It’s the Met’s first anniversary, and Madonna is coming to celebrate
When the 3,400-seat Met on North Broad Street reopened a year ago, it was far from clear whether yet another theater-sized venue could thrive in the city’s already-crowded concert landscape.
Bob Dylan opened the place and liked it so much that he came back 11 months later.
Madonna arrives on North Broad Street this coming week and plans to stay four nights.
In the year following its $56 million renovation, the Met Philadelphia has hosted rockers, rappers, comedians, boxers, and podcasters.
When Dylan and his band first stood under the proscenium arch last Dec. 3, it was far from clear whether the capacious, 3,400-seat Met could thrive in the city’s already-crowded concert landscape.
“The question was: How could Philadelphia handle another venue of this size?” recalls Geoff Gordon, the local head of Live Nation, the concert-promotion giant that operates and books the Met.
The answer has been to put on so many in-demand shows that — in the space of a year — the Met has redrawn Philadelphia’s concertgoing map.
Fans who were used to going to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, or the Academy of Music or the Kimmel Center in Center City, or the Fillmore in Fishtown now also need to head to Broad and Poplar Streets.
The grand showplace known as the Metropolitan Opera House when impresario Oscar Hammerstein I first turned on the lights in 1908 has flourished in its new incarnation as an all-purpose venue.
Live Nation has booked more than 140 shows since the Met opened — with 20 more coming this month. That makes it the busiest of the area’s large-scale concert venues. The gilded music palace has hosted sold-out shows with all manner of pop acts, from up-to-the-minute chart-toppers to legacy artists.
This year’s top Grammy nominees — rapper-singer-flautist Lizzo and teen-goth star Billie Eilish — came through to inspire pandemonium. Philly rap hero Meek Mill rocked the house. Seventies’ jazz-rock band Steely Dan settled in for a recent three-night residency.
Kacey Musgraves brought the yee-haw, and comic John Oliver the guffaw. Besides Dylan, legends have included Patti Smith and Herbie Hancock. A Beatle, too: Ringo Starr played in August, and is due back with his All-Starr Band in June.
The Met will celebrate its first anniversary with Madonna, who on Dec. 7 begins a four-show run on her Madame X tour of venues much smaller than the arenas to which she’s accustomed. (A giant banner advertising the visitation has hung across the building’s Broad Street facade since May.)
Before she arrives though, anniversary week will already have gotten started Sunday with two Philly Pops “Uptown Christmas” shows.
The birthday celebration continues Dec. 3 with “A Night At The Met” with Trey Anastasio-led jam band Phish. Tickets for the sold-out show at “the smallest venue the band has played in nearly 20 years,” according to the band’s website, were free to Sirius/XM satellite radio contest winners.
The next night, She & Him — singer-actress Zooey Deschanel and guitarist M. Ward — bring their Christmas Party to the venue.
The Met is spurring growth along the North Broad Street corridor and in its Francisville neighborhood, where the population has already “increased exponentially” due to gentrification, says Penelope Jordan-Giles, founder of the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Live Nation has hired 300 full- or part-time employees. On show nights, thousands of people are on the street, packing eateries like upscale Italian restaurant Osteria and cheesesteak joint Jimmy G’s.
The city doesn’t track economic impact data on specific projects, says Kevin Lessard of the Commerce Department of Philadelphia, but “the ripple effects of the Met’s reopening have had a positive effect for local businesses.”
“Overall, it’s been positive,” says Jordan-Giles of the FNDC. “For the Airbnb community, it’s been very good. And we’ve been looking forward to routing some of that foot traffic to Ridge Avenue and other commercial spaces." A negative? “When you try to drive around when they have a concert.”
The Met’s renovation transformed the vast, gorgeously contoured room from a beautiful ruin — on view in Terry Gilliam’s 1995 science-fiction movie 12 Monkeys — to an alluring showplace.
But while it’s pretty, it’s not perfect. There’s an impressive amount of leg room in the floor seats, including the rows in front of the stage that sometimes are removed, such as for Philly rapper PnB Rock, who returns on Dec. 28. (Never fear, long-standing Madonna fans: The Madame X shows are seated.)
Legs can get cramped up in the loge, though. And while the venue’s acoustics are generally spectacular, the sound tends to get muffled in the back of the orchestra under the overhanging balcony. Since the upper levels gently slope rather than rise dramatically, the room feels vast, impressing more with grandeur than intimacy.
Sitting in an orchestra seat as songwriter Sara Barielles’ band sound-checked for a show on a November afternoon (Sting had played the night before), Gordon remembers “nail-biting time,” wondering if enough bathrooms would be ready for Dylan on opening night.
The 53-year-old promoter jokes that he was never worried about the venue — a partnership between Live Nation and developer Eric Blumenfeld, who co-owns the building with the Holy Ghost Headquarters Church, which saved the building from demolition in 1996 — except for “every waking moment.”
Between Dylan’s first show last December and his return last week, upgrades have been made.
A 3,200-piece, $300,000 crystal chandelier, which takes a full minute to rise to the ceiling before every performance, made its first appearance at the Boyz II Men show last February. (The Philly vocal trio will be back on Valentine’s Day 2020.)
The proscenium, decorated with gold-painted rosettes, now has a classy blue valance. The Grande Salle, the barrel-ceilinged luxe lounge, debuted at a Mariah Carey show in April. The venue gets spiffier all the time, though the blotchy floor still needs a paint job.
The Met’s busy schedule is partially due to its newness. It’s the cool room everybody wants to play.
The extra-wide 94-foot stage can accommodate acts that would otherwise require an arena.
While Madonna’s show is scaled down, it’s still a major production. Gordon says the tour might have skipped Philadelphia were it not for the Met, because there’s not another theater big enough to hold it.
The Met was particularly busy this past summer because shows formerly staged at the Festival Pier needed a home after that venue’s site fell prey to real estate developers. Gordon offered no news on whether Live Nation expects to have a new outdoor venue ready to replace it by next summer.
The real key to the Met’s success, Gordon says, is the growth of the city.
“I’m an activity-breeds-activity guy,” he says. “More shows means more people thinking about live music means more people in interested in seeing shows.”
In its first year, the Met “far exceeded the plan,” the Live Nation chief says. “Show count, audience reaction, economic impact in the neighborhood.” (From every Met ticket sold, 25 cents goes to the Fund for Philadelphia Schools, with over $75,000 raised.)
For Gordon, the Met has been gratifying, “It’s a highlight. It’s hard to top this," he says.
“It’s really about the convergence of the growth of the city with an amazing building that deserved this.”