10 Most Famous Live Concert Performances in History

There are concerts that you’ll never forget, and then there are concerts that the world never forgets. A single mind-blowing performance can define a band for years to come and put them in the history books for generations to see and hear.

With the Summer Ends Music Festival coming up this week, we decided to count down a bunch of our favorite live performances. Here are 10 of the most iconic musical performances of all time (award shows don’t count).

10. Jay Z and Kanye West - Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy (6/1/12)
The whole Watch the Throne Tour was pretty spectacular, but the crowning moment of the international sensation came at the end of the Paris stop. In front of a star-studded crowd, the duo raised their stock to an all-time high by putting on an amazing show concluding in the performance of the same iconic song 11 times in a row. No matter who you are, that takes some serious guts.

9. Oasis - Knebworth Festival (8/10-11/96)
If there’s one live performance that launched one of the biggest bands of the ‘90s into superstardom, it’s this one. Playing in front of the biggest crowd the festival had ever seen on two straight nights, Oasis went from one of the many ‘90s rock bands to the undisputed kings of British ‘90s alt-rock. It makes you miss the days when two brothers could just get along and make some sweet sweet music.

8. Elvis Presley - ‘68 Comeback Special (6/27/68 & 6/30/68)
Elvis undoubtedly put on a lot of great shows (why else would there be so many Elvis impersonators?), but this might be the best of all of them. At this point, he’s done being an up-and-coming kid, but he’s not far from the decline that would eventually lead to his weight gain and death. Apparently, he didn’t really want to do it at the time and was concerned about both his performance and fan reaction, but you can’t tell at all by watching it. Plus, that leather jacket would still be on point to this day.

7. Hologram 2Pac - Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (4/15/12)
Before Straight Outta Compton showed us that Marcc Rose looks exactly like Tupac Shakur, the closest any rap fans had gotten to seeing Makaveli in the last 19 years was at Coachella in 2012. Forget the tech geeks who want to point out that it wasn’t a real hologram, Hologram 2Pac (HoloPac?) may be the best special guest in Coachella history. While there’ve been other hologram reincarnations of famous performers, 2Pac made the biggest impact and quite possibly the most jarring, and might’ve been the best.

6. Sex Pistols - Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II (6/7/77)
As far as historic punk performances go, the Sex Pistols performing “God Save the Queen” while cruising down the River Thames has to be considered near the top of the list. The mockery of the queen’s 25th anniversary was shut down by the authorities and some of the band’s crew arrested, but that just adds to the intrigue and legacy surrounding the event.

5. Bob Dylan - Newport Folk Festival (7/25/65)
These days, it’s hard to imagine just about anyone booing Bob Dylan (or anyone else of his stature) at one of his own concerts. In 1965, that wasn’t the case. As anyone who knows the first thing about rock ‘n’ roll history could tell you, Dylan going electric was a bit of a controversy, and the Newport Folk Festival was the first show he played when it happened. There might not be another show that left quite the lasting impact of this one on music history, well, except for maybe one.

4. N.W.A. - Joe Louis Arena (8/6/89)
Although it didn’t exactly happen like it did in Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. getting arrested after their performance in Detroit might’ve been the best thing to ever happen to them. Before there was Marilyn Manson or Eminem, N.W.A. was the most feared music in suburban homes, and their legendary show (and subsequent arrest) in Detroit showed that they had an impact far outside of Southern California.

3. Nirvana - Reading Festival (8/30/92)
Any set that begins with the frontman being pushed out in a wheelchair is probably either terrible or excellent. While a few people would tell you that Nirvana’s last UK performance fell into the first category, most believe it’s the latter. Cobain and company brought all of the melodies, harmonies, and general chaos and anarchy that’s given the band legend status a couple decades after. The performance was good enough to be turned into yet another of the band’s live CD/DVD sets, and generally regarded as the high standard for rock festival performances for all future acts.

2. Jimi Hendrix - Monterey Pop Festival (6/18/67)
The show of all shows, as far as live classic rock is concerned. The guitar legend cemented his status as one of the greatest rockers of all time, and there’s not even much to say about the performance other than it’s what the entire ‘60s music scene was built around. Seriously, the burning guitar was just the grand finale to an amazing concert at that point.

1. The Beatles - Ed Sullivan Show (2/9/64)
Even if you were only a small child in 1964, you still know where you were when the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show. It was the start of a musical influence that is still unmatched to this day. The Beatles came to the U.S. and took over the world, and it all began with a brief set on a network TV show.
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Josh Chesler
Contact: Josh Chesler