25. Arcade Fire
While Arcade Fire tours are something to behold, catching the band in a festival setting is bucket list-type stuff. Band members feed off the crowd energy, bounce around the stage and even use props (Regine Chassagne likes her spirit ribbons) to captivate the eye. The group’s headline performance on the last night of Lollapalooza in 2017 should go down as one of its most memorable sets. With “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) serving as the highlight of the evening.
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24. Van Halen
Regardless if you are in the David Lee Roth camp or part of Team Sammy Hagar, all Van Halen fans should agree that the group put on one special rock show. To call a Van Halen concert loud would be an understatement. Eddie Van Halen’s wall of amps was a sight to behold. From Roth’s acrobatics on stage or Sammy’s comedy and interaction with Eddie (of course, his memorable solos) or Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s performances are as much of its legacy as the music.
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As we’ll see with plenty of the bands and artists on this list, the performance is just as important as the music. Coldplay has always been known for its spirited live efforts. Whether in an arena or a festival setting, the band usually rises to the occasion. A lot of the credit should go to frontman Chris Martin. He’s a quality showman. Regardless of what one may think of Coldplay overall, it’s never had a problem delivering on stage.
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22. Fleetwood Mac
The arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in the mid-1970s turned Fleetwood Mac from a solid rock band to a commercial juggernaut. With those two in the mix, Fleetwood Mac became a must-see live attraction. The interworking of the band on stage was memorable at times. Perhaps none more so than during the taping of The Dance in the late 1990s. The haunting version of “Silver Springs” on that album, and interaction between former lovers Buckingham and Nicks during the song was truly notable.
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21. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam has never been a flashy band on stage. Meaning, it basically lets the music guide the show. And, those shows can span up to three hours – or longer. Frontman Eddie Vedder usually has bottle of wine on hand and there’s almost always a special guest or two on hand to jam. However, the most special aspect of a Pearl Jam show are the fans. It’s a fun-loving experience that draws people from around the world where new friendships are consistently made.
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20. Dave Matthews Band
The following that Matthews and Co. have earned over the years is pretty remarkable. Much of that popularity has to do with their live performances. The band, which released its first record in 1994, has always featured a collective musicians, beginning with Matthews’ himself. While some pundits like to refer to the DMB as a “jam band,” it’s so much more. Dabbling in alternative rock, indie and some jazz, the group still remain can’t-miss performers.
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19. Alice Cooper
Alice, the man, has always been a standout showman. A need that separated him from other hard rockers of the 1970s. Yes, the music is legendary. Hits like “I’m Eighteen” and “School’s Out” are timeless classics. But it was Cooper’s stage presence, and his likable sense of humor, that made him a star. From the fake blood to the snakes to pyrotechnics to the guillotine, “The Godfather of Shock Rock” continues to put on a memorable show.
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From the growl of lead singer Brian Johnson to the on-stage, school-boy antics of legendary guitarist Angus Young, AC/DC have – and might continue to be – one the great live acts in rock history. If there was one band made to play arenas and stadiums, it’s AC/DC. Its always had a “big” sound and its memorable licks and riffs (“Back in Black,” “Highway to Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”) are made to be celebrated. On stage, the fun never stops. Angus on Johnson’s shoulders, the pyrotechnics and the massive “Hells” bell. AC/DC is the complete package.
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17. Pink Floyd
With or without Roger Waters in tow, Pink Floyd has always been an exceptional live act. Whether under the influence of one’s preferred substance or not, a Pink Floyd show is a rather trippy, conceptual experience that’s filled with theatrics. There were plenty of lights, flying pigs, oversized, grouchy school masters and WWII bombers (when playing anything from The Wall). Plus, anytime David Gilmour delivered the memorable guitar solo from “Comfortably Numb,” it was a true magical musical moment.
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There’s something for everyone when it comes to Radiohead’s music. Alternative, experimental, techno and pure rock. Radiohead offers all, and its performances are like science experiment. Put it all together and we get a great show. Collectively, the band might come off as passive and casual, but its live sets are energetic. Singer Thom Yorke is one of the more underrated frontmen in rock history and tends to get really “involved” while performing.
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15. Michael Jackson
Jackson might be the “King of Pop,” but there was always a rock vibe to his music. Starting back in his Motown days with The Jackson 5. When it came to Jackson’s visual work, it was as legendary as his music. Video’s like “Beat It,” Thriller” and “Bad” were mini films of sorts. When it came to touring, Jackson, either with his brothers on the famed Victory Tour (1984), or solo, usually put on a spectacle that.
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14. Foo Fighters
One can’t go wrong with Dave Grohl. If Grohl and Co. could play all night, they probably would. Fans certainly get their money’s worth when seeing the Foos live in concert. Every show is high energy, complete with all the band’s hits and plenty of humorous moments from Grohl. The Foo Fighters are also one of those bands who shine regardless of the size of the venue. Arena, stadium or club, the Foo Fighters know how to put on a show.
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Another band that made sure its performances were considered experiences. Rush might be the least pretentious band in the rock universe. It was never about them. Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart made sure the band showcased its music with a conceptual approach – in the lyrics and visually on the stage. A very theatrical band, Rush’s lengthy live sets, usually highlighted by a Peart drum solo, set the bar quite high when it come to the live experience.
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12. Led Zeppelin
When the hypothetical question is asked, “Which band would you like to see back in the day?” Led Zeppelin is quick to come to mind for classic rock fans. A live Zeppelin show is the stuff legend is made of. At least those who were fortunate to take one in. Watching Jimmy Page play guitar is fascinating. And Robert Plant offered a sultry uniqueness as a frontman. Then there was drummer John Bonham, who could seemingly play for days. Check out the 1976 concert film The Song Remains the Same for proof.
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11. Elton John
Flamboyant is usually a popular word to describe Sir Elton. While that’s true, there’s much more to the famed entertainer. An international superstar, Elton’s work on the piano is something else. And, even his over-the-top wardrobe can’t overshadow the music. He’s also lived an interesting, often rough, life. When EJ takes the stage or performs in general, it seems he appreciates the opportunity and doesn’t take anything for granted.
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Prince, obviously, was more than a rock star. He will go down as one of the great entertainers of all time. Prince was a legendary guitarist, though often not getting credit. He was also a true showman on stage and not too shabby of an actor. His music videos are still celebrated today, and Purple Rain is one of the great rock films of all time. Taken much too early, Prince would still be among the world’s biggest stars today.
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9. The Who
The classic lineup of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon was as crazy it got. On stage and off. From Daltrey madly swinging his microphone to Townshend’s windmill technique to Moon trashing his drum kit, The Who was a sight to be seen in its heyday. These days, Daltrey and Townshend are still going strong. Despite being up in age, that pair can still deliver the goods.
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Sure, Bono has no trouble speaking his mind on stage, but U2 is still one of the great bands to see live. In terms of pure musicianship (we’re talking The Edge and drummer Larry Mullen Jr.), U2 delivers in a live setting. Historically, its sets have been a nice balance of high energy (“Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Where the Streets Have No Name”) and melodic (“One”). Every U2 performance is a memorable evening and sure to satisfy.
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The metal giants have always been one of the hardest-working bands around. From its early days in the 1980s, Metallica proved itself by playing anywhere, anytime. That didn’t change after the group found mainstream success in the 1990s. A Metallica set can push three hours, even now. Plus, the pyrotechnics associated with songs like “One” and “Enter Sandman” make for a good time and memorable evening.
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When it comes to live albums, it doesn’t get much better than Kiss’ Alive! and Alive II from the 1970s. Back then, Kiss really was “The Hottest Band in the Land.” From Gene Simmons’ breathing fire and spitting out blood, a Kiss show, with full makeup, was as visually pleasing as it was musically. Even today, classic Kiss hits like “Strutter” and “Deuce” just sound better live. Sure, Gene and Paul Stanley don’t seem to want to go away. Mostly, because there are plenty who still want the Kiss live experience.
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5. Rolling Stones
The Altamont tragedy aside, the Stones have always been known for their live shows. Especially during the 1970s, when the band upped its tempo. The group really took off as a superstar live act in the early 1980s, following the release of the Tattoo You album. As we know, Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie are still going strong when it comes to touring. And still sound great. Now, the prices the Stones charge for tickets? Well, that’s another story.
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Queen, with its classic lineup, were the kings of arena rock – especially in the 1970s. Mostly because of legendary frontman Freddie Mercury. He was flamboyant and raunchy, yet also poetic and theatrical on stage. Whether rocking his microphone or playing the piano, the eyes of those in attendance at a Queen show rarely left Mercury. Now, guitarist Brian May more than held his own, especially when it came to ripping into one of his classic solos.
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3. The Grateful Dead
In its early years and throughout the late ’60s and ’70s, the Dead was never a big radio band. Instead, it made a name for itself and earned acclaim through playing live. For anybody who has attended a Dead show, knows it’s an experience. From the parking lot to general admission seating/standing, it’s about peace, fun and love. Everybody’s feeling good. And, those extended guitar solos are a time for celebrating and to appreciate the sound of legendary jam band.
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2. Bruce Springsteen
Not only is “The Boss” one of the great singer/songwriters of all time, he’s a fantastic performer in general. Whether backed by the legendary E Street Band or playing an intimate acoustic set, Springsteen is a must-see. His live shows consistently go for more than three hours and are just plain fun. And, his versions of classics such as “Badlands” and “Born to Run” are like a party sing-a-long for 30,000 devotees who know every single word by heart.
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1. Paul McCartney
In his late 70s, the former Beatle legend can still bring it in a live setting. We’re talking three-plus hours for a McCartney concert. He also does a nice job mixing in Beatles’ classics and deep cuts with his own solo material and favorites from the Wings’ era. Fans of all ages can appreciate McCartney live. Especially when it comes to blowing things up on stage during a stellar version of “Live and Let Die.”
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