Bingeworthy: Capitol Theatre’s (Passaic) 1971-84 Trove of Concert Videos

Capitol Theatre

Just in time – no more VHS players will be made very soon. Above: a young Michael Stipe.

By Uncle Blurt

From around 1971 to the middle of the ’90s the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey, hosted pretty much every major and mid-major rock act on the planet, and some of those concerts (think: Springsteen, P-Funk and the Dead) went on to attain legendary status. Yours truly caught shows there whenever traveling to the Northeast, including the Pretenders, the Who, and R.E.M. The storied venue, which had been built in 1926 and originally hosted vaudeville shows and, later, XXX films (a brief history can be found at Wikipedia), eventually closed, and was demolished in ’91. But along the way it birthed a slew of classic bootleg, both video and audio, and of high quality as many of them were taken directly from the Capitol’s in-house video setup that allowed concertgoers in the nosebleed seats to watch closeups of the action down below on the stage. (A multi-night residencyin ’78  by Springsteen and his E Street Band remains a hugely popular video boot.) Initially the filming was done in black and white, but at once point the venue switched over to color.

More recently, artists have been putting films of their performances online via Music Vault, which established its well-trafficked YouTube page in 2013. How well-trafficked, you ask? How about over 109,000 subscribers and nearly 30,000,000 views. And not just clips – we’re talking full concerts. Just a quick scan reveals that everything from the aforementioned Springsteen show and a killer Parliament-Funkadelic show from ’78 to multiple Grateful Dead events, Allman Brothers and Jethro Tul [Hey, hey, hey! – Ed.], to Talking Heads, Lou Reed, and Cheap Trick.

Just to give you a taste, below you can watch a clip from the R.E.M. concert I attended; they don’t have the complete show posted for some reason, although readers with sharp memories may remember that it was aired on MTV way back in the day… Meanwhile, there’s also a Facebook page dedicated to preserving memories and memorabilia about the Capitol, and you can see it right here. It’s a pretty lively community.

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