Lady Gaga’s Headlining Debut At Madison Square Garden: A Right Of Passage For New York Artists

Tonight, Lady Gaga continues her Monster Ball tour in her home town of New York City at Madison Square Garden. Though selling out the World’s Most Famous Arena isn’t all that special (after all, it’s just a hockey arena, and even Dispatch sold the place out), playing a headlining gig at MSG remains a huge stepping stone for artists from the New York area. For hometown heroes, Madison Square Garden isn’t just a place where the Knicks lose or the circus comes to town. Rather, it’s the iconic building where Willis Reed made his amazing comeback in the final game of the 1970 NBA Finals, where Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to win his first WWF Championship, where Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney raised the spirits of New Yorkers after September 11, 2001 and where Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy.

Gaga’s show tonight isn’t actually her first time on the stage at Madison Square Garden, as she opened for New Kids on the Block when they played the venue in the fall of 2008. But this will be her first time as a headliner, which is a big moment in her career. Such debuts were just as significant for the following artists.

Billy Joel
For a kid who grew up on Long Island, playing MSG was a huge deal for Billy Joel. That’s why his first show at the Garden on December 31, 1982 was so significant. Joel went on to play dozens of shows at MSG, including 12 consecutive nights in 2006 (for which a commemorative banner still hangs in the rafters).

50 Cent
The multi-platinum rapper from Queens played one of the biggest shows in his history as part of Eminem’s Anger Management tour on August 8, 2005. Riding high on his recently-released sophomore effort The Massacre, Fiddy tore through hits like “In Da Club” and “Candy Shop.”

Kiss
The legendary theatrical metal band from Queens brought their face paint and fireworks to Madison Square Garden for the first time on February 18, 1977. The band was cruising on the crazy one-two punch of Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over, both of which were released in 1976.

Alicia Keys
Though she has headlined the arena on her own, Keys first found herself as the center of attention at MSG as part of a package tour called Ladies First that included Beyoncé and Missy Elliott. Keys, who was cruising on the success of her second album The Diary of Alicia Keys, found herself on the MSG stage for the first time on April 12, 2004.

The Strokes
OK, so this is a bit of a cheat, as the Strokes made their Madison Square Garden debut at the theater attached to the venue (which only holds about 5,600 people), but considering they had basically played every other venue in the city (from the tiny Arlene’s Grocery to Radio City Music Hall), the building on Seventh Avenue was the final frontier.