visit to the USA as Pontiff last year; Bill Clinton’s victory at the 41st Democratic National Convention to become the party’s choice for Presidential candidate in 1992.
So many great performances have resulted in live albums, concert films and television broadcasts: Billy Joel’s 12 Gardens Live; Elton 60: Live at Madison Square Garden; Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! (Rolling Stones); The Song Remains the Same (Led Zeppelin); Jethro Tull’s Live at Madison Square Garden – 1978; Johnny Cash at Madison Square Garden; John Lennon’s Live in New York City; Pearl Jam Live at the Garden…
There are many more besides these.
Not forgetting that Pink Floyd had a four-night run here, complete with inflatable farmyard animals, in July 1977, then a three-night run ten years later in support of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, in October ’87.
The current and fourth incarnation of the legendary MSG venue opened in 1968 in controversial circumstances. There was a public outcry over the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, the exuberant Beaux-Arts masterpiece that was demolished to make way for it. “A monumental act of vandalism,” screamed the New York Times. The furore led to the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965, which saved Grand Central Station from the same fate and, you’ll remember from yesterday’s history lesson if you were paying attention, Radio City Music Hall.
There is delicious irony in that Penn Station, now submerged below ground, needs to expand thanks to a railroad revival – and Madison Square Garden is in the way. After the City Council voted overwhelmingly in 2013 to limit the arena’s permit, effectively allowing ten more years before the Garden has to be torn down for a fourth time and rebuilt elsewhere, in January this year it was announced that the removal of its theatre would allow the station’s renovation and expansion, so the arena itself could remain intact. We shall see.
Have a brilliant time if you’re going to spend either your Monday or Tuesday night at this special place so full of history in the city that never sleeps. Be sure to share your thoughts with us, won’t you?