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jimtriantafyllou97@gmail.c

What are the best live bands of all time? (apart from Zep)

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Now, I know "best" doesn't exist since music is all about taste, which is subjective. But I think most of us have more or less similar criteria when it comes to live shows, so here they are (ordered from the most important to the least):

1) Technical Skill - If you can't even strum properly, forget about connecting with your audience. Not only does every member need to perform his song parts, but they also need to be in sync with each other. This criteria seems obvious and unnecessary for the popular bands, but looking at the underground scene reveals a lot of bad playing.

2) Energy - A lifeless, plodding live performance can mar a newcomer's opinion on a certain band's output. Tremendously important aspect of the live experience, bands need to play with conviction and fire. Now that we got rid of the obvious requirements that every live band should match, let's look at some a lot of people overlook...

3) Ability to change the songs from their studio counterparts - This is by far the most important thing a live band should work on (after the obvious 1&2, of course). Variating from the original is the essence of a live show. Otherwise I might as well listen to the studio albums. There are four ways to change your songs live: a. sonically (altering the sounds of the instruments, like a different guitar distortion or bass tone), b. arranging-wise (changing the tempo, instruments, mood), c. melodically (altering the various riffs/solos, vocal hooks, drum patterns and bass lines of a given song) and d. structurally (this includes everything from adding new sections to full-blown improvisational passages). Zep used all four methods, for example, and this what made them such a legendary live act.

4) Setlist - You can be the best guitarist, have the most energy and make your songs unrecognizable, but if the actual song selection sucks, so will your live show. First of all, a good setlist should not just be a bunch of random songs thrown in: the songs should flow seamlessly together and there has to be a level of diversity as far as song sequencing goes. In other words, don't throw all the upbeat numbers in one place, then all the ballads in the other. Tension and release is pretty important, as well as build-up; after all, Zep had a reason to finish their concerts (not counting encores) with Stairway and not, say, Celebration Day. Also, there has to be a balance between the well-known hits, the deeper cuts and the new material. Listening only to the old warhorses is equally boring as listening to an album cut that only the band members remember or listening to only the "fresh" stuff from their upcoming album.

5) Visual aspect - In other words, the stage presence of the members and the lighting/effects/inflated penises (nod to my man Mick here) etc. Since this is not a musical factor and only matters when actually attending a concert or watching a DVD, it is naturally the least important...but it still matters. Looking awkward/bored/annoying/fake etc. can really mar the live experience a lot. After all, the Seattle show from 77 is not worse than a lot of other nights musically, but Jimmy's "sleeping sickness" has turned off plenty of listeners and has even helped in the bad reputation of the '77 tour.

Based on these criteria (which I think many people share), what are the best live bands of all time?

Edited by jimtriantafyllou97@gmail.c

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I would say that the Grateful Dead can make a pretty strong claim.  They definitely meet criteria 1, 3 & 4 in leaps & spades.  Their setlist variety is truly astounding.  The number of songs that they had ready to throw in at the drop of a hat, and the breadth of genres, eras, etc. that they covered is just ridiculous.  Plus, the chemistry required to transition so seamlessly between songs, often times totally unscripted, like they did is absolutely remarkable (and even more so considering the size of their lineup--including two drummers most of their career).  Energy was very much there in the early years, maybe started to lag a bit as the '70s wore on, but they definitely had it at least through 1972.  They might lose some points on #5, idk.  Never had the pleasure of seeing them.

Two bands I have had the pleasure of seeing could also make a strong claim: AC/DC and The Rolling Stones.

Stones:

1.  Check.  Keith especially has been lagging a bit in this area as of late, but in their prime this wasn't an issue.

2.  Without a doubt.

3.  Pretty good at this actually, especially back in the day.

4.  This has always been their greatest downfall as a live act IMO--setlists are often too greatest hits-heavy, especially as the venue increases in size and the distance from a major cosmopolitan market increases.  However, they have always been very good at structuring their setlists from a flow/suspense/spectacle perspective.

5.  Visuals have always been excellent, and have steadily improved as some of the more important criteria have perhaps decreased.

Don't judge them based on what they have become over the past 20-25 years; during their live period with Mick Taylor ('69-'73), they were just about as good as anyone has ever been.

AC/DC:

1.  Check.

2.  Absolutely.  Angus is rock's Energizer Bunny.

3.  This is where they might lose some points.  I would say that they were more adventurous and improvisational when Bon was still alive, but even then, the only real change there has ever been is extending Angus' solos.

4.  I do wish they would pull out more "deep tracks," or even swap a greatest hit for a semi-greatest hit every now and then.  They actually started making a concerted effort to do this after Axl joined last year, with great success, I think.  Hopefully they will continue with that formula.

5.  One of the best in this department.

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John M   
8 minutes ago, Bonzo_fan said:

that the Grateful Dead can make a pretty strong claim.  They definitely meet criteria 1, 3 & 4 in leaps & spades.  Their setlist variety is truly astounding.  The number of songs that they had ready to throw in at the drop of a hat, and the breadth of genres, eras, etc. that they covered is just ridiculous.  Plus, the chemistry required to transition so seamlessly between songs, often times totally unscripted, like they did is absolutely remarkable (and even more so considering the size of their lineup--including two drummers most of their career).  Energy was very much there in the early years, maybe started to lag a bit as the '70s wore on, but they definitely had it at least through 1972.

You said it very well.  I think anything live by the Dead 1967 - 1977 puts them near the top. Check out the 1977 tour.  First rate.  Fire on the Mountain was the best jam that year, but many others  were superb, and what a set of songs that tour!  I first saw them in 78.  They were still great, but after they lost Keith and Donna they took a step backwards and were never the same.  Yeah, the 80s shows were fun and all but not at the level of the 60s and 70s shows.

I think the Allman Brothers up through 1973 were absolutely amazing as a live band, as was Santana up through about the same period.

Yes was a fantastic live band until they broke up after the Tormato tour of 1978-79.

And of course there was Pink Floyd.  They "jammed" in their own way, they were very dynamic, and they played songs sometimes two albums ahead.  For example they played songs from Animals in their summer  1975 tour, before Wish You Were Here was even released.  To get a sense of them live check out the live disc of Umma Gumma and the Pompei video.

I would also mention the Black Crowes.  I saw them many times and saw only one less than stellar show.  They could jam.  

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1 hour ago, John M said:

You said it very well.  I think anything live by the Dead 1967 - 1977 puts them near the top. Check out the 1977 tour.  First rate.  Fire on the Mountain was the best jam that year, but many others  were superb, and what a set of songs that tour!  I first saw them in 78.  They were still great, but after they lost Keith and Donna they took a step backwards and were never the same.  Yeah, the 80s shows were fun and all but not at the level of the 60s and 70s shows.

I think the Allman Brothers up through 1973 were absolutely amazing as a live band, as was Santana up through about the same period.

Yes was a fantastic live band until they broke up after the Tormato tour of 1978-79.

And of course there was Pink Floyd.  They "jammed" in their own way, they were very dynamic, and they played songs sometimes two albums ahead.  For example they played songs from Animals in their summer  1975 tour, before Wish You Were Here was even released.  To get a sense of them live check out the live disc of Umma Gumma and the Pompei video.

I would also mention the Black Crowes.  I saw them many times and saw only one less than stellar show.  They could jam.  

Good call about the Allmans & Santana.  Yeah, I love the Dead's '77 stuff too--Scarlet>Fire was awesome!  I really love what Pigpen added to the band though, so I could never pick a post-Europe '72 show as my favourite of theirs (as good as 8/27/72 & 9/21/72 are).  Also, "Dark Star" is still by far my favourite live track of theirs, so '77 loses points with me for not having any Star's.

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The Dead - on the top for sure. 1972 what a year for everyone. The Bickershaw Festival show is excellent.

Personally as acts I have seen a few come to mind;

Thin Lizzy - Brian Robertson or Gary Moore era

UFO - Schenker period

AC/DC - Bon Scott - never saw them with the Geordie bloke

Black Sabbath - pre 1979. Ozzy was a great frontman

Tangerine Dream - controversial choice but I saw them a couple of times in the 70's. Once with Lasarium for effects and it was pure wonderfulness

 

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Good call about the Stones; as far as live albums go, Ya Ya's is pretty much a lesson on how to make one. Whatever they lacked in improvisation, they made up with a great ear for changing the sound, arrangements and melodic components of their songs. Too bad they're a pretty boring act nowadays (not that it diminishes in any way their glorious past ;) )

I dunno about Santana; I saw the Tanglewood 1970 concert that's on youtube the other day and I didn't witness a lot of changes for the majority of songs (maybe I need to jog my memory, though, it's been several months :P )

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...Queen (pre-1980), Deep Purple (Mark II or III), Rainbow (during the Dio years),  Ted Nugent (prior to 1980), Van Halen (before they became Van Hagar) and Judas Priest (practically anytime).  

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JTM   

I've seen very few bands that would not get in a listing here, there are far too many great bands/artists to mention, many of them way better than Led Zeppelin.

 

 

Edited by JTM

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21 hours ago, John M said:

You said it very well.  I think anything live by the Dead 1967 - 1977 puts them near the top. Check out the 1977 tour.  First rate.  Fire on the Mountain was the best jam that year, but many others  were superb, and what a set of songs that tour!  I first saw them in 78.  They were still great, but after they lost Keith and Donna they took a step backwards and were never the same.  Yeah, the 80s shows were fun and all but not at the level of the 60s and 70s shows.

I think the Allman Brothers up through 1973 were absolutely amazing as a live band, as was Santana up through about the same period.

Yes was a fantastic live band until they broke up after the Tormato tour of 1978-79.

And of course there was Pink Floyd.  They "jammed" in their own way, they were very dynamic, and they played songs sometimes two albums ahead.  For example they played songs from Animals in their summer  1975 tour, before Wish You Were Here was even released.  To get a sense of them live check out the live disc of Umma Gumma and the Pompei video.

I would also mention the Black Crowes.  I saw them many times and saw only one less than stellar show.  They could jam.  

I forgot about Yes;  they definitely belong on the list.

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12 hours ago, Stryder1978 said:

...Queen (pre-1980), Deep Purple (Mark II or III), Rainbow (during the Dio years),  Ted Nugent (prior to 1980), Van Halen (before they became Van Hagar) and Judas Priest (practically anytime).  

I would include DP Mark IV, on those nights Bolin wasn't completely wasted. 

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10 hours ago, JohnOsbourne said:

I would include DP Mark IV, on those nights Bolin wasn't completely wasted. 

Mk IV is such an underrated band, imho.

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Metallica - If you ever see them, you will know what I mean, saw them during the Death Magnetic Tour of 09, just hard & heavy.

Pink Floyd 77 Animals Tour, not so much for the jamming, there was some, but just the overall experience, Surround Sound in the 70's, floating Pigs, exploding Sheep, what else do ya need?

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12 hours ago, ZosoAddict said:

Mk IV is such an underrated band, imho.

Agreed, Bolin was an amazing guitarist, sadly underappreciated (which I guess is what generally happens when you abuse drugs).

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IpMan   

I have seen a shit ton of bands in my life, including Zeppelin in 77' and most shows were good, there were a few turds (Kiss in 79', Van Halen in 84', Aerosmith in 90' to name a few of the big ones) but most good. The excellent shows were of course Zep in 77', Van Halen & Ted Nugent in 78', Billy Squire & Pat Benetar in 81', Talking Heads, The Cure, Souxsie & the Banshees, Neal Diamond, Rush (never disappointed), and Roger Waters (thanks Jerry).

However, one show in particular, above ALL others including Zeppelin I would like to point out for one reason: Sound in general. I saw Don Henley solo in 1990 at Poplar Creek, Hoffman Estates, IL and to this day I have never HEARD a better show. Of course I have seen better shows in general but never before or since have I heard a show sound so perfectly balanced, so well mixed, so damn clear. This was also the first and last rock concert I ever attended where you could actually talk to the person next to you without having to shout yet at the same time hear the music perfectly and not disturb anyone else. I have no clue how Henley did this as The Eagles did not sound near as good as this when I saw them in 94'. Don Henley may be a real dick but I love his music and his live sound engineer should have his dick bronzed. Whoever he is the man is / was an auditory genius.

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Mook   

If I could go back in time to see two bands (other than Led Zeppelin), my choices would be:-

Mahavishnu Orchestra 1973

The Tony Williams Lifetime line up consisting of Tony Williams, Jack Bruce, John McLaughlin & Larry Young who played together in 1970.

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FL6   

DLR Van Halen for sure. This is a great example of them opening the show with On Fire but due to some technical difficulty had to wing it till it was rectified. Pretty exciting when re-launch into the proper song.

 

 

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FL6   

Also, the intro to the Montreal 1984 show was incredible too. The lights, the audience, introduction, pacing, feels like you're there. I'll shut up now :)

 

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