The Top Live Performances Throughout Rock History

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting to see your favorite bands live. The atmosphere, the cheering crowd, the unmatched excitement of hundreds or even thousands of people singing in unison. That comfort of the music you love right there in front of you is the reason we’re all ready to pay an arm and a leg to stand there for hours and watch it happen live.
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Watching your favorite musicians — mega-stars or not — is always exciting. But there are some bands that are universally known for putting on an unforgettable live show. Let’s take a look at who they are…

Grateful Dead

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Grateful Dead are at the top of this list. The band, formed in 1965, quickly rose to great popularity with their eclectic musical style of folk, rock, blues, jazz, psychedelic, country, and even a bit of gospel.

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Their concerts were known for long instrumental jams and a devoted following commonly known as “Deadheads.”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

One of the longest-running bands to date, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, had a very successful 40-years-long career, which suddenly came to an end when Petty himself died in 2017.

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The band, which was formed in 1976, is characterized by its catchy, southern rock style and has a large number of classics, such as “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down,” which are certainly still considered party favorites.

Deep Purple

Rising to popularity in the late 60s-70s, Deep Purple gained a place amongst the greats at rock legends. The British band is considered one of the pioneers of modern hard rock and heavy metal and has earned a place in the “unholy trinity” alongside Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.

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In 1975, they were enlisted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s loudest band for a show played at the rainbow theater in 1972. They were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 2002.

Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire is a Montreal-based indie rock band phenomenon that formed in 2001. All of their albums are extremely well received. However, their 2010 album “Suburbs” won them critical acclaim and a Grammy.

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Their live shows are quite a spectacle, with various gimmicks such as paper mâché heads, visual effects, Haitian percussionists, and more.

Eagles

The Eagles, formed in 1971, have churned out quite a number of universally loved rock hits. None are quite so famous as “Hotel California,” which was released in 1976 and remains a beloved classic.

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It is one of the world’s top-selling bands, having sold over 200 million records worldwide. Their overall style has been commonly referred to as “California Rock.”

The Black Keys

With a refreshingly retro style for a modern band, The Black Keys started as an underground “garage band.” They rose to critical acclaim, bringing them to the forefront of modern rock and a number of Grammy awards.

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The band’s throwback style comes from their old-school recording style, removing the overly edited sound of most recording studios. The duo first gained popularity through their live performances, with a relatively small following before later growing to international fame.

Foo Fighters

Thanks to frontman Dave Grohl, former drummer for Nirvana, the Foo Fighters have now enjoyed an illustrious multi-decade career.

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The band has won a total of 12 Grammys, and their 2008 performance in Wembley is still considered one of the best live performances of all time. They are still going strong, continuously creating and releasing new music for their millions of fans.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails, or more popularly known as NIN, is an American industrial rock band formed in 1988 in Ohio by Trent Reznor.

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Frontman and lead singer Reznor is a multi-instrumentalist and captivates audiences at their live shows with his musical genius.  The album “Pretty Hate Machine,” which was released in 1989, is still deemed as one of the most iconic rock albums of all time.

Prince

The wildly talented artist Prince (then The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, then back to Prince) was a  singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, dancer, and actor.

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He wrote his first song at age seven. Prince’s most memorable record is “Purple Rain,” which was released in 1984 with a subsequent film. His performances were hypnotic both because of his flamboyant style and his mastery of his craft.

Mumford & Sons

Mumford & Sons, a British folk-rock band, formed in 2007, is known for its unique style, which mixes twangy banjos, acoustic guitar, and folk.

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Their catchy tunes sparked their breakthrough back in 2009 with the sing-a-long classic “Little Lion Man” which quickly became a pub classic in the UK. The band’s album “Babel” won them a Grammy for the Best Album in 2013, garnering great critical acclaim.

The Allman Brothers Band

If you don’t know “Ramblin’ Man,” we highly recommend you stop what you’re doing and give a listen. The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida, by Gregg and Duane Allman and incorporated southern blues with jazz and rock.

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The band was in the height of fame in the 70s, with their most noteworthy performance being a 23-minute version of their song “Whipping Post.” Duane Allman was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1971. However, the band continued on without, dedicating “Eat a Peach” to his memory.

Elvis Presley

The King himself, Elvis Presley, created a massively devoted fanbase. His silky, bluesy vocals mixed with striking looks made him an instant charmer.

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He’s made his mark on music history with unforgettable hits such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and what is widely considered one of the greatest love songs of all time, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” His wild outfits and suggestive dancing in his live shows were quite an attraction and remain memorable to this day.

Jimi Hendrix

The legendary Jimi Hendrix had a career that only spanned four years, but he still remained one of the most well-regarded guitarists of all time.

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In 1966, he began The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which skyrocketed him to mainstream fame. His live performances were a wonder to watch with a mastery of his craft which is rarely seen amongst the most experienced musicians.

Alice Cooper

A true performer down to his core, Alice Cooper, has been serving us high-energy rock shows since 1964!

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This VERY experienced singer has been called “The Godfather of Shock Rock,” with shows that have been known to use a wide range of props, such as guillotines, pyrotechnics, fake blood, dolls, and reptiles, just to name a few. His performances are considered modern-day vaudeville with a horror aspect.

David Bowie

The wildly famous, eccentric British singer proved his chops already in 1962 at the ripe age of fifteen! A pioneer of the glam rock genre, Bowie’s career was catapulted to international fame with his “Ziggy Stardust” album and live tour.

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The innovative singer could be seen on stage in wild outfits, dyed hair, and rock songs that were absolutely breakthrough in style. Bowie managed to keep his career going strong up until his untimely passing in 2016.

The Beatles

The Fab 4, fathers of the British Invasion, pioneers of rock, The Beatles will forever go down in history as the ones who solidified rock music, affecting generations of musicians to this day.

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The British band from Liverpool had a ten-year career that has yet to be matched in popularity. Seeing them live was a treat for all who had the opportunity. Their influence on music will forever be unmatched, and they remain the best-selling musical act of all time.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam was founded in Seattle, Washington in 1990, and already by 1991, they had released the album “Ten,” which remained in Billboard’s top 200 for five years straight.

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The grunge, Hard rock band is headed by frontman Eddie Vedder who was ranked as “one of the greatest singers of all time.” The band got a place in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 at their first eligibility.

Guns N’ Roses

The famous rock band with popular hits such as “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was formed in 1985 and has captivated fans since.

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Their American hard rock style of music is perfectly curated for hard-core live performances with the wild Axl Rose as the lead singer and iconic Slash on lead guitar. They remain one of the best-selling acts in history.

Kiss

Well known for their lavish outfits and iconic face paint, Kiss lives on as one of the world’s most shocking rock bands.

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Although the band was formed in 1973, their signature look didn’t come into play until the early 80s, when the style of the band was solidified. Their live shows are a spectacle, including a number of unique special effects and pyrotechnics.

The Doors

Rising to fame in the 1960s, The Doors were both influential as well as controversial. Frontman Jim Morrison was known to have an erratic and hypnotic stage presence.

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During the band’s years in operation, before Morrison’s death in 1971 at the early age of 27, they managed to create a lasting name for themselves. They’ve released a number of timeless classics such as “Light My Fire,” “Riders On the Storm,” and “When The Music’s Over. ”

Rush

Rush began initially as a blues-rock band in Toronto in 1968 but morphed over time to a more progressive rock style. Drummer Neil Peart has made a name for himself as one of the best drummers to ever live.

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The band is well known for their musicianship and tracks that have highly complex compositions and a subject matter that is directly related to science fiction, fantasy, and philosophy, which is uncommon for bands of their style.

Neil Young

Successful as both a solo artist and a ¼  of the group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Neil Young carved out a name for himself amongst generations of music lovers.

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The Canadian/American Singer-Songwriter started his illustrious career in the 1960s and has since continued to crank out beloved hits. The singer has received numerous Grammy awards over the years and has been twice inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Radiohead

The outrageously talented British alt-rock band hit popularity with their first single, “Creep,” released in 1992. The band achieved international recognition with the release of the album “OK Computer” in 1997.

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Radiohead has become a household name, with hits such as “Karma Police,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” and “15 Steps” known by fans and non-fans alike. Their live shows are heavy on the lighting aspect and their expert musicianship.

Jack White

Michigan-born guitarist and musician Jack White has widely been regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time. Although he’s had a successful solo career and his hand in a number of various bands, he’s best known as half of the duo, The White Stripes.

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White has collected a whopping 12 Grammys over his illustrious career. He’s known for his wild energy on stage and the mastery of his craft.

Rage Against the Machine

Formed in 1991 in Los Angeles, California, Rage Against The Machine’s (RATM) rock songs focus heavily on both their political and revolutionary views.

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Their self-titled album, released in 1992, was listed by rolling stone as number 368 in the list of ‘The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’ Their live shows invoke the anarchy and politically fueled vibe their music expresses.

My Morning Jacket

With an experimental/psychedelic style, My Morning Jacket has amassed quite a following since the start of the band in 1998.  The band has been known to give festival sets the length of two full studio albums.

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In 2008, the band took the stage and played a 21-song show (120 minutes), left the stage for an intermission, and returned for another 14 songs. This is largely unheard of, with encore’s generally lasting for three or four songs at most.

Wilco

Formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1994, Wilco brings a hint of country style to the alt-rock genre. The band has shifted members over the years, but their music remains consistent, keeping their loyal fanbase.

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This two-time Grammy-winning band has continued performing and producing albums. Wilco’s live shows are the perfect mix of old hits and new material. Their effortless cool on stage makes them quite a spectacle to watch.

Alabama Shakes

The Alabama Shakes, formed in 2009, actually began their career strictly with live performance before ultimately being internationally recognized.

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The rock band incorporates a lot of southern blues and jazz to their style, with the undeniably talented lead singer Brittany Howard heading the show. The band has won four Grammys and been nominated for six. That being said, their roots are in the live shows, and it’s there that the interaction and connection with the audience are felt.

The Roots

Though you may recognize The Roots as the house band on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” they were actually formed in Philadelphia in 1987 and had a wildly successful career before mainstream recognition.

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The band is known for its jazzy and electric hip-hop style. Prior to their TV debut, The Roots were known to throw free shows in their hometown of Philly — often with full brass bands — that would end with jazzy processions out of the theater and down the main streets for all to hear and enjoy.

Tom Waits

Musician, composer and actor, Tom Waits has had his hand in the music industry since the early 70s. His music has evolved quite a bit over the years, initially beginning in jazz and morphing into a fusion of blues, rock, experimental, and vaudeville.

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Because of his unusual style, Waits has garnered quite a cult following over the years. Waits himself said his performances should be “a spectacle and entertaining,” which is exactly what he’s managed to do.

Dave Matthews Band

The Dave Matthews Band is very well known for their long concerts that include a jam session-like feel. For their massive following, it isn’t their studio albums, but rather their live shows that they wait for, much akin to the likes of Deadheads waiting for the Grateful Dead.

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Dave Matthews Band was formed in 1991 and by 1994 had garnered international recognition. They’ve sold over 20 million concert tickets and are very active in the live concert circuit to this day.

Phish

The ultimate jam band, Phish, gives the audience the feel of sitting in on a very high-quality jam session, with a blend of various genres that has an American rock folk vibe.

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Phish formed in Vermont in the early 80s and, with the exception of a few hiatuses, has continued to remain a strong group. Their live shows have a large following, almost in the vibe of Woodstock and 60s style groups.

Leonard Cohen

An impressive career indeed, the late Leonard Cohen was active in the arts as early as 1955. Initially pursuing a career in poetry and novels during the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t until 1967 that he turned his focus toward music.

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His music can be described as folk-rock and has a live sound that has been praised by critics. Even those who aren’t familiar with all of his songs would know his hit “Hallelujah,” which was made even more popular by the famous Jeff Buckley cover.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are a rock band from Australia. It was formed in Melbourne in 1983 by vocalist Nick Cave, multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, and guitarist-vocalist Blixa Bargeld.

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Vocalist Nick Cave is the only consistent member of the Bad Seeds, but the group’s 30-year run has completely dominated the world of post-punk music. Aside from releasing 17 studio albums and completing numerous international tours, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have become known for their outrageously wild shows.

Patti Smith

Chicago’s own Patti Smith is a musician, singer-songwriter, poet, and author. She rose to fame and even became an influential character in the New York City punk rock movement in 1975 thanks to her debut album, “Horses.” Nicknamed the “punk poet laureate,” Smith has been known to fuse rock and poetry in her work.

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Not only has she been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but she has also been recognized for work as a writer. Smith’s live shows have a raw, intimate feel to them, making it easy for audience members to connect to her as a musician, as well as the music and content.

Tame Impala

The psychedelic music project of Australian multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, Tame Impala, has been making waves in the music industry since 2007.

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While Parker writes,  produces, records, and performs all of the project’s music in the recording studio, the touring act consists of a much larger group of musicians. Since the band doesn’t play together until after the music is already recorded, they get to play with the songs and vary them.

Van Halen

Van Halen is a classic rock band formed in 1972 in California and consisting primarily of Van Halen family members as well as lead singer David Lee Roth. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has been compared in talent and performance style to that of Jimi Hendrix on a number of occasions.

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Van Halen’s live shows are powerful and energetic. Father-son duo Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen are known to be a spectacle at their live shows, with an electric, pure hard rock vibe.

Aerosmith

Founded in Boston in 1970, Aerosmith is rock and roll in its purest form. Led by the eccentric lead singer Steven Tyler, Aerosmith produces blues-based hard rock with varying elements such as heavy metal, glam metal, and pop rock.

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The band’s live shows are pumped with classic rock and roll energy, mixed with the wild style of Steven Tyler.  Aerosmith was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the year 2000. They remain the best-selling American rock band of all time.

Iron Maiden

Coming to initial success in the 1980s, Iron Maiden was integral at the beginning of new wave British rock. The band is distinguished by its signature operatic vocals and electrifying live performance.

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In 2011, Iron Maiden won Best Metal Performance for “El Dorado.” They still perform and have continued their wildly successful career for over 40 years.

U2

Formed in 1976 by four Irish musicians in Dublin, U2 has managed over the years to garner international fame. Lead by frontman Bono; their music is laden with spiritual imagery and personal/socio-political themes.

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Their live performances boast an extremely large following, with long guitar solos by lead guitarist Edge are known to be very elaborate in style.

Muse

Originally formed in Devon, Muse elevated the 90s tenfold. Their songs have a metal base with a mellotron, church organ, and piano, but they stray with their use of electrics.

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Lead singer Matt Bellamy really gives the band their signature sound with his highly recognizable falsetto. Muse has been repeatedly named one of the best live music performers by critics and music lovers alike. The Q Awards even nominated Muse for the Best Live Act award several times.

Bruce Springsteen

A forever symbol of 70s Americana, Bruce Springstein, also known as The Boss, has contributed an impressive number of hits to the rock & roll library over the years.

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His music is socially and politically driven much of the time, and his passion and energy make his live shows some of the most memorable for fans who’ve stayed loyal over the years. Forever a rock legend, Springstein has graced us with such numbers as “Born in the USA,” “Born to Run,” and “I’m on Fire.”

Metallica

The heavy metal band Metallica is one of the most famous of its kind. Formed in LA in 1981, Metallica has revolutionized metal and thrash metal with a high level of musical skill.

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Their aggressive instrumentals and live performances have been seeing the band’s audience moshing and thrashing around with them. They have die-hard fans spread throughout the globe and have made for themselves a name in the genre of heavy metal to be revered.

The Rolling Stones

Formed in London in 1962, The Rolling Stones were integral in revolutionizing rock music during the time of the British invasion.

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Mick Jagger is known for his unique dancing in live shows, hypnotizing audiences. The song “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 was inspired by this very phenomenon. On Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest artists of all time, they’re ranked 4th.

AC/DC

Founded by Scottish brothers Malcolm and Angus Young in Sidney, Australia, in 1973, AC/DC has been referred to as “the greatest rock and roll band of all time” on a number of occasions.

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Defining 70s hard rock, AC/DC is chock full of power chords and skillful vocals that verge on metal at times. Their live shows are pure rock, making for electric energy throughout the crowd as they join in on a number of the band’s classics.

The Who

Formed in London in 1964, the original members of The Who were Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. Integral in the Mod movement, The Who shocked audiences with their destructive live performances.

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It was common for the band to smash guitars and drums during their sets. In 1969, they released the rock opera “Tommy,” earning them widespread acclaim. The band had a hugely influential effect on rock music with the introduction of the synthesizer.

Pink Floyd

Paving the way for the genre of progressive rock, Pink Floyd solidified their spot as one of the most internationally successful bands of all time.

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Formed in London in 1965, the British band were of the first to play with psychedelic rock and are known, in addition, for their wildly elaborate live performances. The band reached the height of their fame in the 70s with the release of the albums “The Dark Side of The Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” and “The Wall.”

Led Zeppelin

Led by rock legends Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the rock band formed in London in 1968 has become one of the most successful and innovative rock bands of all time. Their style varies from hard rock to heavy metal, with influences from blues and folk.

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Although they produced an innumerable number of hits, “Stairway to Heaven” has become a household name even for those who don’t consider themselves fans.

Queen

Formed in London in 1970, Queen revolutionized stadium rock, with outlandish and masterful performances by frontman Freddie Mercury. Their songs, influenced by hard rock and heavy metal, took harmony and pop-rock to another level completely.

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The number of sing-along hits they’ve produced is unmatched by other rock bands from their era. Queen has now been nicknamed “the global jukebox” thanks to its 1985 Live Aid concert.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers was formed in California in 1983. With a very typical rock style, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have garnered an unbelievably loyal and massive fan base.

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In 2004, the band was recorded over three nights performing in Hyde Park, London setting records for the highest-grossing concerts at a single venue in history.