Nine of rock’s most legendary long shows
How long is the perfect gig?
There is no one right answer. Depending on the artist, the reception of the public, the size of the hall and many other factors, it is not known exactly how long a concert will last. And that’s part of the thrill of live music.
But some artists have definitely pushed the boundaries when it comes to gig lengths. They will give shows that last for hours and extend into the early hours. Sometimes these sets are carefully planned; other times, an impulsive decision leads to an epic spectacle.
We revisit nine of rock’s most legendary long shows below.
Led Zeppelin, January 26, 1969, Boston Tea Party, Boston (over 4 hours)
When Led Zeppelin first came to the United States in late 1968, they surprised critics with their towering live sound. No one had really seen people quite like them: equal parts British rockers and deep Delta blues aficionados. In January 1969, a few weeks after the release of their self-titled debut album, Led Zeppelin began a four-night tour of the Boston Tea Party, a small space (capacity of 400, according to the New England Historical Society) which became known for having attracted artists like the Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead and other artists on their way to becoming global stars. The first three nights of The Zeppelin Run were something to behold, but it was the fourth and final show that solidified Led Zeppelin as one of the most powerful live bands around. They would have played for more than four hours. After running out of original material, they turned to Elvis Presley, The Beatles and other covers. Steven Tyler, 20, was in the audience, sitting cross-legged in the back and moved by the music so intensely that he cried. “As far as I’m concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that really stood out, was the one we played on our first US tour at the Boston Tea Party,” said bassist John Paul Jones. NME in 1973. “I guess that’s when we realized what Led Zeppelin would become.”
Grateful Dead, May 7, 1972, Bickershaw Festival, Bickershaw, England (over 4 hours)
It’s no secret that the Grateful Dead thrived on very long live performances – it was the musical space they felt most comfortable in. “[I’ve] always been a musician and passionate about improvisation, and it’s like I see life as a continuous series of improvisations”, said Jerry Garcia rolling stone in January 1972, just months before the Dead took the stage at the Bickershaw Festival in England. The weather was wet and spectators – including Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello – walked through the mud to hear a variety of American acts perform over several days. But it was the Dead, on the third and final day of the festival, that made jaws drop with a performance lasting around five hours. The set featured extended jams of several songs – Ron “Pigpen” McKernan delivered a 20-minute rendition of “Good Lovin”, while “The Other One” recorded over half an hour – inspiring a new generation artists to push their performances live.
Guns N’ Roses, August 3, 1991, Great Western Forum, Inglewood, CA (approx. 3.5 hours)
Performing the fourth of four consecutive sold-out shows in Inglewood, California on August 3, 1991, Guns N’ Roses remained on stage for approximately three and a half hours, making it one of the longest shows of their career. They played over 30 songs, stretching the concert into the wee hours of the morning, finally ending the evening with “Paradise City” on a second encore. Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon and Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach appeared in the first encore, assisting Axl Rose on “You Ain’t the First” and “You’re Crazy”, respectively. Neither Use your illusion the album was ready to be released when the tour kicked off in May. They finally arrived in September, but that didn’t deter fans from packing the Forum and sticking around until the end.
Pixies, October 13, 2010, Teatro La Cupula, Santiago, Chile (about 4 hours)
On August 5, 2010, a ramp collapse leading to a Chilean mine left 33 workers trapped underground. It was not until October 13, 69 days later, that all minors were safely released. It’s also the day the Pixies were scheduled to perform at Teatro La Cupula in Santiago, their very first headlining show in the country. As frontman Black Francis said at the time, the band learned the good news about five minutes before going on stage. “We wanted to do something to show how affected we were by this,” Black said. “So we played a special set, 33 songs for the 33 minors, the longest set we’ve ever played as a band.” It’s unclear exactly how long the concert lasted, probably around four hours, but it was well received by attendees. “We were so moved by this story,” Francis said. “How many lives have been affected by this, and how the people of Chile have come together to support what can only be described as a miracle.”
Frank Marino, December 10-11, 2010, Agora Theatre, Cleveland (about 6 hours)
Mahogany Rush’s Frank Marino not only performed two consecutive three-hour concerts in December 2010, he also invited fans to come to the Agora Theater to watch the six-hour rehearsal the night before. (That’s 12 hours of total playing time over two days.) It was all professionally filmed, recorded, and edited for a six-hour concert DVD. “Although the lighting rig was small, it was a good old rock ‘n’ roll rig, the kind I specialize in and perfect for this band,” lighting director Charlie “Cosmo Wilson, who also installed the lights for AC/DC and Foreigner, later said. “Frank Marino has never done a proper video. I’ve wanted to do lights for him for so long, it’s been an honor to do something rare that will last forever.”
The Cure, April 21, 2013, Foro Sol Stadium, Mexico City (4 hours, 6 minutes)
In April 2013, days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico, the nation’s capital experienced another seismic event: over four hours of music by The Cure. The occasion was Robert Smith’s 54th birthday and the band played 50 songs in a marathon show that lasted four hours and six minutes. They played four encores, the last of which contained 12 songs. It wasn’t entirely a surprise to audiences: The Cure’s shows on their Great Circle Tour were notorious for their length. The Guardian even criticized the shows as being too long.
Phish, December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee, Florida (about 7 hours)
Phish entered the new millennium doing what he does best: jamming like there was no tomorrow. The band held a two-day event at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida to celebrate New Year’s in front of thousands of fans. (Over 80,000 people showed up even though only 60,000 tickets were sold.) Day two featured an afternoon plus epic performance from midnight to sunrise that lasted seven hours. “The idea was to play in the continental United States outside all night until the sun comes up,” frontman Trey Anastasio later recalled. “It’s the year 2000. Y2K was supposed to happen back then. All computers will be off. The world will come to an end. But we’ll all be together. After a sleepless night. Planes will be down from You you won’t be able to take your money out of the bank. Remember? People really thought that.
Bob Dylan, January 12, 1990, Toad’s Place, New Haven, Connecticut (4 hours, 20 minutes)
One of the highlights of Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour occurred on January 12, 1990 at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut. , then embarked on a tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and finally became a member of the Traveling Wilburys. Between all that, he made seven albums. By the end of the decade, his live performances had become lackluster. But when he arrived at Toad’s Place, a small club with a capacity of around 700 people, the tickets were gone in less than 20 minutes. To kick off the new decade, Dylan put on a 50-song show that ran for over four hours. When Dylan left the stage at the scheduled time, he asked venue owner Brian Phelps if he could continue. “Dylan asked me if he could play another set. And we said, sure, go ahead!” Phelps called back. “You know, and they asked again and played a third. ‘Can I play another one?’ You know what? Yeah! Go ahead! It’s no problem! Dylan even responded to audience requests by playing covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, Hank Williams’ “Lonesome Whistle” and a song by the Traveling Wilburys, “Congratulations”.
Bruce Springsteen, July 31, 2012, Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland (4 hours, 6 minutes)
Just when you think the boss is ready to call it a night, he continues the party. Bruce Springsteen is well known for his marathon gigs and has gone on to break his longest show record multiple times over the years. In 2012, he gave his longest concert to date in Helsinki, Finland: four hours and six minutes. (He broke his American record in 2016, playing a show in Philadelphia that lasted four hours and four minutes.) For Springsteen, it’s second nature to keep going. “I’m conditioned to do this from many, many years of experience,” he said in 2016. “Don’t try it at home, kids.”
The Concerts Return: Opening Night Plans for Major Rock Bands
As the world begins to slowly reopen, artists plan to return to the stage.