a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, December 8, 2008

Groovy dinos spark thoughts to render Mellon Arena extinct

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A fourth-grade field trip to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus four decades ago at the Civic Arena was the last time I sat in one room with thousands of sugared-up kids until Sunday.

So with mild hesitation, I accepted a friend’s invitation last weekend to accompany her to what is now known as Mellon Arena and witness “Walking With Dinosaurs,” a spectacular show based on an award-winning BBC television series.

But, this crowd of boys and girls sat mesmerized for nearly two hours at one amazing show that mixes strobe lights, scientific knowledge, puppetry and animatronics to bring ancient creatures to life. I was equally as impressed by the production.

“That was awesome,” an 11-year-old boy within earshot exclaimed during the curtain call.

In all, 17 "creatures" glide across the floor at various intervals while a paleontologist sidesteps being trampled by them as he explains life on earth some 65 million years ago. The Brachiosaurus, which stands 36 feet tall and measures 56 feet long, is the biggest of them to roar.

However, baby T. rex steals the show as it screams for attention, dwarfed by its overprotective mother, before they disappear backstage and a giant meteorite slams into the Gulf of Mexico to render dinosaurs extinct. The lights glow red, then flicker into blue circles that hover above the room to mimic flocks of birds, animals that are the only descendants of the dinosaur era.

The light show serves in my head as a sober reminder of the days when clouds of marijuana smoke accompanied Pink Floyd or Charlie Daniels concerts at this landmark in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa.

The place has seen its share of stoned stars since Judy Garland opened the stage Sept. 17, 1961.

But like many a pop star, time has taken its toll on the almost-iconic building that looks like an upside-down, shiny silver metal bowl planted in the center of the city. The rest rooms, for example, smell as if 10,000 too many Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fans peed on their floors, creating urine stenches that long Clorox baths couldn’t erase.

The orange seats sag in the igloo. There are many places where overhangs obstruct the views of the floor. Basically, the place has become a dump. Maybe it is time for the building to take its final curtain call after the Penguins' new home down the street opens in two years.

(Caption: Mellon Arena can be seen in the photo, above, in the distance when Duquesne University built a new campus bridge in 2006)


Alison said...

I saw my first concert ever at the Civic Arena. It was U2, April 9, 1985. I was almost 15, and it was the first concert my mom let me go to.

Later on I realized the value of the Syria Mosque. RIP. I saw so many good concerts there. INXS, New Order, The Tubes, and Utopia...

And I think the last concert I saw at the Civic Arena was the Grateful Dead, sometime in 1988 or 89. I know I saw The Monkees there. o_O

Thanks for the memories, in any case.

Scott Beveridge said...

Fleetwood Mac's "last" tour there sometime around 1978 stands out in my mind as the best show that I have ever seen at the arena.