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50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now

Page 3 of 3

41. Tame Impala
Kevin Parker (the Perth, Australia native that leads Tame Impala) is a young psychedelic wunderkind, making tunefully mind-melting music that Syd Barrett would've appreciated, using little more than guitar, a bunch of pedals, and a Day-Glo imagination. Live, their natural trippiness is expansive and transporting.

Showstopper: The sweetly gelatinous whirlpool of "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards."

42. Skrillex
EDM is one of the biggest live draws going today, largely thanks to the showmanship of a pocket-size powerhouse named Sonny Moore. Skrillex's sets are relentlessly satisfying drop-a-thons as he headbangs, hops, and tweaks buttons atop his spaceship stage set like a 5-year-old mainlining Fun Dip. "When I saw him," says Lars Ulrich, "it was 30,000 kids going fucking apeshit to this orgasm of lights and sound and strobes. I've never seen anything so completely over-the-top. It felt like it was on a spaceship."

Showstopper: You never know what pop, hip-hop, and electro hits Skrilly will bust out, but his own smash "Bangarang" is always a squelchy scorcher.

43. Mumford & Sons
How can a four-man acoustic band that doesn't even have a full-time drummer possibly make enough noise to fill an arena? Mumford & Sons have plenty of technical tricks – ranging from Ben Lovett's subtle synth enhancements to the well-mic-ed kick drum Marcus Mumford stomps on, to the electric-bass-style pickups on Ted Dwane's stand-up. But the real answer is that the Mumfords are confident enough to aim big, to make their shows as uplifting and fervent as possible. "That's why the shows always have to be an effort," says Mumford, who cites Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen's Sessions Band and Old Crow Medicine Show as live influences. "If we walk offstage and we have any energy left, it hasn't been a good show."

Showstopper:  When a horn section joins them for their contagious, explosive anthem "Lover of the Light"­­­ and when they play close sets with covers like "The Weight" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain."

44. Janelle Monáe
This primo funk soul sister is one of the most inexhaustible, electric performers of the past decade. Look closely and you'll find traces of Prince, Bowie, Jagger, and Beyoncé in her swaggerific soul revue, but Monáe is no imitator: There aren't any other ladies belting ballads then crowd-surfing in tuxedos on the road right now – and there likely never will be.

Showstopper: "Tightrope" packs in all of Monáe's signatures: the fly footwork, the sweet spins, and that ornate cape.

45. Lady Gaga
Gaga isn't content to just put on conceptual pop spectacles; her concerts double as refugee camps for her Little Monsters, the masses of queer kids and outcasts that drape themselves in police tape and bubble wrap as an homage to their fearless, fashion-forward leader. Gaga never stops thinking big: huge sets, massive choreography, epic speeches about overcoming obstacles. And her ability to dance in foot-high platforms is matched by her killer pipes and effortless piano playing.

Showstopper: "Bad Romance" is a reliable singalong, with Gaga conducting the stadium like a beautiful mad scientist.

46. Tool
They haven't had a new album out since 2006, but Tool still bring the art-goth-prog-metal thunder like true dungeon masters. "We did live shows to sell the records. Now we do records to sell the live shows," Maynard James Keenan has said. At this point the mysterious band practically dissolves into guitarist Adam Jones' fantastically twisted accompanying videos, which only puts more focus on the relentlessly discomfiting music.

Showstopper: Double-bass drum crushing Danny Carey's mind-boxing time signatures and Seventies-rock-worthy drum solos.

47. Sigur Rós
Since Pink Floyd threw in the towel, they're the most magnificently trippy rock outfit on the semi-arena circuit. And Jonsi's what-the-fuck-is-he-singing-about? falsetto is one of the most beautiful sounds in rock. Their ability to make studio orchestration take shape live is a wonder to behold.

Showstopper: The slow-mo, tear-jerking, singing-into-the-guitar-pickups majesty of "Svefn-g-englar." Jimmy Page, you are not the only who can destroy a crowd with a bowed guitar.

48. Green Day
Green Day have eleven albums under their belt, and they walk onstage each night prepared to play practically any track from that deep catalog. They also aren't afraid of arena rock bombast, embracing pyro, confetti cannons and classic rock covers like "Highway to Hell."

Showstopper: Billie Joe Armstrong brings a fan onstage every night to play guitar on "Longview." Even when they can't play a note it's still an absolute riot.

49. Taylor Swift
She's a kiddie feminist heroine who knows just the right dose of hooks, glitter, and stories about her famous exes to whip arena crowds into a teary frenzy. Swift has grown into a live powerhouse by stepping up her singing chops and making every fan in the house feel like they have a very tall, very talented BFF who just wants to hang for a few hours and gab about boys 'n' stuff.

Showstopper: Swift descends from a grand staircase for a fully choreographed "I Knew You Were Trouble" (and somehow manages a costume change onstage before the biggest bass drop).

50. Fiona Apple
The reclusive Apple has actually been playing shows lately - great ones, in fact. She's the most intense, mercurial, and inventive piano-playing singer-songwriter of her generation, and her touring band is extremely tight, ready to follow her wherever she feels like heading.

Showstopper: "Paper Bag" for its sing-along heartache, or "Criminal," which she generally sings like she's opening a can of whoop-ass on whoever approved the video's final cut.

The Voters:
Trey Anastasio, Phish; Irving Azoff, Azoff Music Mgmt.; Carrie Brownstein, Wild Flag; Cliff Burnstein, Q Prime Mgmt.; Coran Capshaw, Red Light Mgmt.; Jonathan Cohen, Music booker, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon; Alex Ebert, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros; Perry Farrell, Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza founder; Marc Geiger, William Morris Endeavor; Jim Glancy, The Bowery Presents; Christian Hoard, Rolling Stone; Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes; Rick Krim, VH1; Jon Landau, Jon Landau Mgmt.; Alan Light, Author and journalist; Peter Mensch, Q Prime Mgmt.; John Moore, The Bowery Presents; Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine; Sara Quin, Tegan and Sara; Tegan Quin, Tegan and Sara; Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone; Patrick Stump, Fall Out Boy; Lars Ulrich, Metallica; Pete Wentz, Fall Out Boy

By Jon Dolan, Patrick Doyle, Caryn Ganz, Andy Greene, Will Hermes and Julian Ring

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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