Kingdome looms large in Seattle's concert history

As a special Arts section tribute to the ol' Kingdome, we've dredged up a selection of reviews from rock concerts there. Most of those shows had big problems with that "Kingdome echo," but it's a stellar list of concerts nonetheless. Seattle Times critic Patrick MacDonald was at that first concert with Paul McCartney, and at the last one with U2. All these excerpts are from his reviews, except where indicated.

June 1976, Paul McCartney and Wings

If there was any doubt that the Kingdome was suitable for rock shows, Paul McCartney and Wings wiped it out last night with a spectacular extravaganza that was the highlight of their American tour.

It was the biggest audience of the tour and set a new indoor attendance record for a single act - 67,000-plus. The stage light and sound systems were larger than any other date on the tour and were specially designed for the Dome. The concert was filmed, videotaped and recorded and Geraldo Rivera and his crew shot footage for an upcoming ABC-TV special.

McCartney himself was bubbling with enthusiasm and obviously happy with the record crowd. He was full of boundless energy throughout the two-hour show, mugging, prancing and joking. He said he was having a good time and he looked it . . . One of the great excitements of the entire evening was the deafening roar of 67,000 people at the end and the sight of thousands of matches lighting the darkened hall before the encore. . .

Nothing could have christened the Dome as a rock hall more dramatically or excitingly - the only currently performing Beatle in the biggest show of his tour. It was a night Seattle rockers will long remember.

August 1976, The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt

The second rock show in the Kingdome was Friday night when almost 50,000 fans gathered to hear a concert by the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and John David Souther.

It was a big test for the Dome and most people who were there probably would say the place got a failing grade. For all but a handful of people, the sound was so wretchedly bad it was impossible to enjoy the music.

July 1977, Led Zeppelin

For the first time since Wings, a rock show felt right in the Kingdome last night, but only because it was Led Zeppelin, the biggest band of them all.

The sound was still pretty bad, but that didn't matter much, because Zeppelin isn't the kind of band that requires careful listening most of the time. The rock they belt out is meant to jar your whole body, so the Dome's echo and reverberations hardly mattered. October 1982, the Who, The Clash and T-Bone Burnett

The Who somehow managed to triumph over the Kingdome last night, but it was an uphill battle all the way.

The seminal British rock band, on its final American tour, took a while to warm up, but about a third of the way into the 130-minute, 23-song set, the Who hit its stride and just kept running . . . The show was scaled big, with enormous explosions during "Won't Get Fooled Again," blinding lights shining all over the place and a gigantic stage dwarfed by three huge letters spelling WHO."

Madonna, July 1987

Madonna has invented a new concert form - the live rock video.

Her mega-event "Who's That Girl" extravaganza, which played to 30,000 screaming fans last night at the Kingdome, was more like a 90-minute MTV video than a live performance.

Even those down in front on the main floor couldn't see well, because almost everybody stood on their chairs throughout the set. Only for the last few songs were a limited number of people allowed to get near the stage and really rock with the Material Girl.

"There's about 30,000 people here and I can't feel you," she complained.

Pink Floyd, December 1987

Floyd has long been known for its spectacular shows, so it was no surprise last night at the Kingdome when the band put on an impressive display of technical wizardry and eye-popping special effects. Perhaps no rock group has been so monumentally theatrical.

The famous Kingdome echo was there, but it was diminished by the time-delayed quadraphonic speakers hung throughout the building.

It should be noted that the event was a little less astounding than some of the advance publicity made it out to be. . . . The famous inflated pig didn't soar over the audience, but rather languidly floated overhead off to one side of the main floor - a pig in space - although the big thing sure was ugly, more of a boar than a porker.

Paul McCartney and Wings, March 1990

Paul McCartney filled the Kingdome with nostalgia and celebration last night, using showmanship and charm to evoke the era of the Beatles.

Light-hearted and animated, the graying "cute Beatle" managed to turn the huge media event into an almost intimate experience, drawing himself and the audience closer together by constantly interacting with the crowd.

He mugged and pointed and winked and posed, and flashed the V-sign more times than Richard Nixon did in his whole career. It would have been too much except for the sense of fun and play he brought to it. He was like the Paulie of 25 years ago.

McCartney told the crowd to "let your hair down" before he went into the second tune, "Jet," one of only five songs he performed by Wings, his post-Beatles band of the 1970s. "Welcome to the Kingdome," he said after the song. "It's great to be back." McCartney played Seattle three times before - with the Beatles in 1964 and 1966, and with Wings in 1976.

New Kids on the Block, September 1990

The Kids, on the last leg of a four-month concert tour, brought their glossy, mildly funky rock to a star-starved crowd - primarily young girls in New Kids T-shirts and shorts; girls who whisper the word love, when they speak the hallowed names, Danny, Donnie, Jonathan, Jordan and Joe.

Nearly four hours before the concert, the Kidiacs swarmed in agitated excitement near the Dome. Kurt Logan, Ticketmaster general manager, described the scene:

"It's like a weird Seahawk crowd but there are 12-year-old girls instead of 45-year-old guys with beer bellies."

Nancy Bartley

Guns 'N Roses, Metallica, October 1992

Looking down at the Kingdome floor during anything but a sporting event always feels like "When are the RVs going to get here? Where are the monster trucks? Are the sportsmen coming? Is this the Home Show?"

Last night, no. It was the rock show. 37,000 fans showed up for it. What they got was roughly 7 1/2 hours of lights, cameras, some action, long waits, portable cans, big-screen television, fireworks and music.

- Tom Phalen

December 1994, The Rolling Stones

"The concert . . .roared back to life with "Honky Tonk Women," accompanied by visuals of dozens of women who might qualify for the title, from Betty Boop to Joan Crawford to vintage porno stars to old photos of the Stones themselves, in drag.

Then it was time for Richards' spot. "I see the ceiling's staying up," he quipped, with a hoarse laugh. He sang "Before They Make Me Run" and "The Worst," with Wood again on pedal-steel for the latter.

Then the concert hit its stride, with seven killer rockers in a row.

But the show wasn't over. The band returned for an encore of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," done full bore. As the Stones left the stage, fireworks boomed, flashed and soared.

The show had opened right on time at 7:30 p.m. with a 45-minute set by the Spin Doctors. . . . The sound was surprisingly good, perhaps due to the new Kingdome ceiling's acoustical improvements.

November 1997, The Rolling Stones

Leave it to the venerable Rolling Stones to conquer most of the inherent drawbacks of the mega-concert - i.e., bad, echo-plagued sound - with their huge "Bridges to Babylon" extravaganza. A great sound system made the vocals bright and the instruments clear and distinct - with just a little of the old Kingdome echo - and the huge oval video screen was by far the best ever for a rock concert.

But the most amazing thing about last night's show wasn't its immensity but its intimacy . . .

There was spectacle, of course, starting with the opening video of a meteor that exploded in flames right out of the screen. Then, in the middle of the show, a long metal bridge extended from the main stage to a smaller stage set in the middle of the floor.

That made for a tight, club-like setting for such classic gems as "Little Queenie," "This Could Be the Last Time" and a surprising, invigorating cover of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." Returning to the stage via the audience, the Stones slapped hands and high-fived with fans.

December 1997, U2

It was a night of lasts. The last rock 'n' roll show in the Kingdome and the last night in America for U2's "Pop Mart Tour." And what a fine last night it was.

Lead singer Bono, his vocal problems apparently over, was in classic form, and the huge extravaganza fit the Dome nicely. The mammoth video screen was amazing, projecting close-up shots of the band in action interspersed with incredible, artful visual effects. And the sound was the best ever in the Kingdome, surpassing even the recent Rolling Stones show.

The night had a festive air. Bono interacted with the crowd much more than at the band's Eugene show last May, using a long extension of the stage to get down close to the fans . . .

Explaining - or perhaps apologizing for - the glitzy presentation, he told the crowd, "We wanted to turn a casino into a cathedral."