The Best Live Bands Of All Time
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For music lovers, nothing beats seeing your favorite band on stage. No matter how many thousands of other people are in the crowd, it can feel like they’re performing just for you.
Plus, going to concerts is linked to a range of health benefits. One study, published in the journal Psychology of Music, found that people who regularly attend musical performances have a higher feeling of well-being than those who don’t. Sign us up for some of that!
So which shows will give you the most bang for your buck? Some of the artists on this list are no longer with us, some have already performed their swan song and others are still touring the world. They all have one thing in common — they’re considered the best live bands of all time, based on the votes of the Ranker community. (Information is correct as of Feb. 21, 2019.)
30. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers toured the world right up until lead singer Tom Petty died suddenly in 2017, at the age of 66. The band’s final tour, which celebrated their 40th anniversary, concluded with three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. The set list included rarely played tracks such as “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which was the first track on their 1976 debut album, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” and which hadn’t been performed live since 1983.
In 1983, four years after battling nerves to promote his debut album “For You” in front of only a few hundred people, Prince strutted his stuff on stage with James Brown and Michael Jackson. According to Time Magazine, the 25-year-old Prince was the star of the show. Over the next 20 years, he enthralled audiences with his erotically-charged performances. His 2007 appearance at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium (now the Hard Rock Stadium) remains one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.
28. Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley was known as “The King,” and he was certainly the king of performing. Starting with his first Memphis show in 1954, he toured constantly, entertaining millions of people all over the world.
His final gig was in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977, only six weeks before he died. As he often did, he closed the show with his 1961 hit “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Presley’s gigs also made history — one of his most notable concerts, “Elvis-Aloha from Hawaii,” was the first live show by a solo artist to be beamed worldwide by satellite.
27. Deep Purple
Not only one of the best live bands of all time, Deep Purple is also up there with the loudest. They were even listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the globe’s loudest band” for a 1972 concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre, which reportedly rendered three fans unconscious. Since their formation in 1968, Deep Purple have toured the world in various lineups. To promote their twentieth studio album, “Infinite,” the band embarked upon the 2017 Long Goodbye Tour, which drummer Ian Paice suggested would be their last.
The Eagles disbanded in 1980 but reunited in 1994 for the album “Hell Freezes Over” and have toured consistently since then. After singer and guitarist Glenn Frey died in January 2016, drummer Don Henley said he didn’t think the band would perform again, but in 2017 and 2018 they played sell-out gigs with musicians Vince Gill and Frey’s son, Deacon, to rave reviews.
25. Foo Fighters
In addition to several global stadium tours, Foo Fighters have headlined music festivals, played intimate gigs and even played a crowd-funded concert in Richmond, Virginia. The band members themselves consider their 2008 gig at London’s Wembley Arena to be one of their most memorable. Lead singer Dave Grohl told NME, “that was huge for me because we never imagined we would get to the point we could do something like that.”
24. The Allman Brothers Band
One of the most legendary gigs in the history of The Allman Brothers Band took place on March 13, 1971, at Fillmore East Theater in New York. The band gave the audience nearly 23 minutes of “Whipping Post,” the last song on the band’s first album and a staple of their live shows. Three months later, the Allman Brothers Band returned to Fillmore East to give the venue a memorable sendoff before it closed its doors for the last time, playing until dawn.
23. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Rock legend Jimi Hendrix recorded three hit albums with The Jimi Hendrix Experience. One of the band’s most electrifying shows was at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, kicking off the first U.S. tour for the band. They played hits like “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze” and, at the end of their performance, after his rendition of “Wild Thing,” Hendrix poured lighter fluid over his black Fender Stratocaster, setting it on fire.
22. Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper’s live shows, known for their theatrical elements, bring his tracks to life. Described as a “shock-rock” anti-hero, Cooper delighted British audiences in 2017 when he reunited with his original band for his first U.K. tour in five years. (The band quit at their peak when they reportedly grew tired of the singer’s operatic tendencies.) Today, at the age of 71, Cooper shows no sign of slowing down.
21. Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead were among the most consistent U.S. tourers of all time. With the exception of a year-long hiatus in 1975 and a handful of foreign gigs, they toured the U.S. constantly from the winter of 1965 until summer 1995. If it wasn’t for the death of lead guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia that year, they’d probably still be touring today. The remaining bandmates have toured in various arrangements together and separately since Garcia’s death.
20. David Bowie
The inimitable David Bowie, who died days after his 69th birthday in 2016, loved to push boundaries with his live performances. He also loved to cause a stir. At the end of a gig at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on July 3, 1973, he preceded the final encore of “Rock and Roll Suicide” with the announcement that it was the final Ziggy Stardust show ever. This left fans wondering if Bowie would ever tour again, but of course he did. He returned the next year with a very different image and sound, epitomized by the soul-inspired “Young Americans.”
19. The Beatles
Audiences’ responses to seeing The Fab Four on stage made their live shows even more remarkable than the music itself. On Aug. 19, 1965 — at the very height of Beatlemania — the band played two gigs at Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston, Texas.
“It sounds like the Beatles are drenched in sweat, and loving it,” wrote Rolling Stone. Another gig that stood out was on Aug. 29, 1966, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California, during their final U.S. tour. When the band left the stage, John Lennon played a few notes of “In My Life” on his guitar.
18. Pearl Jam
At the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle on Oct. 22, 1990, a band known as Mookie Blaylock made their live debut in front of a crowd of 300 people. Almost 30 years later, that band is called Pearl Jam and they regularly sell out the biggest venues in the world. In June 2018, the band had to cancel their second night at London’s O2 with just hours to go after singer Eddie Vedder lost his voice and was unable to perform. But a month later, Pearl Jam gave those fans a spectacular apology, delivering a three-hour set to close the European leg of their world tour.
17. Guns N’ Roses
Following years of line-up changes, Guns N’ Roses’ classic line-up (Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler) reformed in 2016 and embarked on the “Not In This Lifetime” tour — named after Rose’s 2012 response when he was asked if the original group would ever reform. The tour included their first U.K. gig in 24 years and, after the death of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell in May 2017, the GNR setlist included a cover of “Black Hole Sun.”
Kiss is currently on their final tour ever, the “End of the Road” world tour, marking the end of a 45-year career. However, it’s not the first time they’ve said it would be the last time, so who knows what the future holds?
“People change their minds, and in this case that goes along with being a living, thinking person. What one says one day with total commitment may at another time turn out not to be so,” rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley said in 2002, two years after singer Gene Simmons announced the end of the band.
15. The Doors
One of The Doors’ live shows is infamous for reasons beyond their show-stopping hits like “Break on Through” and “Light My Fire.” On March 1, 1969, during a gig at the Miami’s Dinner Key Auditorium, singer Jim Morrison started to scream at the audience and police officers lined up in front of the stage. He then exposed himself to the crowd. He was arrested four days later but died while the case was still under appeal.
Rush haven’t performed live together since they wrapped their R40 Live Tour in 2015, and the departure of legendary drummer Neil Peart (described as “the single greatest drummer alive” by Rolling Stone) suggests that their gigging days could be behind them. However, the remaining members, vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, haven’t completely ruled out future shows, giving hope to millions of fans who’ve enjoyed their incredible shows for over 40 years.
13. Van Halen
Formed in 1972 by brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Van Halen is one of the best-selling rock and roll bands of all time. Van Halen’s most recent tour ended in 2015 (during which they delighted audiences with songs they hadn’t played for decades, such as “Light Up The Sky” and “Feel Your Love Tonight”), but there might be another stadium tour in the cards.
Aerosmith’s 2017 “Aero-vederci Baby!” tour, which saw the band visit 15 countries in three months, was billed as their final tour, with their last ever U.K. show taking place at the Download Festival. However, in true Aerosmith style, their future remains uncertain. In a spoof news announcement, banana-wielding lead singer Steven Tyler asks bandmate Joe Perry if there’s “any truth to the rumors that this could be the last hurrah,” to which Perry replies, “Who knows?”
11. Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden was relentless on the concert circuit. Between Aug. 1984 and July 1985, they undertook one of the longest rock tours in history to promote their fifth album, “Powerslave.” The band is known for their impressive stage sets, which have included a reproduction of a First World War trench, a papier-mâché mask that squirted fake blood and futuristic artwork, complete with plenty of flashing lights and fire, of course.
“Zoo TV,” U2’s first tour of the ’90s, delivered a sophisticated, polished show made to match their groundbreaking smash-hit 1991 album “Achtung Baby.” It was at this time that singer Bono adopted an alter ego he called the Fly, and he rarely broke character throughout the entire tour.
In 2018, Bono devastated fans by ending the last show of the “Experience + Innocence” tour with the cryptic statement, “We’ve been on the road for quite some time, just going on 40 years, and this last four years have been really something very special for us. We’re going away now.”
9. Jimi Hendrix
One of Hendrix’s most memorable performances was at Woodstock in 1969, where he played an uninterrupted set that was one of the longest of his career — almost two hours. The final medley included the national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner.” By this time, Hendrix had parted ways with his band The Jimi Hendrix Experience, so he was joined by a group he put together called Gypsy Suns and Rainbows.
8. Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen’s live performances are known for their off-the-scale energy — and his audiences need plenty of stamina, too. Not all of his shows run as long as his show in Helsinki, Finland, on July 31, 2012 (just over four hours), but you definitely get your money’s worth. Springsteen sees his shows as true collaborations between him and his audience, and he tends to take requests and frequently ditch the setlist in favor of impromptu covers.
Metallica made rock history when they played at Moscow’s Tushino Airfield on Sept. 28, 1991, as part of Monster of Rock ’91. It was supposedly the first free show to feature international rock stars in Russia. It also broke a personal record for the band; more than a million people turned up to see them play, making it their highest-attended concert to date.
6. The Rolling Stones
The Stones stopped touring in 2007 but got back on the road in 2012 with their “50 & Counting” tour to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary — and 50 years with members of the original line-up (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood), which is no mean feat in itself.
Guests included Mary J. Blige, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Lady Gaga, Florence Welch and Bruce Springsteen. Mick Taylor, who was a member of the Rolling Stones from 1969 to 1974, also made appearances throughout the tour.
Australian rock band AC/DC started touring in the mid-1970s and continue to perform today, with Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose on board (he replaced Brian Johnson in 2016). One of their biggest tours was the 20-month “Black Ice” tour, which saw them return to Argentina for the first time in 13 years. Three dates in Buenos Aires formed the basis of their concert movie, “AC/DC: Live at the River Plate.”
“Those fans were as crazy as they’ve ever been,” said guitarist Angus Young of the Argentinian audiences.
4. The Who
British rockers The Who have toured regularly since the early 1960s, but one gig in particular stands out for lead guitarist Pete Townshend: the band’s 1970 Valentine’s Day show at the University of Leeds. In front of 2,000 fans, the band played a staggering 38 songs, including a version of “My Generation” that lasted for almost 15 minutes. According to Townshend, it was “the greatest audience we’ve ever played to.”
3. Pink Floyd
One of Pink Floyd’s most innovative — and memorable — tours followed the release of their ambitious 1979 album “The Wall.” They even built an actual wall in the first half of each show, and spent most of the second half behind it, hidden from the audience. The audience could have done with hard hats; in a dramatic conclusion to the show, the wall fell down.
“The first couple of bricks would terrify people in the front rows,” revealed guitarist David Gilmour. “The audience would think they were going to be killed.”
2. Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin frequently sold out arenas and stadiums around the world during the 1960s and ’70s. In the U.S., they played at Madison Square Garden more than any other venue. Their three-night stint at the Garden in July 1973 eventually became a best-selling feature-length film and soundtrack called “The Song Remains the Same,” featuring fan favorites “Black Dog,” “The Ocean” and “Misty Mountain Hop.”
Since the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, Queen’s remaining members Brian May and Roger Taylor (John Deacon left the band in 1997) have toured with vocalists Paul Rodgers (2004 to 2009) and Adam Lambert (from 2011). Of course, there’s only one Freddie Mercury, but Lambert has impressed fans and critics alike for embracing his role without trying to replace the original frontman. Notably, Lambert’s first American Idol audition — he was runner-up on the show’s eighth season — was with “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Jimi Hendrix’s nationality. We regret the error.