The 20 most influential live performances of the past 20 years

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Today, you can watch the greatest concerts from the comfort of your sofa. Since the era of concert movies like Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, the genre experienced a real boom that coincided with the rise of DVD and Blu-ray. Although Suicidal Tendencies’ slogan was not fully adhered to, many concert DVDs have left their mark. This is a short and (very) subjective selection of live performances that are a pleasure to watch and listen to by Rolling Stone magazine’s editorial team!

Rolling Stone’s editorial team

1 – Live in Hyde Park – Eric Clapton (Warner Music Video) ★★★ – 2001

Eric Clapton, like many of his peers, has given a ton of live performances in recent years — even if we are still waiting for Nothin’ But the Blues, directed by Scorsese in 1994 in the wake of the blues album From the Cradle. But this concert performed at Hyde Park, recorded two years later, definitely stands out from the rest. Clapton delivers a dazzling performance, boosted by electrifying choruses on classics such as Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff”, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “White Room”. Other than an unplugged version of “Layla” that we would have preferred to hear on the electric guitar, the set is mainly composed of blues tracks, with covers that were featured on From the Cradle: “It Hurts Me Too” and the breathtaking “Five Long Years”. The gig finishes with “Holy Mother”, a song accompanied by gospel choruses that is dedicated to the late Richard Manuel from The Band.

2 – Live In New York City – Bruce Springsteen & The E. Street Band (Sony Music Video) ★★★★ 2002

Springsteen is back with his beloved E Street Band, ten years after their last joint tour. A relief for long-time fans who were eagerly awaiting a comeback. To celebrate the event in style, the gang performed ten sold out concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden. With an incredibly electric, energetic and emotional flow, he performs blazing versions of Springsteen hits (“The River”, “Badlands”, “Jungleland”, “Backstreets”, “Racing in the Streets”…). But also more recent tracks like the extraordinary “American Skin (41 Shots)” which is about the murder of Amadou Diallo by the New York police two years earlier. It had often been said that Springsteen was unstoppable on stage. Thanks to this DVD, a whole generation finally understood why.

3 – Live at the Garden – Pearl Jam (Epic / Sony Music) ★★★★ – 2003

It was difficult to choose only one of the many live recordings by the Seattle band. In addition to the sound, the picture can also make a difference. Those filmed on the evening of July 8, 2003 in Madison Square Garden in New York testify to the intense bond between Pearl Jam and their fans since the band’s early days in 1991. Because here, (but this is often the case) Vedder and Co.’s audience sings in tune and pretty much throughout the whole concert. The singer’s charisma, the slew of guests (including Ben Harper), the raw emotion, the guitar improvs worthy of the greatest concerts of the seventies, the “greatest hits” setlist… (“Last Exit”, “Even Flow”, “Daughter”, “Better Man”, etc.): what more could one want? Live at the Garden is proof that Pearl Jam is without a doubt one of the best live acts on the planet.

4 – Live in Boston – Fleetwood Mac (Warner Home Video) ★★★★ – 2003

We still don’t know what the members of Fleetwood Mac took that night, but it must have been good stuff judging by the amped-up versions of the hits (starting with an explosive “Go Your Own Way”, guitars ablaze) performed for the audience at the Fleet Center in Boston on September 23 and 24, 2003 during the Say You Will tour. The entire Rumours era lineup (Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Christine and John McVie) revisits twenty-five years of Californian rock (the entire English era of the band is ruthlessly omitted, too bad for “Oh Well”). Despite the fact that the protagonists are a little long in the tooth, these reinterpretations of “The Chain”, “Rhiannon”, “Landslide”, “Don’t Stop”, “Tusk”, “Gold Dust Woman” and “Beautiful Child” are among the most impressive live performances given by the band.

5 – Live At Pompeii – Pink Floyd (Universal) ★★★1/2 – 2004

Granted, Live at Pompeii is not strictly speaking a live album or DVD. At least, it doesn’t follow the usual codes. Especially since it is mainly composed of studio recordings from Paris where Pink Floyd was actively preparing Dark Side of the Moon (we can see this with the takes of “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage”). Although at the end they only concern three tracks actually shot on location (“Echoes”, “A Saucerful of Secrets” and “One of These Days”. The rest were recorded in the studio with photos of Pompeii in the background!), the images of Waters, Gilmour, Mason & Wright in the middle of the ancient city’s great amphitheater under a blazing sun have remained forever etched in memory, making this somewhat awkward and pompous musical movie more palatable.

6 – Live Aid – Live Aid (Warner Home Vision) ★★★1/2 – 2004

Between London (Wembley Stadium) and Philadelphia (Robert F. Kennedy Stadium), “king-sized” cast, sixteen hours of concerts in total, a billion and a half viewers across the globe and 80 million dollars raised to fight famine in Ethiopia and Africa in general: Bob Geldof’s wild venture did more than just take shape on July 13, 1985. A source of many speculations (starting with a possible Beatles reunion for the first time since they parted ways, without John Lennon of course, or a Pink Floyd reunion despite them being on very bad terms) and with its share of notable refusals (Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Frank Zappa) and unfortunate oversights (Michael Jackson), Live Aid generated a lot of talk before the first notes — those of the Royal Coldstream Guards — resonated in the Wembley arena, somewhat overshadowing the cause it intended to defend and shed light upon through its fundraising. As we know, the ten hour long quadruple DVD chronicling the event almost never saw the light of day, as the image archiving was pretty poor on both sides of the Atlantic, with entire performances that were omitted (The Who, Simple Minds) and others that were withdrawn at the insistence of the artists (Led Zeppelin, with Phil Collins on the drums who had just flown in from London on a Concorde after performing with Sting). In the end, other than a galactic rendition of “Bad” by U2 lasting more than twelve minutes with nods to Lou Reed (“Satellite of Love”, “Walk on the Wild Side”) and to the Stones (“Ruby Tuesday”, “Sympathy for the Devil”) — which would help cement the Irishmen’s reputation in regards to live performances — and a stunning act by Queen, powered by Freddie Mercury who was determined to get Wembley to sing in tune to “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Hammer to Fall”, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, there weren’t any great performances from a strictly musical point of view. Some of the American performances were very poor. But that wasn’t the point of the event, after all.

7 – David Gilmour Live at The Royal Albert Hall  (Warner Home Vision) ★★★★ – 2006

In May 2006 at the Royal Albert Hall, David Gilmour revisited Pink Floyd classics (“Breathe”, “Time”, “High Hopes”, “Wish You Were Here”) and a few tracks from his latest solo album, On an Island. The guitarist once told a magazine, “The best advice that I ever received from Miles Davis is that it’s not the notes that count, it’s the space you leave in between them”. This performance confirms once more how Gilmour applies this lesson from the jazz genius, blasting blue notes to the stratosphere surrounded by a perfect band, including Richard Wright on the keyboard and Phil Mazanera on the guitar. Some of the best moments: Crosby & Nash (“Shine on You Crazy Diamond”) and David Bowie himself (for his last stage performance) singing Syd B.’s “Arnold Layne”. Not forgetting “Comfortably Numb” with its amazing chorus, played by a marvelous Gilmour.

8 – DVD – Led Zeppelin (Warner Home Video) ★★★★1/2 – 2007

When presenting this double DVD in Paris shortly before its release in spring 2003, Jimmy Page expressed his regret about the lack of Led Zeppelin footage, insisting that there was nothing available or of sufficient quality other than what was on the DVD. Well, we know all too well what happens to archives in the rock business. It comes and goes. Forever lost, then miraculously found again many years later, hidden away in an attic (or studio closet). Let it be, as The Beatles would say. In any case, Jimmy Page can rest assured that these 5 hours and 20 minutes (!) of Led Zeppelin’s “living” history — false companion of the How the West Was Won triple CD that was available at the same time — are more than enough for our immediate and future satisfaction. Admittedly, some may criticize the editing (the DVD version of “Immigrant Song” mixes footage captured in Sydney in February 1972 and sound from a Los Angeles performance that took place the following summer) or the exaggerated audio restoration (with Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround Sound and all the rest) that doesn’t always match the image quality. And yet, no matter how you look at it, the five courses (Royal Albert Hall 1970, Madison Square Garden 1973, Earls Court 1975, Knebworth 1979), the Easter egg-like bonus features (a special mention for the sublime TV shows on the first disc) and its polished interfaces, this digital era Led Zeppelin opus only enhances the aura of the band, which is as great during its moments of pure magic as it is during more transient periods. This DVD allows the dilapidated collection of footage that had been used for the only live documentation up until then, namely the footage of “The Song Remains” that had been used for too long for lack of another reference, to be almost definitively abandoned. A must-see.

9 – Heima – Sigur Rós (EMI) ★★★1/2 – 2007

Released simultaneously with the Hvarf/Heim double digipak that features live performances as well as some rare gems, Heima is the most beautiful declaration of love a band can offer to its country. After returning home following a huge world tour, the Icelanders decided to embark on a journey around the island during which they performed free concerts for the entire population in venues that were both unconventional and magical (a field, an old fish cannery, a conservatory, a cave…). Magnificent images, an enthralled audience and songs performed to perfection by a generous band, who draw their inspiration from the heart of Iceland and let themselves be carried away by the magic of the moment. A genuine movie with polished visuals and audio. While the band still has many years ahead of it, Sigur Rós has already provided the ultimate live performance. Perhaps the most beautiful music DVD of its time.

10 – Shine a Light – The Rolling Stones (Wild Side) ★★★ – 2008

Just like the Stones themselves, there’s a slight sensationalist aspect to Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese’s documentary about a concert performed at the Beacon Theatre in 2008. But there are also some great scenes, like when Jack White joins the band for “Loving Cup”. Scorsese fulfills his teenage dream and does everything he can (sixteen cameras and the very best cameramen) to make the movie seem lavish — sometimes a little too much so. And if, during “Sympathy for the Devil”, Jagger “forgot” the famous verse “Who killed the Kennedys/When after all it was you and me”, it is not because of a lapse of memory, but because ex-president Bill Clinton was in the audience. Sir Mick is no longer very provocative, but Shine a Light remains a rare opportunity to see the stadium gods up close and personal. With a masterful final sequence shot.

11 – Live From Austin, Texas – Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (Sony Music Video) ★★★★ – 2009

One of the greatest white bluesmen, and perhaps the wildest, didn’t even get to appreciate the result of his best stage performances during their video releases. Live Alive, his first live audio testimonial, was a DIY project made from four performances edited in the studio. Released five years after his fatal helicopter crash on August 27, 1990, then re-released on DVD, Live From Austin, Texas is proof that Stevie Ray was immensely talented. Above all, it shows that a good recording of a passionate performance needs no touch-ups. The Texan sweats, makes his Strat roar and grimaces like no one else during an hour-long trance. This electrifying blues outpouring including an excellent cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” inevitably leaves one feeling bereft. Because no one played with as much passion as SRV did.

12 – Live – Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum (Time Left / Import USA) ★★★1/2 – 2009

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Time Life released a collection of the best moments from 1987 to 2004 of this typically American institution. Nine hours of footage, including a lot of live performances from rock royalty: no need to scour the internet to find the enchanting version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Prince’s solo, Mick Jagger and Tina Turner’s one-time duets (“Honky Tonk Women”), Bruce Springsteen and Roy Orbison (“Oh Pretty Woman”) and other great live acts. This triple DVD (Region 1 only) offers a dizzying flash-back with its brilliant songs (AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, R.E.M., etc.) and classic jams (“I saw Her Standing There”).

13 – Live in London – Leonard Cohen (Sony Music Video) ★★★★ – 2009

In 2008 after a few financial setbacks, Leonard Cohen went back on the road to rekindle his legend with a recording of his performance at the 02 Arena in London as a bonus. At the release of the album, some disgruntled fans were a bit confused by the eighties Bontempi style orchestrations concocted by the musicians accompanying the old bard. But visually, everything fades away in the face of Cohen’s charisma. His presence illuminates every second of this show, which is both moving and flawless. Naturally, it features all the classics (“Suzanne”, “I’m Your Man”, “Take This Waltz”, “Sisters of Mercy”, “Who by Fire”, etc.) and of course “Halleluyah” and “First We Take Manhattan”. But above all, there is the moment when the singer slips back into the role of poet to recite “A Thousand Kisses Deep”: undoubtedly one of the greatest odes to love performed on stage.

14 – Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 – The Who (Eagle Vision) ★★★1/2 – 2009

The Who at the top of their game. The sound, although remastered, remains raw and without embellishment, but the energy is impressive and the performance electric. One only has to watch the extraordinary version of “Young Man Blues” (exhumed from the band’s Mod period at The Marquee) to get an idea of what took place that night. A deluge of riffs, wild bass playing, the best drummer in the world and, above all, a vocally invincible Daltrey. Visually, we’re delighted to see Keith Moon beating his drums like a madman and Townshend leaping around the stage. In addition to a wild performance of Tommy, a “Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful/Twist & Shout”, “Substitute”, “Magic Bus”, “My Generation”, “Summertime Blues” medley provides a final spectacular explosion at this now legendary concert.

15 – Live at the Checkerboard Lounge Chicago 1981 – Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones (Eagle Vision) ★★★1/2 – 2012

It had been around on the internet (YouTube) for a while, so why not make something official? In 1981 during their American tour, the Stones (more precisely Keith, Mick, Ronnie and pianist Ian Stewart) paid a visit to the master Muddy Waters, who was performing at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago. Things quickly evolved into a jam session, with Mick, Keith and Ronnie making their way through the club to join Muddy’s band for a seriously boogie “Baby Don’t Go”. This was followed by “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Long Distance Call”, “Mannish Boy”, “Got My Mojo Working” and “One Eyed Woman” to name a few, and a blazing version of “Champagne and Reefer”. While Muddy Waters is, imperial as always, the Stones seem more down to earth than usual and look like they’re having a great time.

16 – Farewell Tour I – Live from Melbourne – Eagles (Warner Home Video) ★★★★1/2 – 2013

The Eagles belong to that category of (often Californian) bands that strive to reproduce, with a few subtle variations, the sonic perfections of their records (Fleetwood Mac is another example). Throughout this (first) Farewell Tour recorded in Australia in late 2004, the show is striking: incredible vocal harmonies, perfect guitars, flanked by hits covering their entire career (plus a few solo interludes to satisfy everyone’s ego), from “The Long Run” to “Tequila Sunrise”, via “Take It Easy” and “Desperado”, without forgetting the inevitable “Hotel California” and its classic chorus. The Henley/Frey duo have the good taste to give the debonair Joe Walsh a little more freedom. The euphoric guitarist displays a healthy dose of madness on “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Funk #49”.

https://youtu.be/D8Pl-UUmlKY

17 – Let There Be Rock – Eric Dionysius & Eric Mistler (Warner Bros.) ★★★1/2 – 2016

Let There Be Rock

Of course, it’s only nostalgia. And a lot of it. Because it’s not the production or the technical quality of Let There Be Rock’s images — even though they’ve been remastered and released on Blu-ray — that will bring tears to the eyes of “old (hard) rockers” and take them back to their youth. Clearly, these same “old people” will be relieved to see that their wait has not been in vain and that the memories they had of the movie are not too tarnished. It’s an understatement to say that we had given up hope of seeing this DVD release, intended to replace the difficult to manage VHS cassette. Younger generations may be surprised that we’re making such a big fuss about this concert, held on December 9, 1979 at the Pavillon de Paris and its surroundings. They’ll just be amused by the quasi-amateurism of concerts and recordings back then, despite the presence of mobile and aerial cameras which was pretty rare at the time (no Louma telescopic camera cranes!), or the fresh-faced protagonists — Angus and Malcolm Young were 24 and 26 years old at the time but looked a lot younger — and their haircuts, with the prize going to singer Bon Scott. That’s what it was like in the seventies. You went to pseudo concert halls to see a band that captured the hearts and minds of its fans because it was like no other (without the snootiness of its English counterparts or the mercantile aspect of its American peers — that would come later), at its first peak here six months after the release of Highway to Hell. A few weeks later (February 19, 1980), Bon Scott passed away after a party too many. It was a long winter that year. In our hearts anyway. 

18 – Farewell Concert – Cream (Image Entertainment/BMG) ★★★ – 2017

Admittedly, the image quality and the filming style leave a lot to be desired. But this footage has the value of being documentation, as Cream’s two album-concerts (post break-up) were frustrating to say the least, like the live side on the album Wheels of Fire. In 1968, the supergroup that atomized the British Blues Boom gave its farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The three virtuosos (Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton) fight like never before, from “Sunshine of Your Love” to “Spoonful”, “White Room” and “Sitting On Top on the World”, in a deluge of crazy choruses and wild drumming. Unlike the pop songs of their studio albums, the power trio provides a subsonic experience whose folly would leave a lasting impression on their (more or less) legitimate heirs.

19 – Concert for George – Concert for George (Warner Home Video) ★★★★ – Remaster 2018

29 November, 2002. Under the direction of Eric Clapton, George Harrison’s friends, family and peers (Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, Tom Petty, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, not forgetting his son Dhani) paid him a final tribute at the Royal Albert Hall. After an “Indian” first half led by Anoushka Shankar, an irreproachable All Stars Band takes over the stage to revisit the great classics, from “Taxman” to “Something”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “My Sweet Lord” and “Here Comes the Sun”. Even the Monty Pythons, with the help of Tom Hanks, are there to honor the memory of the ex-Beatle. And it’s hard to hold back tears during the finale, when Joe Brown delivers an extremely moving version of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” under a shower of multicolored confetti.

20 – Ladies & Gentlemen – The Rolling Stones (Eagle Vision) ★★★1/2 – 2019

Ever since the Stones (belatedly) decided to open their archives to unearth many forgotten treasures, re-releases in both CD and DVD format have been released at a steady pace. After Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, Exile on Main Street, Some Girls and the documentary Stones in Exile, it was the turn of the mythical concert movie Ladies and Gentlemen to benefit from a DVD and Blu-ray release. Heavy, tremendous, unmentionable stuff even at the mixing console. In 1972, the Rolling Stones returned to the United States where they had not performed since Altamont three years earlier. Mick Jagger and his band wisely removed “Sympathy for the Devil” from their repertoire. That didn’t stop the tour from being a depraved and decadent travelling orgy, as die-hard fans were astonished to see in the infamous movie Cocksucker Blues. At the time, the Stones threw TVs out of windows, shot themselves, snorted copious amounts of cocaine and partied in Learjets. The more conservative cult movie Ladies and Gentlemen, which compiles four concerts performed in Texas, has been remastered from the original film and multitrack audio tapes. At the time, the Stones were more provocative than ever. Mick Jagger and Keith, both 29, were touched by grace and had a fire in their bellies, as did Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and especially young Mick Taylor, whose angelic fingers created guitar miracles, from “Brown Sugar” to “Gimme Shelter”. The complicit glances between Jagger and Richards are pleasing to see, and bravura pieces are plentiful, from “Dead Flowers” to “Love in Vain”, “Sweet Virginia” and “All Down the Line”, with “Billdozer” Wyman and heavenly slide guitar from Mick Taylor. Keith, for his part, delivers a masterful version of his favorite track, “Happy”. The pièce de résistance of Ladies and Gentlemen, “Midnight Rambler” is iconic and wild, with Keith riffing away and the famous break driven by Charlie Watts. Once again, Mick Taylor who, whether Ronnie likes it or not, definitely displays superstar qualities in this movie, is flamboyant. It ends with a dazzling “Street Fighting Man” with an imperial Keith Richards. If you want to know what “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world” looked like, this is the movie to watch.

About: Rolling Stone

Founded in San Francisco in 1967, Rolling Stone is an American pop culture magazine focusing on current events and cultural news, in particular those of a musical nature. It is now published in eighteen different countries.


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Traductrice et rédactrice avec des goûts très éclectiques en matière de musique et de cinéma. Lorsque je ne suis pas au travail, vous pouvez me retrouver en train de regarder “Lost in Translation” de Sofia Coppola pour la centième fois, ou d’écouter un disque de David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joy Division ou Daft Punk sur ma platine Rega Planar 1. Étant d’origine britannique, je suis également adepte de séries à l’humour absurde comme Monty Python’s Flying Circus et The Mighty Boosh !

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