Music is often best enjoyed live; whilst it doesn’t offer the artist the same precise control over their sound that a studio album provides, it does offer an intense emotional experience for artist and fan alike. However, not all acts are created equal – and the fact is, some artists put on a more spectacular live show than others. Here’s a rundown of some of our favourites.
With her return to the stage after a stunning 35 years, Kate Bush proved that sometimes the best is worth waiting for. Overwhelmingly applauded by critics, her “Before the Dawn” residency in London combined grand theatrical production values with a touch of tender intimacy, creating a show that will long be remembered by all who saw it. Those audience members were lucky indeed – tickets for the 22 dates, including extravagant hospitality packages priced at over £400, sold out in just fifteen minutes.
Sadly, we can’t share any footage or recordings of the tour – Kate Bush requested that none be taken, and by and large the audience seem to have complied.
This German Industrial band is famed for their extensive use of pyrotechnics – so much so that at the end of the show, fans in the front row get handed a sticker proclaiming the fact that they survived! Lead singer Til Lindemann and other band members often wear pyrotechnic devices, so in the name of safety Lindemann has himself qualified as a licensed pyrotechnician, in addition to the professionals they have behind the stage. Their over-the-top, theatrical shows aren’t without controversy, however – onstage antics during a show in Worcester, Massachusetts resulted in an arrest, a night in jail and a fine for indecency!
We couldn’t think of anybody further removed from the previous entry, but it can’t be denied that Beyonce offers an outstanding live performance. Her voice alone would be impressive, but she doesn’t miss a note even during the most complex choreography. Her consummate stage professionalism was highlighted during a show in Montreal when her hair was caught in a stage fan – and she simply kept singing while stage hands freed her.
Another abrupt change – where Beyonce dances across the stage, electronic music legends Daft Punk offer a set that is much more static, physically speaking, and yet just as entrancing. The set design and lighting effects create the spectacular here – enhanced by the fact that they perform live so rarely that it’s a unique experience. And yes, despite what some may think, they’re performing live, mixing both music and visuals from their decks on stage.
Despite some criticism over ticket prices in the past, and the fact that the band may go through the entire concert without performing certain of their biggest hits, Radiohead fans consistently leave their concerts happy. Their complex musical arrangements are perfectly replicated live, proving that no studio tricks are required to create their unique sound, and Thom Yorke’s vocal performance, live energy and unusual dance moves must be seen to be believed.
Another artist with a taste of the spectacular is Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. From extravagant set design to stunning – and often bizarre – outfits, combined with flawless vocals and choreography in foot-high platform boots, her shows have everything you could want. Not to mention, of course, the fact that she can pull out storming singalong blockbusters like Bad Romance and Pokerface.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
A more traditional kind of band performance, without tricks or gimmicks and simply powered by intense energy and stagemanship. Nick Cave’s distinct voice, the power and energy of his supporting musicians (and the fact that some of them have more charisma than you find in the front men of other bands) create a distinct performance that deserves acclaim. Whilst it’s probably not a performance you’d take your family to – the profanity-laden Stagger Lee being one of the highlights of the show – the talent here is undeniable.
Known for his impressive vocal range, flamboyant presence and an astonishing catalogue of hits, Prince is an innate performer, and his stage shows are certain crowd-pleasers. In 2014, he performed some extraordinarily intimate shows – including one for just ten people in the living room of friend and singer Lianne La Havas. With a new album just released in September (PLECTRUMELECTRUM, recorded with his new band 3rdeyegirl), he shows no sign of slowing down and fans can no doubt look forward to many more performances.
The Rolling Stones
Despite their age (the youngest Stone, Ronnie Wood, is a sprightly 67), the Rolling Stones still undoubtedly rock. Formed in 1962, the band have been entertaining audiences worldwide for over 50 years, including a historic performance in Israel in June of this year, where previously rock’n’roll bands have been banned for fear they might be a corrupting influence.
Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor may be better known today for his instrumental work on movies such as The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl, but he still brings his industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails to the stage with brutal intensity. Although he doesn’t speak much to the audience, the music speaks for itself, played with precision and a burning emotional intensity.
So there you have it – ten of the best live acts of our time. These are, of course, subject to personal opinion, and your musical preferences may affect your views, but whatever style of music you lean towards you can certainly learn a lot from these excellent musicians.