Before most households had VCR’s let alone video sharing platforms like Youtube, there were people who had the foresight to capture the magic of legendary concerts on film. As time marched on, these heroes were able to protect, archive and digitize hours of footage.
Thanks to these amateur/professional concert videographers, fans can enjoy live sets from bands who may have broken up, singers who have passed away, and present day superstars fighting ticket scalpers.
My picks for the best full length live performances on Youtube cover the last four decades. I rate what I consider my favorites based on audio quality and the set list. I tend to be very lenient with videos recorded before 1996.
In no particular order…
Stevie Wonder – German TV, Musikladen (1974)
Stevie Wonder is no doubt a walking legend. A fantastic singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist that created some of the greatest albums of 60’s and 70’s.
As far as live concerts go, a Stevie Wonder show isn’t one you want to miss. Even today, Stevie is still headlining music festivals all over the world and playing to crowds of all ages.
While he has only gotten better as a performer, this concert filmed in Germany in 1974 is a sweet spot in the history of Stevie Wonder live performances. It’s recorded a year after the release of Innervisions and two years before his landmark Songs in The Key of Life album. Stevie Wonder was in the zone, with youth on his side, and a super talented backing band.
Highlights: “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” @ 19:38
Nirvana – MTV Unplugged (1993)
Nirvana’s MTV unplugged performance in 93′ is one of those instances where their most famous, definitive live show just so happens to be my favorite. I think it’s because the unplugged nature of the show pushed Kurt, Krist, Dave, and Pat Smear to be at their best. Free, yet precise. Subdued, yet electric..
Joined by the fantastic cellist Lori Goldston, the MTVUnplugged not only produced a classic Nirvana show, but also some of the best covers I’ve ever heard. Dare I say, the best version of “The Man Who Sold The World”? Maybe…
Highlight: “Something In The Way” @ 27:46
D.R.A.M – NPR Tiny Desk Concert (2017)
This performance came fresh out of this year, but don’t hold that against it. It’s a classic concert none the less.
D.R.A.M is rapper singer from the Hampton area of Virginia. He rose to notoriety for his catchy hooks in late 2016 and was quickly dubbed “The new T-Pain”. While D.R.A.M is a force of his own, there is nothing I’d love more than a D.R.A.M/T-Pain co-tour!
This performance on the NPR Tiny Desk concert series pulls back all of the layers of a D.R.A.M standard so there’s nothing but soul left.
Highlight: “Cute” @ 04:02
Tina Turner – Nice & Rough Tour (1982)
Okay, so Beyoncé is iconic, but it is still to be determined if she can pull of singing and dancing live for hours at the same capacity when she’s in her late 40’s.
Tina Turner did and continued to do so until her 70’s. She just recently came out of unofficial retirement to perform in London for the premier of the biographical musical Tina, based on her life.
There are a ton of videos of Tina performing live on Youtube, but not a lot of full concerts. This Nice & Rough Tour 1982 encapsulates the best of a Tina Turner concert. Legs and all!
Highlights: “Jumpin Jack Flash” @ 28:38
Arcade Fire – Madison Square Garden (2010)
Arcade Fire in 2010 was peak Arcade Fire! Fresh off their third consecutive critically acclaimed album, The Suburbs, a 2010 Arcade Fire set list was pretty much a Best Of live album.
This particular show was professionally shot August 5th, 2010 at Madison Square Garden.
Highlight: “The Suburbs” @ 24:35
Talking Heads – Live From Rome (1980)
The most iconic Talking Heads live show, Stop Making Sense was showcased to the world as one of the best feature concert films ever documented. And rightfully so. Stop Making Sense is a audio/visual piece of genius, but it is far from my favorite live Talking Heads show.
That award goes to Live in Rome 1980. This show has the augmented Talking Heads roster with superstar musician Bernie Worrell and powerhouse vocalist Dolette McDonald. I like to play this one over my loud speakers with the bass turnt up. Oh, and not to mention its from the Fear of Music, Remain In Light era of Talking Heads. Their best period in my opinion.
Highlight: “Born Under Punches” @ 48:51
Selena – The Last Concert: Houston, Texas (1995)
Perhaps most popularized by the 1997 biopic Selena, Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla’s final performance before her tragic death had all the makings of a classic show. The entrance, the iconic purple jumpsuit, plenty of cover songs and sense of freedom. That’s how you dance when you feel at home.
Highlight: “Techno Cumbia” @ 19:01
Beyoncé – Glastonbury Festival (2011)
I have always been a full fledged, card carrying member of The Beyhive since she dropped her debut in 2003. HOWEVER, it wasn’t until I watched this full length video of Beyoncé performing live at Glastonbury Festival in 2011 that I realized I was watching a goddamn superhero.
Beyoncé snapped! At the time of this show, Beyoncé was the first woman to ever headline the main Glastonbury in over a quarter century. She performed every song like she thought she’d never see a stage again. In front of a crowd of 175,000, Beyoncé performed her biggest hits and covered King’s of Leon’s Sex On Fire, The Beautiful Ones by Prince, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics, and Alanis Morrisette’s You Oughta Know. Oh, did I mention that at the time of this show she was pregnant with her first child. Your fave could never!
Highlight: “Single Ladies” @ 07:07
Queen – Live at The Bowl Buckinghamshire, England (1982)
There are simply too many mind-blowing live Queen performances to simply pick one, so I’m going with the one that has my favorite version of “Somebody To Love” in it.
I imagine that every Queen concert with Freddy Mercury was their best. He had a way of making the audience feel like friends. And the stadium… just a small party.
Highlights: “Bohemian Rhapsody” @ 01:19:49
Aretha Franklin – Stockholm, Sweden (1968)
No music ranking of any kind is complete with out an Aretha Franklin appearance. This 1968 Amsterdam show is especially remarkable because it’s in support of her landmark 1967 album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You.
Watch Aretha and her background singers fuck it up in their “Geraldine” wigs while hitting every note.
Highlight: “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” @ 09:50
The Clash – Live From The Capitol Theater, New Jersey (1980)
The Capital Theater in Passaic, New Jersey makes a couple of appearances on this list because of the fact that they were one of the rare venues in the late 70’s & early 80’s to record their shows. Although pretty grainy and black & white, the audio quality (which I imagine came from the venue’s soundboard) is high and is synched really well with the video. Even with the murkiness of the video quality, you can still see how hot Paul Simonon was back then.
This era of The Clash is my favorite because it’s when they dove face first into experimenting with a reggae/dub sound. Mikey Dread even makes a cameo during “Bankrobber”. Ugh, so good!
Highlight: “Guns of Brixton” @ 17:16
Kanye West – Late Orchestration: Abbey Road London, England (2007)
I’ve always felt that Hip-Hop wasn’t made for stadiums. There are few exceptions to that rule, Jay-Z’s Fade To Black tour being one of them. The one thing a rapper can’t do without in terms of filling an arena is a live band. I’ve seen Nas play once without a band, and another time with The Roots backing him and there was definitely a difference in quality between both shows.
That’s what makes Late Orchestration so amazing. You take one of my favorite Kanye albums, Late Registration, and you pair it with a full symphony orchestra and a dj? Only excellence can come out of this equation. Ye does not disappoint.
Higlights: “Gone” Video 3/12 in Late Orchestration playlist
Portishead – Roseland Ballroom, New York City (1997)
Portishead, one of many bands on this list I would die to see live. Kinda hard when they put out an album once every 10 years! But their live show recorded at the now closed Roseland Ballroom in New York City is one of my favorite live albums ever. This concert is also complete with a full strings section and dj. I’m sure Kanye has seen this at least once.
Highlights: “Over” @ 10:58
Prince – Capitol Theater, New Jersey (1982)
Some of you are going to complain that Prince isn’t placed higher in this list. Those people must not be able to read, because I clearly stated this list in “No Particular Order”.
If this was a ranking of best concerts from #1-#22, or #22-#1, Prince would certainly be at the very bottom or very top. He’s pretty much one of the top 3 performers of all time. But like I said before, this list is IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER! So this feels like the perfect time to insert this gem of a concert into this list.
This is the second appearance of The Capitol Theater in this list. While there is a full length Prince concert from 1981 that has better video quality you should definitely check out , I chose this Capitol Theater show based on the set list, his energy, and the energy of the crowd. You can really tell that Prince is having the time of his life in this show.
Highlights: “I Wanna Be Your Lover” @ 12:24
Funkadelic – Mothership Connection, Live From Houston (1976)
Spaceships, Furs, Bop-Guns, Glitter, Afro-Futuristic Mythology. Like what more can you fucking ask for in a concert? This tour set ended up in a Smithsonian museum. Thats how epic it was! And this particular performance of “Cosmic Slop”. The greatest!
This was George Clinton and co. at their best and probably their highest. But I want those drugs. I want that hair. I love everything about this show.
Also, if you don’t know anything about the Funkadelic line up at this time, then you need to Google it right now. This show had members of James Browns horn section Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. “Guitar God”Eddie Hazel and Gary Shider on guitar and vocals. It’s an all-star lineup that also features Bernie Worrell. His second appearance on this list.
There’s one point in the show where George Clinton announces that later on in the night Bootsy’s Rubber Band and Sly & The Family Stone will be performing. What!?
This has got to be the best opening act ever!
Highlights: “Let’s Take It To The Stage” @ 11:04
Radiohead – Glastonbury Festival (2003)
I personally have seen Radiohead six times in five different cities. I’m a little bit obsessed with them as a band in general, but I’ve said it before…there’s nowhere I’d rather be then front row at a Radiohead show.
Out of all the live Radiohead concerts I’ve seen with my own eyes, and watched online, their 2003 performance at Glastonbury is my favorite. It occured right after the release of their sixth album, and my favorite Hail To The Thief. The set list is insane, its professionally shot, the audio is perfection, and Jonny Greenwood actually brought an Ondes Martinot to the show. An Ondes is an instrument that they frequently use for an ethereal space effect on their studio albums, but they rarely bring to concerts.
Smoke a J. Watch this on repeat.
Highlights: “The National Anthem” @ 14:22
Michael Jackson – Bad Tour Yokohama, Japan (1987)
I surprised myself that my favorite full length Michael Jackson tour on Youtube would be from his Bad which is my least favorite MJ album. Upon closer look, I realize it’s because he barely performed any tracks from that album. This set list is mostly Thriller, Off The Wall, and Jackson 5/Jacksons nostalgia. The best of MJ really.
Michael killed this performance. In a weird way that only Michael could do, it’s full of energy yet he really takes his time with every song.
Highlights: “Human Nature” @ 13:59
Nine Inch Nails – Fragility 2.0 tour San Fransisco (2000)
Not the best audio/video quality, but sometimes the set list and era just come out with the win. When I was in high school, someone let me borrow a copy of the Nine Inch Nails live album All That Could Have Been and I’m pretty sure I never gave it back. Thank God cd’s are almost extinct now and I’m not losing sleep over it. But that live album was remastered and polished from various shows on the Fragility 2.0 tour. The only decent full length video of this tour is their stop in San Fransisco.
Highlights: “March Of The Pigs” @ 09:48
James Brown – Live from Zaire (1974)
In 1974, Muhammad Ali squared up to fight George Foreman in one of the most anticipated sports events of that year. The “Rumble In The Jungle” took place in the Democratic Republic of The Congo, formerly known as Zaire. Although the original fight date was pushed back until October, the pre-fight music festival Zaire74, that had been planned for September went on as scheduled.
The concert took place over the course of two days. Zaire74 included performances by Bill Withers, The Spinners, Celia Cruz, and more black performers from across the African diaspora.
The highlight of the festival was a legendary performance from James Brown. A man who’s concerts have stopped riots was performing in Africa, at the height of Funk music,before an Ali fight.
You think Jay-Z does pimp shit!
Highlights: “Can’t Stand It” @ 05:02
Björk – National Theater Reykjavik, Iceland (1999)
Bjork has a voice that people either love or hate. I adore her voice and its power is undeniable. I regretfully have yet to see her perform live in person, but she is releasing an album in 2017. There’s still hope!
For now to pass the time until then, I’ll continue to watch her performance at the National Theater in Iceland from 1999. The strings section that backs her adds a dramatic element to what is already a theatrical performance. I mean, it is a Björk show!
Highlights: “Venus As A Boy” @ 35:02
Led Zepplin – Knebworth Festival (1979)
Led Zepplin is arguably one of the best rock bands of all time. Definitely one of the best of the 70’s. I could not make a list of the best live concerts on any platform without naming Led Zepplin.
This show occurred just one year prior to John Bonham’s death and the end of the band. That makes watching this for me, tragic in a few ways but mostly because the band as a whole appears to show no sign of slowing down. Their demise happened while they were still in excellent shape. This show and their performance the previous night at the Knebworth Festival in England were released as a Led Zepplin live DVD by their record company in 2003.
Highlights: “Over The Hills and Far Away” @ 21:25
The Cure – Live From Tokyo, Japan (1984)
This show was recorded at the height of The Cure mania and features the best set list of all the full length 80’s Cure shows on Youtube. The sound on this particular video has been remastered and Robert Smith sounds amazing.
The Cure are still touring and I will definitely be catching their next batch of U.S shows.
Highlights: “Let’s Go To Bed” @ 57:14
If you feel slighted that there wasn’t enough live Hip-Hop on here, or if you think Bruce Springsteen or Jill Scott was robbed, let me know in the comments.
Post your favorite full length concert links from Youtube and don’t be surprised if your picks make it onto a PART 2 list.