For a concert business struggling to sell tickets in a wobbly economy, the world's biggest touring stars are roaring to the rescue: The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga and Adele are among the blockbuster acts likely to tour in 2012, according to sources. "Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Roger Waters – that's all in our first quarter," says Amanda Mann, assistant GM of Houston's Toyota Center. "It's a great sign of the year to come."
Another reason for optimism: A new group of stars led by Adele are on the brink of graduating to arenas this year, including the Black Keys, Mumford & Sons and the Zac Brown Band, sources say. "New headliners are coming into the mix that may tour more frequently and have the ability to have a pretty good long run," says Andy Cirzan, vice president of concerts for Chicago's Jam Productions. "That's what the industry needs more than anything."
The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have yet to confirm whether the Stones will return to the road for their 50th anniversary – but concert-business sources say the pair met recently with their attorney to hash out details, so stay tuned. (The band's A Bigger Bang tour from 2005 to 2007 grossed $554 million worldwide – a record until U2 broke it last year.) "Whatever they do, whether it's with Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman or not, they're going to do business," says a source. "The question is, do they spend 10 nights in New York [and a few other big markets]? Or do they do a full-fledged tour with all the travel stuff?"
"Arena dates are booked," says a source. "It's a slam-dunk." Expect an announcement soon: Madonna has already opened up about the Super Bowl half-time show, a late-March album on Interscope Records and the lead single, "Give Me All Your Love," with guest spots by M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj.
Gaga's already talking up the set design for her next blowout tour ("It's bigger and better than ever"), although her manager wouldn't confirm the trek by press time. "She's supposed to be working," the source says. "Another slam-dunk." While last year's Born This Way didn't sell quite as many albums as her debut, Gaga – who grossed $133.6 million in 2010 and $65.3 million in the first half of 2011 – remains bulletproof on the road.
The E Street Band will hit the road behind Springsteen's 17th studio album, starting with a two-month U.S. leg in March, sources say. No word yet on how the band will address the death last year of its most beloved member, saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
Music's biggest new star has sold almost 5 million albums in the U.S., but when she canceled her fall tour with vocal problems, promoters feared the worst. But vocal-cord surgery went well in November, and she embarks on her first American arena tour later this year. "She's got unfinished business," says a source familiar with her plans. Adds her manager, Jonathan Dickins, "I'm hopeful, let's say that."
Why did Radiohead wait nearly a year after The King of Limbs to tour? One key reason: The band wanted veteran sideman Clive Deamer as its second drummer to handle the album's complex rhythm parts, but he was already booked by Portishead. "They actually didn't know how, or even if, they could perform those songs live," says Chris Hufford, the band's co-manager. "It worked out brilliantly. We're very patient people." Expect the band to break out even newer material from the recent DVD Live From the Basement.
With David Lee Roth back on board, Van Halen will tour through 2012 in support of a new LP on Interscope Records – the first full-length with their original frontman since 1984. As on their 2007-08 reunion trek, Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, will take over for founding bassist Michael Anthony.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
After hitting Europe and Latin America behind last year's I'm With You, the Chilis will finally rock U.S. arenas in their first tour with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer starting later this month. "Josh has opened up new pathways for us to take in our show," Flea says. "It feels like we're fucking on fire, man!" Tickets are priced at just $35 to $70. "People don't have as much discretionary income, perhaps, as they used to," says Cliff Burnstein, the band's manager. "We're not the most expensive ticket in town – we try to price things rationally.
After touring in 2010 and the beginning of 2011, the Eagles are returning to the road for their 40th anniversary. The milestone has led the veteran country rockers to dig through their archives. "Everybody's seen our show, so we have to put together something new," guitarist Joe Walsh told Rolling Stone.
This story is from the January 19th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.