Whether it’s The Who, The Rolling Stones or Foo Fighters tearing it up in stadiums, witnessing KISS, Aerosmith or Madonna in a large amphitheater or The Supersuckers kickin’ out the jams in a local club, witnessing unforgettable live concerts is one of the great joys in life. Given the strict guidelines imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s looking very likely that a return to live performances is not happening anytime soon. To help satiate your jones for live music, we queried a myriad of famous musicians to share their favorite live concerts or live bands.
Below, enjoy the first installment in an ongoing series.
Paul Stanley: The best rock show I ever saw was Led Zeppelin at the New York State Pavilion in Queens at the old World’s Fair. One summer they were having concerts there. They were playing for fifteen hundred people. Bruce (Kulick) was at that show. This was between the first and second Zeppelin albums. That show for me was the embodiment of sexuality and a sonic onslaught.
But it was so direct and in your face without a lot of what came later, which was a lot of self-indulgence. It was the immediacy and the urgency of what they were doing that to this day, nothing comes close to that. Everybody was just playing like they were possessed, like God had touched them.
Peter Frampton: It has to be Jimi Hendrix. I saw him play live twice. “Hey Joe,” Jimi’s first single, had just come out. He was breaking first in England. I’d gone up to London with Bill Wyman, who has been my friend since I was fourteen. It just so happened Jimi Hendrix was playing this club. There was a big buzz about him.
He got on stage, took the right handed guitar player’s guitar, turned it upside down, didn’t change the strings, and played the most kickass blues you’ve ever heard with the band that was on stage. I got to meet him that night and shake his hand. I remember seeing him to do “Wild Thing”, which was amazing.
Then I saw him play with the Experience at the Bromel Club in the town where I lived in Bromley. The Are You Experienced? album had just come out. He was incredible.
My band The Herd opened once for Jimi Hendrix and we almost got booed off the stage. (laughs) That was as bad as Jimi Hendrix opening for The Monkees. (laughs)
Neal Smith (Alice Cooper): My top live show was The Who at the Shrine auditorium in 1968 on the “Magic Bus” tour. They were fucking amazing! They did “My Generation” and Keith Moon was playing his “Pictures of Lily” drum kit. I get chills even thinking about it right now.
As crazy as Keith Moon was, (Pete) Townshend had a stack of Sunn amps and it stood about eight feet high. He was up at the front of the stage doing the windmills on “My Generation” and he ran backwards into the amps and flies off the back of the stage. (John) Entwistle and Moon are still going crazy. The drums are getting destroyed and flying everywhere. I just laughed all night at Keith; I just could not believe what I was seeing. He was so unorthodox as a drummer, but boy did it work with that band! The whole night was amazing. For that show they were at the top of their game. After that, we did some shows with The Who.
Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd): I saw Zeppelin live twice in Jacksonville, Florida at The Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum. We had a band then, I think we were called Lynyrd Skynyrd but we could have been still going by the name The One Percent. I remember Jethro Tull opened for them and they were great, but everybody kept in their seats. When we saw Zeppelin they blew our minds because all of the girls ran up to the stage. Until then everybody stayed in their seats and just listened to bands. Zeppelin was just unbelievable. They came out and played so good. Jimmy Page broke out the violin bow and started going …(imitates sounds) We thought that was so cool.
Elliot Easton (The Cars): I think the best live band was the Beatles. At a time when P.A. systems and monitors were in their infancy, the Beatles played and sang incredibly well without being able to hear themselves over the deafening roar of 60,000 screaming kids.
Live footage of the band reveals perfectly in-tune complex harmonies and a fairly faithful reproduction of their recorded sound, all without being able to hear a note that they were playing! I’d like to see any current band pull that off! They are also the best live band because they made the best music, period. From where I sit, nothing has come along in over 40 years to force me to change my opinion.
Steve Lukather (Toto): It’s so fucking hard to pick just favorite best live band. When Close to The Edge by Yes came out I didn’t realize that when they made the record that piece of music was edited together. But I remember loving that record so much, I’d smoke dope and listen to the record over and over. When they played the Forum in L.A, me and a bunch of my mates went to the show.
Alan White had joined the band. You saw Rick Wakeman with the 35 keyboards, mellotrons, mini-Moogs, all the state of the art keyboard gear. Steve Howe was huge then. I was a huge fan of the whole band. I remember them coming out and they played the whole record, note for note. No sampling, none of that bullshit. Our jaws were on the floor. It was perfect. Jon Anderson’s voice was perfect and the sound was spot on. That show was fuckin’ amazing! To see those guys pull that off live, to see the level of musicianship separated the men from the boys. They just blew my mind. You had tears in your eyes, it was so good.
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull): Well, it would always be a toss-up between the Stones — mainly for the energy and commitment of Mr. Jagger, and Led Zeppelin, who during their time-gone-by and more recently, as we all know, captured the essence of rock, blues, folk and world music in a way which preceded most. The vocal gymnastics of Robert Plant and the spirited, innovative guitar of Jimmy Page have probably never been equaled. No need for elaborate stage sets, backing musicians, taped or sampled effects; just the four guys and their music, played quite loudly but always with control and finesse.
I think the Zeps win out for me, especially since their music grew from the basic blues riff approach through to encompass many more stylistic influences.
Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge/Rod Stewart): One of the best live acts I’ve ever seen is Aerosmith. Every show that I’ve seen has had the most spectacular production; the staging and stage set was really great. The songs sounded just like their records. Steven Tyler’s vocals were just amazing and his stage presence and persona is untouchable. He’s one of the best front men in the entire business. When he hits the high notes in “Dream On,” it’s incredible, and just hair-raising.
The only one who could have touched Steven’s stage persona was the old Rod Stewart when I played with him the 70’s. The lead singer/guitar player relationship that makes a lot of great rock bands is so dominant in Aerosmith with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, plus you’ve got Brad Whitford, a very underrated guitarist. The rhythm section of Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer is so tight and soulful. You can really hear R&B and blues in that rhythm section and I love that kind of stuff. Live, the grooves are always in the pocket. Tom (Hamilton) is a really solid bass player and Joey Kramer is a great groove rock drummer.
Jim Bonfanti (drummer, Raspberries): I saw The Who in ’67 and Elvis in the early 70’s and those were great shows, but nothing will top seeing The Beatles live at Shea Stadium in August of 1965. I can’t think of any other show that I’ve ever seen that was more exciting.
Their appearance at Shea Stadium became one of the major concerts in their entire career and I feel fortunate to have been there. I was in a band called The Mods. We finished our gig that night and drove from straight from Cleveland to New York City to see the show, which was my very first time in New York City in my entire life.
Eight or nine hours later we made it into Manhattan, bought tickets for the show at Rockefeller Center and then made our way out to Shea Stadium for the show. So we arrive at the stadium and there was no one there. The parking lot was empty! We didn’t understand what was going on. Then we found we got there a day early. (laughs)
So we pooled our tight finances — we’d spent most of our money on cool band clothes the day before — and stayed in some fleabag hotel in Greenwich Village, all cramped together in one room. The next day we made it out to Shea Stadium and this time the parking lot was packed with people of all ages. We had pretty good seats for the show, which were straight on from second base.
What I remember most is the hysteria. It was amazing! It was one solid ear-splitting scream from the moment they walked out of the dugout and strapped on their instruments to kick into the first song, “Twist to Shout” to ending the show with “I’m Down.” You could kind of hear them but in truth, it was more an event than a listening experience.
But what an event it was, and one that I’ll never forget!