Satisfied with your Pandora station or Spotify app and convinced your fancy headphones offer up as good an experience as — or better than — a live concert? If you answered yes, how wrong you are!
Sure, there can be downsides to live concerts, including pricey tickets, traffic hassles, and intoxicated people everywhere you turn. But few things beat the exciting experience of seeing and hearing a performer live, in front of your eyes — of seeing a band or musician you love and enjoying their music with thousands of other fans in real time.
Some concerts are better than others. Some performers appear flat and even boring behind a microphone onstage. Others rely on showy tricks like laser lights and explosions to justify the expensive ticket prices. Some concerts, though, are absolutely iconic. They can mark a milestone not just in the history of that particular performer or band but a milestone in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Here’s a look at five outstanding concerts of all time. If you don’t see your favorites here — tell us about it at [email protected]
1.) Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival, July 25, 1965. One of the most iconic folk performers of the 1960s, the crooner ignited a huge controversy when he took the stage at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, Rhode Island. He stepped onstage and plugged in his guitar. In fact, his backup band included both a piano and an organ player — and this suddenly forced the folk music movement to figure out how it really differed from rock.
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Revered folk singer Pete Seeger famously threw a furious tantrum after hearing the band play an electric version of “Bringing It All Back Home.” Later, Seeger excused the episode as something caused by distortion and his inability to understand Dylan’s lyrics — but for Dylan, this was the beginning of his electric phase, which brought us his landmark albums, “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.”
For the record, his six-song playlist that set the folk festival on fire on July 25, 1965, was: “Maggie’s Farm,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Phantom Engineer,” “It’s All Over Now,” “Baby Blue,” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
2.) The Beatles at Shea Stadium, Aug.15, 1965. Sixty thousand fans jammed the fabled baseball stadium in New York City. They screamed so loudly the entire concert it was hard to hear the Fab Four as they celebrated the release of their 13th album, “Help!”
New songs like “Ticket to Ride” and the title track mixed in with “I Feel Fine,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “A Hard Day’s Night” gave them plenty to play that offered a more modern sound, while the opening number, “Twist and Shout,” harkened back to their early Quarrymen tunes.
It was the height of Beatlemania, and no one had ever seen such a phenomenon — fans went insane with their adoration of the band and its members. John, Paul, George and Ringo all got their share of love that night as the lads were absolutely mobbed in one of the best-attended concerts in history. They were famously introduced by TV host Ed Sullivan as “honored by their country, decorated by their Queen, and loved here in American … Here are … the Beatles!”
“At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain,” John Lennon was famously quoted as saying about the performance.
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3.) Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, June 18, 1967. Tickets sold for $3 to $6.50 each. In addition to the absolutely electrifying performance of Hendrix, the festival offered the first major U.S. appearances of The Who, Ravi Shankar, Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding. Hendrix turned his guitar amplifier into an instrument all its own, turning it up to the max and integrating the shrill scream of the feedback into his performance.
Ever the guerrilla performer, Hendrix ended his set with the song, “Wild Thing” — then set his guitar on fire, smashed it on the stage, and threw the charred remains into the audience. The Village Voice famously wrote that his performance was “the dawning of an instrumental technique so effortlessly fecund and febrile that rock has yet to equal it.”
Indeed, Rolling Stone listed Jimi Hendrix as the best rock guitarist of all time, saying “his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent sixties.”
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4.) Bruce Springsteen at the Roxy, July 7, 1978. At the Roxy Theater in West Hollywood, California, a young performer named Bruce Springsteen and his backup group The E-Street Band set the L.A. night on fire. Just a month after the release of his platinum “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Springsteen was already the voice of disaffected blue-collar Americans with his classic rock ‘n’ roll sound and brash lyrics. Previous albums were about hot rods and a mythic ’50s America, but “Darkness” set Springsteen as the moral compass of a generation; his performance at the Roxy exhibited that in all its raw glory.
Nearly all the songs he performed that night were later released as the live album “Roxy Night,” including “Prove It All Night,” “Spirit in the Night,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “Fire,” “Because the Night,” his fantastic cover of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Twist and Shout,” and his smash hit “Born to Run.”
Springsteen biographer Dave Marsh claimed in his 2003 book “Two Hearts: The Story” that the ’78 tour was a highlight of Springsteen’s concerts: “The screaming intensity of those ’78 shows [including in Cleveland; Passaic, New Jersey; and San Francisco] are part of rock and roll legend.”
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5.) The Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, June 4, 1976. It was the mid ’70s in England’s rough, blue-collar city of Manchester when a group of wild boys with names like Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, and Paul Cook jumped on stage and played a quick but incredibly energetic 13-song set, including covers of “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” “No Fun,” “Substitute,” and “What’cha Gonna Do About It.”
They shocked the relatively small club audience — and punk rock was born. The young men’s rage against the system exploded on stage at the Lesser Free Trade Hall during this gig.
Still not convinced the show was that profound for the English music scene? In the audience for this particular concert were musicians who would later create The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, Simply Red, and The Smiths.
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Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has been writing about consumer electronics, technology, and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com.