There are certain moments in musical history when we wish we could say ?I was there?. Live music has the power to be so much more than entertainment, it can be important, ground-breaking, symbolic, wonderful.
Arcade Fire Nikolaus Ostermann
Here is a list of some of the most important live music performances ever (in my opinion!).
James Brown, Boston Garden, 1968
On April 4th, 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. America?s cities saw riots and violence. Amid this, James Brown was booked to play the day after. While the city considered cancelling it, they were convinced that doing so would have sparked even more anger and violence.
So, they pushed on, and dedicated the concert to Dr. King.
It was in the final act that James Browns true power came to the fore. As they reached a climax, young fans began rushing the stage, and the white police officers to the side jumped in to try and restore order. This was the moment that everyone had feared, and it could have easily escalated into large-scale violence.
But Brown had full command ? he interjected and told the crowd: ?You?re not being fair to yourself and me or your race?. Now, are we together, or we ain?t?? ? before launching into ?I Can?t Stand Myself (When You Touch Me).?
Brown arrived as a musician but left the stage more like a political leader. Brown later recalled: ?I was able to speak to the country during the crisis, and that was one of the things that meant the most to me.?
Queen, Live Aid, 1985
It wouldn?t be too controversial to say that the years leading up to this performance hadn?t been kind to Queen. They lost much momentum since their initial run of diverse records in the 70s. Additionally, at Live Aid they were wedged between U2 and David Bowie ? bigger and more contemporary artists at the time.
But Queen rose like a phoenix from the ashes. In 20 minutes they had re-established their legacy, delivering a performance that enraptured the audience.
They furiously delivered their greats, Radio Ga Ga, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Will Rock You ? and Freddie Mercury gave an energy rarely seen before, or since in live performances. He rushed around the stage, from piano, to marching around with his mic stand. He was in full control.
?It was,? Brian May remembered, ?the greatest day of our lives.?
Radiohead, Glastonbury, 1997
Everything went wrong. It had been pouring for days, two stages had sunk into the mud, there were reported cases of trench-foot from attendees!
The signs were bad, and when Radiohead went on stage it only got worse. The lighting rig was shining directly in Thom Yorke?s face, his monitor melted down, and they couldn?t hear themselves play.
Yet, despite this, the chaos delivered one of the band?s most epic performances. Yorke seemed to feed off the rage, and persisted through their catalogue, adding twists and fire to each and every one. It was incredible.
Yet Yorke only realised afterwards. ?I thundered offstage at the end, really ready to kill,? Yorke remembered. ?And my girlfriend grabbed me, made me stop, and said, ?Listen!? And the crowd were just going wild. It was amazing.?
The Three Tenors, Baths of Caracalla in Rome, 1990
It was an event that was never expected, but always wanted. The three greatest operatic performers of the time ? on stage together. Pavarotti said they had been asked over 50 times and yet had always said no. This was believed, in part, to be due to a rivalry between Pavarotti and Domingo.
But football was to be the thing that brought them together. They were all fervent supporters, and the performance was to be a landmark moment in the World Cup, hosted by Italy. In addition, Carreras had recently defeated his leukemia.
It became the start of a powerful force in classical music, and one that delivered time and time again.
Daft Punk, Coachella, 2006
In the late 90s and early 00s EDM had gathered plenty of momentum. But live performances still left much to the imagination. In 2006 Daft Punk changed this. They took live lighting and staging to a new level ? and unveiled the genre?s most incredible centrepiece.
At the Coachella festival, the duo performed from a 24-foot pyramid, covered in LED panels, to over 40,000 fans.
The performance influenced staging far beyond EDM, and importantly, it was a tipping point for EDM becoming a major force at festivals.
The Beatles, Shea Stadium, 1965
The world was held hostage by Beatlemania, and the band chose this time to embark on a tour of North America. They opened at the home of the New York Mets and set the record for attendance ? with 55,600 ticket holders.
To give a full picture of the hype ? the band arrived in an armoured truck, and there were 2,000 police officers in charge of security. This was an event to behold ? and the noise from the crowd almost completely drowned out the music. Reportedly the Beatles themselves couldn?t hear what they were playing.
The night also set a precedent ? never before had a concert been held in an outdoor stadium. The night at the Shea Stadium was the start of a movement ? and now the idea of such a performance seems commonplace. Indeed, some sports stadiums are choosing to be seen as the home of music and entertainment.
What do you think? I?d love to hear of any others, and do you disagree with any of my suggestions? Comment below.