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“Everybody say ‘Oh yeah!’” Our Favorite Concerts at the Madison Theatre

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matthew sweet

The bands and musicians that performed over the years at the Madison Theater ran the gamut in genres and styles – from B.B. King and Ray Charles to Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson to Blink 182 and KORN to Fuel and Fu Manchu to O.A.R and…the list goes on and on.

Sadly, it looks like the Madison Theatre will be meeting its final demise sooner than later. And while that is infuriating to us over here at The Peorian (don't get us started), it also gave us a chance to reflect on some of the great shows that our writers have seen at the Madison Theatre during its hay-days back in the mid ‘90s and early 2000s. So check out some of our favorite shows at the Madison Theatre and beyond.* Enjoy!

*Some of our writers never had the good fortune to see a show at the Madison, so they told us about their favorite show or concert at a Madison-like place.

Matthew Sweet/The Wallflowers
By Terry Towery
During my career as a reporter for the Journal Star, I was lucky enough to cover several great concerts in Peoria. Two I covered at the Madison, both in the early- to mid-90s, stand out. One was Matthew Sweet, who totally rocked the joint for more than an hour. His brand of pop-rock was infectious and the crowd loved it. Matthew was friendly and spent a good deal of time chatting with the crowd.

The other was The Wallflowers. Jakob Dylan, son of rock legend Bob Dylan, was as slippery smooth onstage as his dad. He was wearing a fedora, as I recall. The band laid down its jazzy, hypnotic rock in grand fashion. I distinctly remember them playing “One Headlight” and sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

I had a chance to chat with both Sweet and Dylan for a few moments, and I recall both of them being very humble and down-to-earth. What a great place to see a band back in the day.

Matthew Sweet live on Conan:

The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” live:

Squirrel Nut Zippers
By Matt Richmond
A good venue can add a lot to one’s experience of a band, and the Madison is one of those venues. I saw a handful of great shows there. On one dark and drunken Halloween night, the Madison concert experience actually achieved perfection.

As the Zippers blasted out their signature hit “Hell,” I watched from the balcony. A swarm of costumed 20-somethings – flappers and werewolves and spacemen and Power Rangers – danced in the rows below. Above, the colony of bats that called the theater home circled. The balcony steps, the creaky seats, the gorgeous old plasterwork, the vaudeville history and the theater’s spooky state of disrepair came together to create the most captivating concert experience (and one of the coolest Halloweens) I’ll ever know.

If, somehow, the brave folks behind Save the Madison figure out how to save the old girl, I recommend keeping the bats.

Squirrel Nut Zippers performing “Hell” on Letterman:

By Kevin Kizer
They are the most influential group in rap music. They are the kings of rock. And they have peasey hair and still get paid. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the flier promoting Run DMC coming to…the Madison Theatre? Sure, I’d seen plenty of performances at the Madison (John Mayall, Dark Star Orchestra, The Wallflowers [I didn’t see Terry]) but rap? Yes, it was true and on March 23, 2000, rap’s greatest group came to Peoria and put on one incredible show to a crowded house. And I was there along with several friends. What I recall most was the beginning of the concert. It started just like every other Run DMC show with the late, great Jam Master Jay pumping the crowd up by first inciting us to jump then cajoling us to say “yeah”, followed by the familiar scratching into the echoing intro of “Rock Box”: “Run...D…M…C...Live….for you!” And that’s when Joseph “Run” Simmons and Daryl “DMC” McDaniels burst on stage and into their first big hit, “King of Rock”. While I wasn’t able to track down any footage of that great concert, here’s a clip from another show around that same time:

Who’s house? Run’s house!

“The Million Dollar Duck”
Rialto Theater/Joliet
By Ken Zurski
I grew up in the Joliet area so I remember going to the Rialto Theater. I saw a few concerts there like Cheap Trick and Dennis DeYoung from Styx, but my fondest memories go back to the 70s when - as a young boy - my mother, brother and I would take the city bus to downtown Joliet for an afternoon matinee of the latest Disney "live action" movie like "The Millions Dollar Duck." Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan! That's how you went to see the movies back then - at the big theaters or old movie palaces. And the Disney movies came out one almost every year in the early 70's. Others I remember: "The World's Greatest Athlete" and "Now You See Him, Now You Don't." The Rialto was built in 1926 and renovated in the 80s. Now known as the Rialto Square Theater, it's still a terrific place to see a show and considered one of the top theaters in the country. And it's haunted, they phantoms, including a couple that fell to their deaths from the upper balcony. How's that for history!

An epic trailer for a decidedly un-epic movie:

John Mellencamp
Coronado Theater/Rockford
By Tim Cundiff
It is impossible for me to write any type of piece about concerts without mentioning the legendary John Mellencamp (aka John Cougar Mellencamp). John is my hero. In my book, he’s as good as it gets. Or, should I say, “it hurts so good”? I am known to be the biggest Mellencamp fan in central Illinois. I have seen John in concert 14 times, and one of those times was not at the Madison Theater in Peoria. To my knowledge, I am not sure if he ever performed at the Madison. I would challenge the readers to let me know if there is any knowledge of such a concert where this Rock & Roll Hall of Famer ever performed on this stage of this historic venue.

So why am I submitting an article in the first place? I clearly never saw Mellencamp at the Madison. Well, one of my 14 Mellencamp concerts occurred in an historic venue built seven years after the Madison. It was an historic theater designed by the same architect who designed the Madison, Frederick Klein. So basically this theater is the Madison’s younger brother. This theater is the Coronado Theater in Rockford, Illinois. Both venues had been designed in a similar elaborate Italian renaissance style. Both magnificent venues, like two brothers, each had their own similarities and yet their own personal nuances.

For a die-hard fan of John Mellencamp, any venue that he performs becomes a legendary venue. I’ve seen him perform at outdoor amphitheaters, large arenas, a baseball field, on the city-streets of downtown Indianapolis. But there’s no better locale than a timeless, rustic theater. His music takes the listener back in time. He sings about family and farming and anything else related to the Midwestern way of life. He is known as the Poet of the Heartland. He is called a Roots Rocker. His music digs deep into the roots of rock and roll, blues, folk, and country. Digging deep into the history of the venues in which he performs adds yet another element to the experience. On November 18, 2011, I went back in time to watch my hero John Mellencamp perform at the Madison’s younger brother, the Coronado Theater. Now ain’t that America?!

Mellencamp at the Coronado (click ahead to 2:40):

Other bands that played at the Madison, from 1995 to 2003:
John Mayall
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones
Insane Clown Posse
Gov’t Mule
Collective Soul
Toad the Wet Sprocket
Blues Traveler
They Might Be Giants
.38 Special
Widespread Panic
Warren Zevon (Props to Jennifer Gallas for this one!)
Cracker (Props to Jennifer again!!)

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.