Rocking the house


As Mike Schmidt jogged around the bases one final time in his distinctive style at Dead Stadium Standing, aka the Vet, you couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed. The much-maligned cookie-cutter monstrosity is on death row right next to the morphing Citizens Bank Park, which fans hope will be a lifer.

The Vet was obviously known for its share of glorious and ignominious sporting events. However, a number of noteworthy concerts hit the Vet as well. Sure, JFK Stadium is remembered for massive shows such as the Jacksons’ Victory tour in 1984, the Stones’ Tattoo You jaunt, which kicked off at JFK, and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Live Aid in 1985.

However, the Vet hosted its share of shows before and after JFK hit the ground to make way for the Wachovia Center.

Say what you will about the Vet, but it beats JFK by a long shot. During the Jacksons’ rained-out show, the option was to get soaked or sneak into the bowels of the stadium. There has been considerable talk about the size of the rats at the Vet. At least you could see the vermin lurking at the once-state-of-the-art arena. At JFK, it was so dark, you could only imagine what was moving next to you. Regardless, Michael Jackson was much scarier than the hungry, mysterious rodents at JFK.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were one of the first acts to pass on the 100,000-capacity venue in favor of the more intimate confines of the Vet. The Boss and Co., who played the Vet during their Born in the USA tour back in ’85, put on one of the best events ever at the multipurpose structure. That’s a left-handed compliment, if you consider how inept the Phillies and Eagles have been overall since the park opened in 1971. Springsteen, who went on to open Lincoln Financial Field as a concert venue in August, proved that his urgent, passionate music could play in the biggest of the big rooms.

One of the most curious ’80s shows at the Vet was headlined by Wham! About 30,000 fans, many of them out-of-towners, took advantage of the "Whamtrak" promotion, since the duo played just three stateside shows. Girls and boys swooned as George Michael and Andrew Ridgely pranced. As much as most would like to attack Wham!, the boys failed to make the list of the five worst moments at the Vet. Here’s what did:

1. Phil Collins, sex symbol: One of the most inexplicable moments in rock history transpired when Genesis performed in 1985. This has nothing to do with the pop act’s overwrought tunes. For some reason, field cameras that were projected onto the big screen focused in on Collins’ butt and women squealed as if he were, well, George Michael. Phil Collins, you’re no George Michael. The shrieks still defy explanation.

2. David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour: Bowie outdid Spinal Tap as he was lowered onto the stage for his most grandiose and ridiculous tour ever. There was nothing as bad as watching a once-brilliant recording artist at his nadir. Never Let Me Down, the 1987 disc he toured behind, was so bad that you can forgive Avril Lavigne for mispronouncing Bowie’s name (the Canadian pop princess said Bow-ie as in "bow-wow") when she announced that the Thin White Duke was up for a Grammy.

3. Watch out for the Secret Meat Police: During Paul McCartney’s 1990 tour, the Macca issued an edict: no meat onsite. That went for the protein-loving blokes who were constructing Sir Paul’s stage. If one of McCartney’s undercover agents caught someone eating something that once walked, he was going to get his walking papers. Somewhere, John Lennon had to be laughing.

4. Uh-oh, here comes the Hammer: MC Hammer, a pop-culture oddity dwarfed only by Vanilla Ice, helped inspire the 2,000 or so fans who attended a Temple game to leave as quickly as possible. Hey, security guards have to go home, too.

5. Philadelphia bids for a Super Bowl in 1987: It’s not a musical item, but it’s worth mentioning. Good idea for football, which is meant to be played on the frozen tundra — or whatever you want to call the Vet’s lethal carpet — during the dead of winter. However, it would have been a disaster for the halftime entertainment. Can you imagine Britney or — back then — Cher walking out with nary a stitch, belting out an anthemic number while shrouded in icicles? By the way, Philly picked up 6 inches of snow during Super Bowl Sunday in 1987. Good thing the NFL went with Pasadena, Calif., instead.

And now for the best musical moments in Vet history:

1. Is that Morgan Fairchild by the stage? Yes, the former �ber-nighttime-drama actress babe was on the field watching her boyfriend, Gary Puckett of Union Gap fame, play after, yes, a Temple game 16 years ago. Actually, Puckett was opening for the Monkees. During a recent interview with Puckett, all I could talk about was how he hooked up with the fairest Fairchild of them all. "We met in a gym," Puckett explained. Perfect. No, Fairchild has nothing to do with the best musical moment at the Vet, but I wanted to squeeze in the Old Navy pitchperson somehow.

2. The Stones: The Vet has hosted a number of good shows, such as the aforementioned Springsteen performances. The Stones’ Bridges to Babylon tour in ’97 was swell, too. It’s hard to say which was better: The Stones’ white-hot performance or the spread they had backstage. The group remains the hedonists of rock. A gourmet kitchen was well-stocked with choice meats (take note, Macca) and fine booze.

3. In 1992, a U2 sound check was open to fans who were at the right place at the right time. U2 bassist Adam Clayton is a pretty cool dude. During the band’s Zoo TV tour in ’92, Clayton emerged just prior to his band’s afternoon sound check and escorted about 30 diehards just clamoring for a U2 sighting inside for a sneak peek.

4. Madonna gets mad: The mega-star lost it during sound check in 1987. After being limoed to the stage seven hours before showtime, Madonna lambasted her dancers and crew over innocuous issues. "It’s strange, isn’t it?" a British roadie commented. "She chews people out every day and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I can’t wait ’til next year when I’ll be going out with George Michael [the tour, not a date]."

5. Tickets? Who needs tickets? There are certain things I’m going to miss about the Vet. It wasn’t the most secure building. During the Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge tour in ’94, I arrived late for a ticket drop due to a storm. I didn’t despair since I knew there would be an open door somewhere. The first one I cracked was wide open. It was absolutely unattended. Fortunately, al-Qaeda was unfamiliar with the Vet.

6. The national anthem rendered at the Vet on Sept. 17, 2001, which was the first Phillies game post-9-11. Not a dry eye in the house.