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It’s Not the Best Venue, but Coliseum Full of Fond Memories

August 5, 2008

By Doug Pullen, El Paso Times, Texas

Aug. 5–Like a lot of kids around here, I grew up in the Coliseum. It was the only place to see a relatively big-name artist in the ’70s.

It’s where I saw my first rodeo, my first circus and my first Ice Capades spectacle.

When I was old enough to go with friends (meaning my buddy Tom Mayton had a car), I saw many of the artists who helped shape me as a music journalist — Aerosmith, Bad Company, the B-52′s, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, the Cars, Joe Cocker (besotted), Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, the Doobie Brothers, ELO, Foghat, Peter Frampton, Grand Funk Railroad (my first concert in 1970), the Grateful Dead (Bob Weir sang “El Paso”), Iron Maiden, Loverboy, Ted Nugent, REO Speedwagon, Carlos Santana, Steely Dan, Uriah Heep, Van Halen, ZZ Top.

I scribbled those names and others in my notebook Thursday night during intermission at the Stone Temple Pilots concert. It was the first time I’d covered a concert there since 1983, the year I left to pursue bigger and better things. I found them in Detroit, where, as the music writer for the Flint Journal (Grand Funk’s hometown paper) for the last 17 years, I was able to see all those big and little names that bypassed places like El Paso for bigger crowds and bigger paychecks in bigger cities such as Dallas and Phoenix.

There was hardly a show in the Motor City when I didn’t reflect on those days, whether I was watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band work their magic at the 22,000-seat Palace of Auburn Hills (about

three times the size of the Coliseum), a Bob Seger homecoming gig at historic Cobo Arena, a run of Kid Rock shows at DTE Energy Music Theatre (a 16,000-seat amphitheater), Alicia Keys at the elegant Fox Theatre (think the Plaza times two) or a big act like David Bowie, Prince, Metallica or Leonard Cohen squeezing into the 3,000-seat State Theatre (now Fillmore Detroit).

They weren’t necessarily fond memories of the Coliseum. The sound sucked. The crowds were often unruly — I once had a bottle rocket go off near my right ear at an oversold ZZ Top show — and some of the acts clearly didn’t want to be there. The seats were uncomfortable (I remember getting splinters at my first Black Sabbath concert).

I usually looked back with a mix of fondness and relief. Those were my dues-paying years. If I could suffer the creature discomforts, rudeness, drunken idiots, crappy sound and the limited musical choices as a kid here, I certainly appreciated venues like the Palace, home of the Detroit Pistons, which was about 35 miles from my house in suburban Flint. I appreciated their creature comforts (but not the high concession prices) and I was so glad to work with a marketing department that got their show announcements to me BEFORE tickets went on sale, passed along interview contacts if Ididn’t already have them and made sure I got a setlist if I asked for one.

I got used to those things, but I never, ever took them for granted.

So, walking into the Coliseum for the first time in 25 years last week was kind of surreal. It seemed so small. The acoustics still suck. The creature comforts, well, they’re better, but I didn’t even try to get past the mass of packed humanity clogging the hallway during intermission.

There was a time this would have felt like a come-down. Not anymore. I came back for family reasons, not professional ones. I had a good gig and I’d still have it if I had chosen to stay.

This was more like seeing an old friend you’d lost touch with. The Coliseum may not be a palace, but it is a big part of the concert-going experience here. Now if they’d just do something about that echo on the opposite end of the stage.

Doug Pullen may be reached at dpullen@elpasotimes.com; 546-6397.

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