The Greatest Tour-Stop Concerts in North Texas, 1960-1989

David Bowie
David Bowie
Elmar J. Lordemann via Wikimedia Commons
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We will be seeing the end of an entire decade in a mere seven months, and that warrants reflection.

What artists of the '10s captured the zeitgeist? What were some of this generation’s most defining cultural milestones? When VH1 starts airing I Love the ‘10s, what events, artists, films or headlines will they reminisce over?

These are worthwhile questions to ponder, especially in a musical context. After all, each decade over the last century has held historical and cultural value in its own way, and a handful of musicians who sprouted from these eras would become the voices of their generations without even realizing it.

This inspirational, albeit harrowing realization has compelled us to reflect on the past 60 years in a two-part series in which we compile the greatest North Texas tour stops, where we'll look back on a handful of concerts attended by North Texans that have held cultural significance and maintained historical value after all these years. For the first installment, we look back on tour-stop concerts that stand as highlights between the years 1960 and 1989.

9/18/1964  The Beatles: 1964 North American Tour at Memorial Auditorium, Dallas
The night before the Fab Four were scheduled to perform what would be their only North Texas concert ever, they arrived at Dallas Love Field following a gig in Kansas City. As they arrived at the Cabana Motor Hotel, fans in the lobby broke a plate of glass and had to be treated for minor injuries. Paul McCartney made a quick phone call to console a 13-year-old fan in Grand Prairie who was forced to surrender her tickets to the show, and he and the remaining band members were promptly escorted to what is now the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

As they arrived to the venue an hour later than scheduled because of an overwhelming number of fans stifling their commute, they engaged in a brief press conference and got onstage to perform a nearly 40-minute set. Fans in the nosebleeds dashed across the auditorium and let out screams that reporters described as grating and unbridled.

Taking place just two months after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this tour enforced an integration policy so strict that seven days before their Dallas stop, the band threatened to cancel a show at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, after organizers refused to comply with this stipulation.

8/26/1968  James Brown at Memorial Auditorium, Dallas
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, and the aftermath entailed a wave of civil disturbance and riots across the United States. The day after King’s assassination, James Brown played a controversial show in Boston that was within an inch of being canceled because of racial tensions, but city officials reluctantly allowed the show to go on as a means of preventing even more backlash.

Four months later, the Godfather of Soul released the call-and-response single “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and one of the few live renditions of the song was recorded at the Memorial Auditorium in Dallas three weeks after its release. Brown played the song after kicking off the set with “If I Ruled the World” and played a reprise in closing his one-hour, 15-minute show.

In celebration of the show’s 30-year anniversary, PolyGram released a live album of the performance, titled Say It Live and Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68.

5/15/1976  Bob Dylan: Rolling Thunder Revue at Gatesville State School for Boys
The spring leg of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour made a stop in Gatesville, a town 40 miles west of Waco and 80 miles south of Cleburne. It was at a juvenile corrections facility, and joining Dylan in playing a free show to 350 students/inmates were Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.

This tour would come through Fort Worth the day after, but a show this intimate and star-studded taking place in a desolate prison town made for an exceptionally special moment in Texas music history.

1/10/1978  Sex Pistols: U.S. Tour 1978 at Longhorn Ballroom, Dallas
One of the Sex Pistols’ most infamous live shows ever took place in one of the Dallas' oldest ballrooms, and by various accounts, it seems that only approximately 300 people witnessed it.

You won’t be hard-pressed to find people to romanticize the experience and lie about being in attendance, but those who were actually there have been quick to dispel the myth behind this show. In an interview with D Magazine, Barry Kooda (whose band, the Nervebreakers, opened this show) didn’t seem to look back fondly at John Lydon or Sid Vicious and even went so far as stating they “were surfers, they were just there for looks.”

So why, then, was this show significant? Well, this would be one of the last gigs the Sex Pistols would ever play before their breakup exactly one week later. Moreover, Kooda got to enjoy an ephemeral moment of fame after a picture of him biting into a fish at the show made the rounds on Rolling Stone.

2/24/1983  Iggy Pop: The Breaking Point Tour at Hot Klub, Dallas
Ten years after the release of his landmark album Raw Power, Iggy Pop’s career was plummeting following a string of albums that received a lukewarm, if not abysmal level of commercial success. Even with his friend David Bowie famously covering “China Girl,” a song he co-wrote with Pop, the legendary Stooges frontman struggled with financial hardship, which was only exacerbated by his lingering drug addiction.

Even in the midst of this low point, he gave Dallas a memorable and intimate show at a tiny venue that hosted newer, more niche artists such as Flipper, Gang of Four and Black Flag.

5/19/1983  The Clash at Memorial Auditorium, Wichita Falls
Whether Wichita Falls is considered to be in North Texas is irrelevant. Thanks to a fortuitous friendship with Joe Ely, U.K. punk legends the Clash made Wichita Falls one of four U.S. tour stops in 1983. This was the first (and last) punk show to ever take place at the venue, and it all happened at the height of the band’s popularity.

And that Hot Klub venue where the Iggy Pop show took place? They were the organizers of this event.

12/30/1984-1/1/1985  Prince and the Revolution: Purple Rain Tour at Reunion Arena, Dallas
Prince performed 98 shows in support of his magnum opus and feature film soundtrack Purple Rain. Three of them were in Dallas, and two of them just so happened to fall on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Can you think of a better way to end or kick off a new year?

To add even more significance, note that the capacity of Reunion Arena was about 19,000. Prince was so popular, he played the room for an unprecedented three consecutive nights, which collectively sold over 53,000 tickets.

Of course, the show was unusually labyrinthine even for its time. Prince made a grand entrance from an ascending hydraulic lift in the middle of the stage and had the choreography of the entire performance boiled down to a granular science.

And yes, Sheila E. made a special guest appearance.

6/15/1986  Run-D.M.C.: Raising Hell Tour at Reunion Arena, Dallas
At the cusp of hip-hop’s golden age in the ‘80s, New York legends Run-D.M.C. were at the forefront of the movement. They would go on to cement their legacy with a game-changing cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” that featured none other than the band’s members Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. That was, of course, only one of many achievements made by the hip-hop trio, as their third full-length album Raising Hell achieved such ubiquity and staying power that Chuck D cited it as the reason Public Enemy signed with Def Jam Recordings.

The tour that accompanied the album was arguably just as significant, if not more. It signified a cultural shift in which hip-hop achieved a noticeable cross-culture appeal. D.M.C. would note the influx of white hip-hop fans who came out to each show, and a significant portion of their attendance can be attributed to the Beastie Boys being tapped as openers. LL Cool J and Whodini also performed.

10/10-10/11/1987  David Bowie: Glass Spider Tour at Reunion Arena, Dallas
Although it achieved commercial success, David Bowie’s 17th full-length album, Never Let Me Down, was panned by critics upon his release, as was the tour that accompanied it. Critics perceived the Glass Spider Tour as bombastic and convinced of its own greatness, but in hindsight, it was just David Bowie being David Bowie.

Part of what made this tour so significant was that Bowie was privy to these criticisms but simply didn’t care. The show was theatrical in every way and included spoken-word, vignettes, precise choreography and a revolving door of wardrobe changes. Even more controversial was Bowie’s decision to sign on a sponsorship agreement with PepsiCo.

Despite the flak, this run proved successful and set a precedent for the concert industry in making sponsorships a more integral part of touring. Some even argue that the Glass Spider Tour influenced the panache of future tours by acts such as Madonna and U2.

4/25-4/27/1988  Michael Jackson: Bad Tour at Reunion Arena, Dallas
Like the Glass Spider Tour, this trek was also sponsored by Pepsi, only this would go on to be one of the highest-grossing tours of the ‘80s.

At this time, Michael Jackson had made his way through DFW once since the release of Thriller, and it was a three-night stand with the Jacksons in 1984 at Texas Stadium in Irving. The Bad Tour was Jackson’s first solo tour, and like the Victory Tour that preceded it, it anchored itself in DFW for three nights straight.

The precedence of stage grandiosity was elevated to an even higher echelon with this tour, as well: There were costumes with attached fiber optic lights, 40 lasers were part of the back line and pyrotechnics would leave the audience startled throughout the duration of the sets.

In an April 26 review posted by The Dallas Morning News, Russell Smith wrote that the performance “probably had more special effects than needed.” It goes without saying that history has since exonerated the excesses of Jackson’s showmanship.

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