21. Red Hot Chili Peppers
New-ish guitar player Josh Klinghoffer brings a spry energy that allows singer Anthony Keidis and bassist Flea to strut and flail like men half their age. Their tour to support last year's I'm With You culled fifty songs from throughout their career, making for one of their most exciting live shows in ages. Plus, they still look impossibly cool in tube socks.
Showstopper: Flea's slap-popping bass interludes and spontaneous hand-walking.
22. Tom Waits
Waits is one of America's most brilliant singer-songwriters, a poignant and hilarious storyteller, and his live gigs are exceedingly rare – his 2008 blink-and-you-missed-it Glitter and Doom run was a tough ticket, and he hasn't mounted a full-on tour since the 20th century. Plus, he has the show-biz heart of a carnie: "It's actually like Kabuki theater, the way he does things live – really old fashioned theatrics," says Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes.
Showstopper: It could be the 151-proof Latin groove of "Hoist That Rag," the lullaby heartbreak of "Innocent When You Dream," or the piano-bar nutjob noir of "9th & Hennepin." That catalog is deep.
23. Pearl Jam
After more than twenty years, the grandmasters of grunge are still bursting with surprises, mixing their world-beating anthems with rare cuts and covers. "They are one of the only rock bands of their level that is capable of completely turning their set list inside out on a night-by-night basis," says Late Night With Jimmy Fallon booker and Pearl Jam Twenty author Jonathan Cohen.
Showstopper: Epic live staples like "Porch" and "Black," which consistently clock in at nearly ten minutes.
24. Dave Matthews Band
Two decades in, DMB still know how to surprise their fans, shaking up their setlists this summer with rarely played cuts like "Dancing Nancies" and "The Dreaming Tree" with a huge lineup including lead guitarist Tim Reynolds. "I'm really lucky to be part of something that turns a lot of people on and still turns us on," Matthews told RS last year.
Showstopper: The band recently started playing Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times," a blistering showcase for Reynolds and Matthews' classic growl.
America's reigning jam band has been playing mighty strong and ultra-tight recently, and they still throw one of the best hippie-shake, weed-bake dance parties around.
Showstopper: A recent New Jersey show jammed a cover of Talking Heads' "Crosseyed and Painless" into "Harry Hood" for 30 minutes; the next night boasted a 19-minute version of Velvet Underground's "Rock and Roll," followed by Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)" and a "Tweezer" jam with still more Talking Heads ("Cities"). David Byrne, you have a major fan.
26. Leonard Cohen
Cohen emerged from a fifteen-year hiatus in 2008 with marathon shows that showcase all of his best songs. His band is absolutely stunning, and, at 78, his deeper-than-deep voice is captivating. The three-and-a-half hour show seems to pass by in minutes.
Showstopper: He doesn't do many covers, but his set-closing rendition of "Save the Last Dance for Me" almost makes you forget the Drifters version even exists.
27. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Cave, 55, may be the only consistent member of the Bad Seeds, but the group's 30-year run has produced one of post-punk's great catalogs. It's current edition, which includes psychedelic gut-bucket violinist Warren Ellis, is a gothic inferno, with Cave presiding as dark lord of psycho-sexual rock ritual.
Showstopper: The camp-epic murder ballad "Stagger Lee," which peaks with Cave yelling "suck my dick" – a terrifying invite in the song's context, but which gets remarkably positive fan response.
28. Patti Smith
At 66, Smith still brings the punk-rock shaman-priestess mojo. She's also a poet and a comedian who always has something setting her brain on fire.
Showstopper: Inevitably, it begins with "Jesus died for somebody's sins/But not mine," and ends with "G-L-O-R-I-A-AYYYYYY." And somehow, it never gets old.
No other band brings futurist paranoia and stadium grandeur to the stage like this virtuosic trio. From their imaginative set design (they often seem to play while hanging in the air) to their retina-scorching light show (more lasers? Why not all the lasers?), Muse carry on the decades-old tradition of British prog from Pink Floyd to Radiohead.
Showstopper: "Survival" is an ocean-size anthem, with Matt Bellamy starting out on piano before blasting the crowd with smoke jets and a guitar solo that always achieves liftoff.
Madonna sets the gold standard for pop tours, combining the precision of a Broadway spectacular with the theatricality of an action flick and the raunchiness of a burlesque show. She always sings live and dances her well-toned ass off, reinventing her catalog with goodies for every drag queen, soccer mom and tween in the house. "My first Madonna show was in 2006, and when she came out I started crying," says Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara. "She is truly the master of the pop-icon show."
Showstopper: "Like a Prayer" isn't in the set every tour, but when the Queen trots it out, it never fails to deliver pure ecstasy – no Molly required.
31. David Byrne
Byrne has been touring with art-pop protégée St. Vincent and an outsized brass band, making songs from their collaborative album Love This Giant sound twice as awesome, and turning some Talking Heads songs inside out.
Showstopper: "Burning Down the House" with a massive horn section = best idea ever.
32. Sleigh Bells
No duo since the White Stripes has been able to kick up joyous punk rock noise like Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller. Miller can torture a Marshall stack with the best of them, and the duo have done a great job at adapting the broad scope and overdriven sound of their most recent album, Reign of Terror, for a live setting.
Showstopper: "Infinity Guitars," in which Krauss exudes so much badassery that fans become too transfixed to headbang along.
Beyoncé's vocals are so pristine live, she could sing while standing stock-still for two hours and get standing ovations. But Bey isn't just the Voice; she's also the Body, the Hair Flip, the Don't-Fuck-With-Me Snarl. Her choreography is pristine, her all-girl band is perfect, and her confidence is punishing. Don't forget, this is a woman whose mane got caught in a fan at a recent show and she still never skipped a note.
Showstopper: B's been expertly poppin' her booty to "Crazy in Love" onstage at least 10 years before Miley Cyrus even heard the word "twerk."
34. Foo Fighters
What began as Dave Grohl messing around on a home demo tape has turned into one of the greatest stadium acts of our time, pounding out hit after hit in an era when rock is supposedly dead. "They have so much energy and passion," says Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes. "It always feel effortless and never forced."
Showstopper: "Everlong" has the ability to turn 80,000 calm fans into a giant screaming throng of lunatics.
35. Bruno Mars
Anyone from the age of 5 to 95 can walk out of a Bruno Mars concert feeling like the show was designed just for them. Mars walks the old-school walk (occasionally in James Brown's funky shoes) and talks the sexy talk (sometimes in Prince-like come-ons), but he also nails the hits, leads a super-energetic nine-piece soul band, and rips a mean drum solo.
Showstopper: Mars caps his Moonshine Jungle sets with a spectacular version of "Gorilla" featuring enough pyro to impress Mötley Crüe.
36. Florence and the Machine
At this point, Flo in concert is the pop equivalent of an appearance by Princess Kate. Her pipes are regal, and her sense of ceremony is impressive (see 2012's Ceremonials).
Showstopper: The big beat Brit-soul choral chant of "Shake It Out."
37. The National
This year's Trouble Will Find Me is the most immediate album these Brooklyn guys have made in their decade-plus career. Live, they give their songs extra muscle (bringing a horn section on tour helps), while maintaining the musical detail and emotional intimacy the recording studio. Says Says Marc Gieger of William Morris Endeavor: "When I need to get real depressed, I go see the National. I come home and everything seems good again!"
Showstopper: The way guitar-playing brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner build elegiac noise swirls over Berninger's Merlot-steeped croon on indie-rock burners like "Sea of Love" and, whenever they deign to drop it into their set, "Mistaken for Strangers"
38. Queens of the Stone Age
This year's ...Like Clockwork might be their most deliciously crushing disc of vampiric metal mayhem yet, and live they've never sounded tighter. Josh Homme's Bowie-style crooning is at once funny and reverent and dude has more I'm-rockin' faces in his arsenal than you'd get in an entire episode of Headbangers' Ball.
Showstopper: The gangly hallucinations that dance behind the band as they stalk through "Smooth Sailing."
Four decades into their career, Geddy, Alex and Neil still put on the same kind of incredible show that destroyed pot smoke-clogged arenas back in the Seventies, mixing oldies like "The Spirit of Radio" and "Subdivisions" big chunks of their excellent 2012 album Clockwork Angels. Neil Peart, now 60, remains the single greatest drummer alive and guitarist Alex Lifeson is almost as versatile and powerful as the dude sitting at the massive kit behind him. "Every song rates a standing ovation," says Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein.
Showstopper: Rush don't play a single song from the 1970s during their main set, but in the encore they bust out three sections of their 1976 magnum opus 2112.
40. Eric Church
At his summer stadium shows, country star Eric Church emerges amid smoke and sirens before kicking into his stomper "Creepin," beginning a gig that recalls arena rock's golden age. "When I was growing up, seeing Metallica was an intense experience. It was a prepare-for-three days and then recover for three or four days and that's definitely kind of the way that we approach it," Church says.
Showstopper: During his deep cut "These Boots," fans take off their cowboy boots and raise them high. "It's never been played on the radio, and everybody sings every line," Church says.
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