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Famous last concerts in Chicago, from the Grateful Dead to the Replacements

Written by
Brent DiCrescenzo

The surviving members of the Grateful Dead have announced they will reunite this summer, July 3–5, for a 50th anniversary and farewell celebration at Soldier Field. Trey Anastasio of Phish fills in for Jerry Garcia, naturally. But this is not the Dead's first final concert in Chicago. Nearly 20 years to the day, on July 8 and 9, 1995, the jam godfathers performed for the last time with Jerry Garcia in the same stadium (before it looked like a UFO humping the Parthenon). One month after his final notes on "Box of Rain" faded in the encore, Garcia would die of a heart attack.

Chicago has played host to several famous goodbyes. We certainly can't boast like San Francisco, which hosted the final shows of the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, James Brown and the Band. Still, there's some history here. Let's take a look at some memorable last performances—and one that never was.

The Replacements, Taste of Chicago, July 4, 1991
It was fitting that Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson reunited the Mats at Riot Fest in 2013. The punk icons played their final gig at the Petrillo Music Shell on the 4th of July. With a Bulls championship banner behind them, the infamously unpredictable quartet closed with their instrument-swapping jest, "Hootenany." By that point, guitarist Bob Stinson had passed and drummer Chris Mars had quit. So just 50% of the original members, as at Riot Fest, but it still feels more legitimately "the Replacements" somehow.

The Clash, Aragon, May 17, 1984
The last time the Clash played on American soil was in Uptown. Of course, most fans hardly consider this late iteration of the band the Clash. Even Joe Strummer, the one keeping the legend on life support, later felt regret for beating a dead horse. Mick Jones was out of the group, replaced by a couple pub-punk nobodies on guitar, and there was a ringer on drums, too. The Clash in name only, the band recorded the dull and pointless Cut the Crap album. The ballroom was overstuffed nonetheless. 

The Smashing Pumpkins, Metro, December 2, 2000
Oh, sure, you will find a "Smashing Pumpkins" atop festival bills in 2015. The name is now an abbreviation for "the only way people will pay to see Billy Corgan's solo career." Yeah, yeah, yeah, Billy played most of everything in the studio, supposedly, but James Iha was essential. His final gig with the Pumpkins was fittingly a hometown closer at the venue most important to the band. Rick Nielsen and Billy Corgan, Sr. sat in for a couple tunes in the encore. Iha got the spotlight for a moment, too, singing one of his handful of Pumpkins tunes, "Go," from Machina II.

Ministry, House of Blues, May 12, 2008 / Vic Theatre, June 28, 29, 2012
Another local act to appropriately fall apart at home, twice, was industry pioneer Ministry. Frankly, this would be a lot cooler if Al Jourgensen had thrown in the towel ages earlier, before releasing a string of dreadful nu-metal albums with food-pun titles like Houses of the Molé and From Beer to Eternity. After those House of Blues gigs, Jourgensen swore it was over, shifting his focus to unsolicited Blackhawks hockey themes. Yet the band briefly reunited four years later, closing out a brief U.S. tour at the Vic.

Frank Sinatra, United Center, October 22, 1994
Though Ol' Blue Eyes would hit a few casinos before kicking the bucket, his final tour ended at the spanking new United Center, which was a couple months old at the time. Guess what song he closed with. (Hint: It's about a toddlin' town.)

Led Zeppelin, Chicago Stadium, November 10, 12–13, 15, 1980 (kinda sorta)
The prior home to the Bulls and Hawks could have gone down in rock & roll history as well. The arena was to host the final dates of a Zep American tour. Unfortunately, drummer John Bonham choked on his vomit after downing 40 shots and died on September 25. In December, the band announced it was no more. These gigs now hold the Guinness World Record for Most Unused Concert Tickets Bought by an Individual, as collector Michael Dehn snapped up 79,652 of 'em for $9,000 in 1986.

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