Best Live Performances

by nickupton

Take a look at some of the best live music performances. Here I have collected my favorite live performances from a variety of musical styles.

Music is something that virtually everyone enjoys to some degree and it is an extremely important part of most cultures, each having a distinctive style of music. Modern recording methods have made many styles of music accessible to large numbers of people around the world.

Digital downloads have proliferated the production and spread of music and music videos have provided a way of matching a performance to the sound that we hear. However, there is little that can match a great live performance and although these can be extremely extravagant and expensive, live performances bring music back to its basics.

Live performances, at their best, capture a moment in time, something that can never be repeated and although they are almost always recorded these days there is something that cannot be captured about the atmosphere.

On this page I have collected my favorite live performances. As I have not been present at most of these listed, I have based my opinion on the recordings so was unable to experience the atmosphere at the time - there is one notable exception though!

I hope you enjoy my best live performances and please suggest your own favorites - if I like them I will add them to this page.

Underworld & Dame Evelyn Glennie With Pandemonium Drummers - London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

Somehow I was lucky enough to go to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics. I still find it hard to believe I was actually there, particularly as a few days beforehand I was expecting to be watching it on television.

I have always loved the Olympics and have always wanted to go so when I found out that it was coming to London (I come from just outside London) I was very excited only to be disappointed in getting no tickets at all. However, I got lucky and managed to get tickets to the opening ceremony just a couple of days before the event. The ceremony had been kept secret so I had no real idea of what to expect and certainly the opening segment caught me by surprise.

We were all staring at the "Green and pleasant land" that had been created in the stadium and suddenly there was this extraordinarily loud drumming accompanying the transformation into an industrial revolution scene and the forging of the Olympic rings; it was stunning.

I have included two video clips of this fabulous live performance. The first one really captures the vibrancy and volume of the drumming which resonated throughout the stadium and every spectator and it features the first half of the "Pandemonium" segment of the ceremony. The second video clip features the second half of this section and shows the forging of the Olympic rings.

The complete opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics is featured in this BBC DVD set. High quality footage of this awesome drum performance begins the ceremony and all the British medal winners' performances are included as well as all the other highlights - Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Oscar Pistorius and many others. I keep watching my copy - I miss the London Olympics!

Photos from the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony

Below are four photographs that I took of this section of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. The first one is of the "Green and Pleasant Land" that had been created in the stadium; the next is of some of the 1000+ drummers that made an incredible noise as the industrial revolution took place; the third is of the "Dark Satanic Mills" that were created; the final photo is of the Olympic Rings as they were forged from the industrial scene that was created.

The Green and Pleasant Land
The Green and Pleas...
Pandemonium drummers
Pandemonium drummers
Dark Satanic Mills
Dark Satanic Mills
The Olympic Rings
The Olympic Rings

Jean-Michel Jarre - Rendezvous IV - Houston

I can remember watching this Jean Michel Jarre concert as it was being broadcast live on television; looking back on it I wish I been there, but I was on a family holiday in Yorkshire, UK, not in Houston! 

I have vivid memories of watching this concert and "Rendezvous 4" was my favorite part of the show; when I hear it I can picture myself carving walking sticks with my father and grandfather, just like we were when I originally saw the concert - unfortunately neither of them are still here to share the memories.

This is one of the best live performances ever, in my opinion, and impossible to recreate due to the complexity of the light show and fireworks as well as the energy of the performers. Fireworks, laser beams, light shows on skyscrapers, catchy music, a huge choir and a mad, grinning Frenchman controlling it all - what is not to like about this?

Jean Michel Jarre's Rendevouz was one of the first albums that I owned; my mother bought it for me after we had enjoyed the concert on television.

The most memorable tune on this album is Rendevouz IV but the whole thing sounds great on a good quality stereo with the sound turned up.

Queen - Live Aid, London

In 1985 the Live Aid concert was big news - a way to raise money for people starving in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. I was 12 at the time and not really that interested in the concert but it was on TV and it was being broadcast live around the world so I had it on as I was doing my homework. 

Most of the concert was rubbish, in my opinion, with technical faults, pop stars trying to be politicians and bands that just sounded awful, but when Queen came on my homework was forgotten.

I was very familiar with the music of Queen as my mother was a fan, but this performance was probably what made me a lover of their music. Quite frankly Queen were by far the best thing at Live Aid and I am not sure there is anyone who disputes this. Wish I had been there just for this act - I never got to see Queen live and I was truly saddened when Freddie Mercury died.

Amazingly this 4 disc DVD set does not include the whole concert! Some footage has gone missing since 1985 but most of the performances are here including Queen's show-stealing set.

Also included is some BBC News footage and documentaries concerning the tragic events in African nations that this concert was designed to benefit.

Lady Gaga - Paparazzi - VMA Music Awards, New York

Lady Gaga was not really on my radar when she first became popular. I was living in Thailand and spending most of my time leading bird tours in remote forests, totally out of touch with what was going on in modern western culture.

However, I had heard the song "Poker Face" so I was vaguely interested in seeing who the singer was when my sister, Heather, started telling me about a Lady Gaga performance on the VMA music awards the previous evening. Her description of the performance was intriguing and with the wonders of the internet we were able to immediately view it. Oh, and what a performance!

What Lady Gaga did was art, designed to shock and bordering on insanity but, to me, it is one of the most memorable live performances that I have ever seen. I just wish I had actually seen it live.

This is Lady Gaga's debut album and I think it contains her best music up to now. The songs Paparazzi, Poker Face, Telephone and Bad Romance are all on this double album along with many more songs.

If you are one of those people who has been wondering exactly who Lady Gaga is, this is the best way to get acquainted with her music.

2 Cellos - You Shook Me All Night Long - Dubrovnik

Now, I have been to Dubrovnik, in Croatia, and the old city is awesome. It is a Venetian-style city, wonderfully preserved and restored, consisting of wonderful old buildings completely surrounded by an enormous medieval wall. What a wonderful location for an open air concert!

I came across this live performance when looking through Youtube for videos for another web page and oh wow, what a performance this is.

I am a fan of the rock group ACDC and also classical music which may seem like a strange combination but these two guys really make it work. In this performance by Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser of 2Cellos the energy of the performers is amazing, the music is great and the setting is wonderful - I would have loved to have been there myself for this.

2Cellos do not seem to have released this song on any of their current albums but here is their debut album which includes Guns 'n' Roses's "Welcome to the Jungle", Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and Nirvana's "Smells like teen spirit".

This is an interesting way to enjoy some familiar songs played by two fantastic musicians.

Madonna & Gogol Bordello - La Isla Bonita - Live Earth, London

The Live Earth concert was supposed to do for the environment what Live Aid had done for the starving in Africa. However, from what I could see it achieved nothing at all apart from a music concert that was, in fact, far better produced than Live Aid.

I watched much of this concert and there were actually quite a few good performances but the one that stood out for me was this one by Madonna and Gogol Bordello.

Unless you are a Buddhist monk who has spent the last 30 years in a cave in the Himalayas you will have heard of Madonna but few will know who Gogol Bordello are. Well, there is little better way to introduce them than by highlighting this video where they collaborate in this high energy version of La Isla Bonita. This performance is a lot of fun and one of those that gets you moving.

The Immaculate Collection contains Madonna's biggest hits from the 1980s which are probably most of her most famous songs. Like a Vigrin, La Isla Bonita, Holiday, Material Girl, Like a Prayer, Into the Groove and Vogue are all on this album. If you are not really a Madonna fan this collection will probably convert you. If you are a fan - enjoy!

ACDC - Thunderstruck - Live At River Plate, Argentina

I was most certainly not at this concert in Argentina and although it is amazing I think I am glad that I wasn't as I cannot imagine being in that huge crowd. 

ACDC are one of those bands that seem to have been a round for ever but unless you are a fan of theirs you probably will not be able to name a single one of their songs. However, if you listened to their Greatest Hits album you would recognize many of the songs from advertisements and movies.

This live performance is just incredible because of the size of the crowd the band have attracted and the energy of the fans. It is amazing how much excitement a bunch of old boys can elicit by playing guitars and shuffling around a stage - at least they are not in bath chairs.....yet!

This was my first ACDC album and my introduction to the band. It contains all of their most famous songs and you will recognize them from television and movies, my favorites are Thunderstruck, Back in Black, Heatseeker, Highway to Hell, Are you Ready? and You Shook me all Night Long.

If you like any of these songs you just might find that this album is your guilty pleasure.

Dizzee Rascal - Radio 1 Live Lounge

This performance was one that I heard live as it was recorded and played on BBC Radio 1. I only had a vague idea of who Dizzee Rascal was as I had been overseas when this song, Bonkers, had been a big hit but I was intrigues when this guy gave a really high energy performance of a song that usually relies heavily on electric instruments and sound effects (well, the sound effects are still there).

Dizzee Rascal's performance was interspersed with a very interesting interview that revealed him to be far more serious and deep-thinking than you might expect; he certainly came across as a good guy and a very talented performer.

Check out this video clip and if you haven't heard the song before I think you might be quite surprised how much you enjoy it - Bonkers!

Bonkers is the opening track on this album. If you are a fan of Dizzee Rascal you probably already have this but if you are not and enjoyed the above performance you might like to try something new.

I also like the track "Holiday" but to be honest I found the rest of the album a bit disappointing after these two songs.

Vote For The Best Live Performance

Which of these performances do you think is the best?
Updated: 12/15/2022, nickupton
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DerdriuMarriner on 12/15/2022

The best live performances always are by Queen and by Carles Benavent.

Guest on 04/24/2013

I've seen Jarre live three times and he was totally awesome every single event. Destination Docklands 1988, Chronologie (Wembley Stadium) and Oxygene 7-13 (Wembley Arena) in the 90s. I also attended the Songs and Visions concert in Wembley in 1997 which featured kd lang, Chaka Khan, Jon Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, Seal, Robert Palmer and Steve Winwood. That was several hours of absolute bliss. Strangely enough, I don't like crowds and generally dislike these super-concerts, but for some people (Messrs Jarre and Winwood especially) I will put up with whatever I need to in order to see them. At the Oxygene concert, as I was on my own, I was given an end of aisle seat which just happened to be above part of the light show, allowing me to look directly down through the lights onto the stage. That was seriously amazing!

sherryh on 04/23/2013

I really liked the 2 Cellos video. Thanks for sharing it. You're so right that no recording can match the power and electricity of a live performance. A huge crowd, light show and fireworks are exciting, but even in a smaller, more intimate setting, live music is just better.

nickupton on 04/23/2013

For me it was close between Queen and the Olympic opening ceremony. The Olympics won in the end because I was actually there.

katiem2 on 04/23/2013

I like the Queen live aid performance best, it was just so different to see them perform in such a setting without the huge production and light show. Great article. :)K

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