Another reason this may be my personal favorite venue in the city is simply its size. At just under 2,900 seats, it is a room that feels big enough for a large band, but still keeps a sense of intimacy. While other venues have sprouted up over the years with similar capacity, none can offer the full package that the almighty Beacon can, in my opinion. Hell, even the venue staff seems to enjoy the shows more so than a lot of other places in the city.
But, when it comes down to it, the main reason I love this room is because of the legendary shows that have occurred there. Here are a few of my personal favorites…
The Allman Brothers Band – Peakin’ at The Beacon
As I said above, there is no other band that calls The Beacon “home” like The Allman Brothers. For over 20 years, with the exception of a few years, the Brothers have held a March residency that typically spans most of the month. Everyone that lives, works or passes by Broadway between 74th and 75th streets during that time of year knows what’s happening. While there are way too many highlights that The Allmans have produced in this venue to narrow down to a single list, I will instead cite a few shows that still to this day are engrained in my brain:
March 21, 1997 – A Friday night with my best high school buddy and future college roommate, we found ourselves returning for yet another show of the 1997 March Madness run. Situated on the right center aisle towards the back of the floor, I will never forget the absolutely “dream” setlist of this night, with a rippin’ first set Ramblin’ Man and set closing Jessica. Add in the second set fireworks and raucous energy of Blue Sky, No One Left to Run With, High Falls – a vastly underrated ABB song in my opinion – and a slaying One Way Out set closer, my head and heart damn near exploded that night. Toss in a ferocious Whipping Post encore, and my 17-year old self was fearing for my life that the balconies above would come tumbling down atop me. But this, as they say, was just another night at “home” for the Allmans at The Beacon.
March 1, 1996 – Again a Friday night with one of the same buddies from the next year, this second set was a perfect glimpse at my life at the time: immersed in as much music as I could possibly see in and around NYC, with a guest spot featuring two of the most important bands of my high school years intersecting on this evening. Phish keyboard player (and namesake of this column) Page McConnell subbed in for Gregg Allman in the second set. While some of the set is surely a blur, I do distinctly remember my “page side” perch in the left loge and a poignant Back Where it All Begins all making sense to me. But, for a surefire highlight where McConnell shined, seek out this scorching One Way Out which features some delicious key work.
Phish – Springing into Spring
[Ticket stub via Joe Madonna]
While the three-night run Phish played at The Beacon in ’94 were shows I did not personally attend, they are certainly historical and important to this week’s column, and simply an awesome stand taboot. Well known for the third night appearance of the Giant Country Horns, a true rarity at this point in Phish’s career, this run also marked a turning point for the band – and their last ever shows (save Roseland in 2000) at a venue this size in New York City.
Mere months later, Phish would return to NYC on December 30th to a sold out Madison Square Garden – a venue nearly eight times the size of the Beacon. If you caught this run, consider yourself lucky as highlights included Big Ball Jam, several tunes played acoustic and without any microphones and culminating in the aforementioned appearance of the Giant Country horns for a raucous conclusion, including the bust out of Alumni Blues. In the world of Phish, it will unlikely ever be replicated again.
Phil Lesh & Friends with Trey Anastasio – Cold Rain & Snow
While I could continue to list another zillion shows that hold special significance at The Beacon, there seemingly is one in my mind that tops them all. Now, this was one of those shows that encompassed so much more than the music, and started long before showtime. February 12, 2006 saw the likes of the worst blizzard in the NY-metro area in sometime. We are not talking typical school-closing dusting, but rather shut-the-mass-transit down and quarantine the city off kind of storm. Basically, this Phil & Friends show saw The Beacon about 60-70% full due to many not being able to even get to Manhattan’s Upper West Side that night.
Also, about an hour before showtime I turned the corner onto 75th street to duck into a bar, when I bumped into Phish’s road manager at the time, Brad Sands. On his back was a guitar case, which only meant one thing: Trey Anastasio would be sitting in. Awesome I thought. Just how awesome I had no idea, as Anastasio sat in for the entire show.
From the opening notes of Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower to the amazing They Love Each Other which saw Trey and Joan Osborne lead one of the jams of the night, the band launched into a proper jam of Cold Rain & Snow, without actually singing the song, a true tongue-in-cheek humor-filled moment and a tip of the cap for all those that made it to the venue this night. The second set also included some monster numbers like St. Stephen, Eyes of the World and a surprise set-closer of The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. This night could not have been more perfect in the winter wonderland of NYC that seemingly had the city that never sleeps at a standstill – a nice respite that only the magic of music can provide…especially in a place like the Brilliant Beacon.
PS – While many, many other acts have graced the stage and played monumental shows here over the years, there are simply too many to include in just this one column or narrow to a single list. So instead, I encourage you all to share your favorite Beacon moments in the comments section below and as always, thanks for tuning in…