Big Stage, Big Names

The Civic Center Arena, originally named Municipal Auditorium, has hosted some of the most legendary musicians and groups in the nation. Keeping with the spirit of this month's flashback issue, we take a look at some of the biggest names and tours that have swept through the Port City in years past.

The October 1979 show came at the height of this band’s career. At that point, Heart consisted of Roger Fisher, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, Steve Fossen, Michael DeRosier and Howard Leese. Their 1977 hit “Barracuda” plus previous hits “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man, ” ensured a packed house.    

Mobilians had the opportunity to attend the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s court on several occasions: Sept. 14, 1970, June 20, 1973, June 2, 1975 (Presley played two shows at this time), and June 2, 1977, just four days before “Way Down” was released—the last single released before his death in August of that year. Presley holds the record for most songs charting Billboard’s Top 40 and Top 100 Hits. Bay area concertgoers danced and sang along to Presley’s later hits such as “Always On My Mind” and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” among others in these late-career shows.

Listed by Rolling Stone magazine as fourth on the list of  “100 Greatest Artists of All Time, ” the band played in Mobile during their “Golden Age.” The “Exile on Main Street” tour was the time of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar.” Said one attendee: “That June 1972 concert was the most memorable concert in the Auditorium for me. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was home for the summer. I went with friends to see ‘the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.’ Believe it or not, Stevie Wonder on the keyboard was part of the backup band!”

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On May 13, 1973, Led Zeppelin performed at Municipal Auditorium on their “Welcome Back” tour. Another English rock group, these imports have been described as “unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history” by Rolling Stone. “Welcome Back” was the ninth concert tour of North America for the group and took place on the heels of the release of “Houses of the Holy, ” the band’s fifth album. This tour broke box office records across the country, including breaking a 1965 record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Elton John played in the Port City on Sept. 27, 1974. The then 27-year-old singer/songwriter released two albums that year: Greatest Hits, which included “Your Song”, “Daniel”, “Bennie and the Jets” and “Rocket Man” among others, and Carribou featuring “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and “The Bitch is Back.” One fan reminisces, “He was dressed to the hilt! Elton wore his high heal clogs with a hat with all sorts of feathers. His costume was mostly yellow with some green. He was terrific!” He returned to Mobile 25 years later for a performance at the Mobile Civic Center on Oct. 27, 1999. 

The Jacksons, formerly known as The Jackson 5, was a group of brothers from Gary, Ind., who skyrocketed to fame and ruled radio airwaves. The group had incredible success especially during their Motown stint; their first four major label singles all rose to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, a rare occurrence at that time. The Jacksons played at Municipal Auditorium during their Triumph tour on July 18, 1981.

Originally billed as Turner’s last tour (the singer wanted to devote time to a career in film), the “Break Every Rule Tour” didn’t just break every rule, it also broke box office records in 13 countries and earned her a Guinness World Record for independently drawing more than 184, 000 paying fans to a one-night show. Turner played 218 shows worldwide in just shy of 400 days. On Nov. 21, 1987, Turner’s tour brought her to the Municipal Auditorium. The set list included “What’s Love Got to Do With It, ” “Proud Mary, ” “I Can’t Stand the Rain, ” “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

Text by Leighton Mosteller

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