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A plan to demolish The Middle East in Cambridge is in the works, so we’re looking back at the legendary music venue.

 

The first report we saw came via Cambridge Day last Friday. Given the nature of the holiday weekend, other news outlets are reporting on the story this week. And it’s a big story! The Middle East opened in Central Square in Cambridge over 50 years ago, in 1970. At first, The Middle East was just a quiet restaurant featuring Lebanese fare. The only musical entertainment? The occasional belly dancer. That all changed in the 1980s.

 

Local music promoter Billy Ruane–a legend in his own right–was throwing a birthday bash next door to The Middle East at T.T. The Bear’s Place. He convinced Middle East’s owners to let his party spill into their restaurant, complete with the musical entertainment he’d booked. From that moment on, there was no looking back. Throughout the ’80s, into the ’90s and beyond, The Middle East Upstairs, The Middle East Downstairs, The Corner, and Zuzu became the preeminent live music destinations in Cambridge.

 

The Middle East in Cambridge: 7 Top Shows

Now, the Central Square landmark is set for a date with the wrecking ball. This comes as no surprise: the club’s owners, even before purchasing the property outright in 2014, have tinkered with the idea of building up and developing on top of the buildings. They even listed the property in early 2020, but there were no buyers. Now, according to the Cambridge Day piece, the plan is to demolish the entire complex and build anew. The new build would include a boutique hotel and multiple entertainment venues. But plans are still foggy; it remains to be seen what the final product will include.

 

So while we wait, I’ll take you through a half-dozen Middle East shows that are legendary (to me).

  • Failure, March 4, 1997

    The California rock band Failure is responsible for one of my all-time favorite albums, Fantastic Planet. Seeing them on that tour was a dream come true. Fun fact: they opened for Local H, who were so loud I left the show early.

    Failure Setlist at The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge

    Get the Failure Setlist of the concert at The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA, USA on March 4, 1997 from the Fantastic Planet Tour and other Failure Setlists for free on setlist.fm!

  • The Promise Ring, October 1997

    I took a date to see emo legends The Promise Ring and some guy got up on stage and proposed to his girlfriend, then the band played a song for the two to dance to. It doesn’t get much more emo than that.

  • Mogwai, September 4, 1999

    Speaking of loud, Glasgow post-rockers Mogwai were the very definition, opening with their 16-minute opus “Mogwai Fear Satan.” I was right up against the speakers. It was a religious experience and the first time I’d ever seen the band live. I’ve since seen them 9 more times.

    Mogwai Setlist at The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge

    Get the Mogwai Setlist of the concert at The Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA, USA on September 4, 1999 and other Mogwai Setlists for free on setlist.fm!

  • My Morning Jacket, November 29, 2001

    I got to see My Morning Jacket at the Middle East Up play for like 100 people before they blew up on the night before Thanksgiving in 2001 and no one can ever take that away from me. That is all.

  • Robby Roadsteamer, April 2005

    The Robby Roadsteamer upset in the Finals of the 2005 WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble is still one of the darkest moments in Boston rock history.

  • Mighty Mighty Bosstones, December 29, 2008

    I missed out on the Hometown Throwdowns of the ’90s, so it was a treat to bring the Mighty Mighty Bosstones out on stage at the Mid East Down back for the ’08 Throwdown. I had so much fun I barely remember it!

  • Frank Turner, November 2, 2011

    Folk punk Frank Turner puts on one of the best live shows you’ve ever seen. What made this one special was running into pretty much every one I knew from the Boston music scene, as we were all at the show.