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Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top Ten Live Acts of All Time

Springsteen is Number One, with the Rolling Stones and The Who following closely behind

Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top Ten Live Acts of All Time

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Springsteen is Number One, with the Rolling Stones and The Who following closely behind

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1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Last weekend we asked our readers to vote for their favorite live acts of all time. The results have been tabulated and here they are. As always we merely counted the votes – so you have only yourselves to blame if you don't like the results.

The winner, without a close second anywhere in sight, was Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. When Springsteen began performing with the E Street Band in 1972 it was a four man-group, with Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, Danny Federici on the organ, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez on drums and Garry Tallent on bass. When the group last toured in 2009 there were 11 people onstage with Springsteen, and although the sound has grown more elaborate the band hasn't lost any of the passion or the power they originally had. They've been off the road for about a year and a half, but the rumor mill says that a 2012 tour may be in the works.

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2. The Rolling Stones

When the Rolling Stones began in 1962 rock & roll was not even a decade old and the lifespan of a band was about three or four years at best. Five decades later the Rolling Stones are still filling stadiums, even as the members are now approaching their 70th birthdays. Along the way the way they perfected the art of the concert. Their infamous 1969 tour proved that rock can work in basketball arenas, and their legendary tours of 1972 and 1975 rank up amongst the greatest in rock history. They've been off the road for four years now, but don't be shocked if the machine revs up again in 2012 for a 50th anniversary tour.

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3. The Who

When the Who first came to America in 1967 they were crammed in the middle of a bill between the Blue Magoos and headliners Herman's Hermits. The crowd of teeny-boppers didn't know what to make of Pete Townshend smashing his guitar, Keith Moon destroying his drum kit or Roger Daltrey screaming that he wanted to die before he got old. When they returned in 1969 to support their landmark concept LP Tommy they had become rock gods, playing the disc straight through at opera houses and hailed by critics as the second coming. Keith Moon's death in 1978 hobbled the group tremendously, as did John Entwistle's in 2002 – yet even with half the band literally dead they continue to put on an amazing show.

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4. Pink Floyd

Reunions are supposed to be pale, pathetic retreads of the past, but when the classic Pink Floyd line-up took the stage together for the first time in 24 years at 2005's Live 8 it was pure magic. For years Waters and the rest of the band had been touring separately as they sniped at each other in the press, but for these four songs they were again the same unit that brought stadiums of 70,000 people to a stunned hush in the Seventies. Back then they turned football stadiums into fantasy lands, with airplanes flying overhead and pigs hovering above the stage. In 1980 they brought it to the next level by building a wall onstage. Sadly, Richard Wright's death in 2008 makes another complete reunion impossible – though relations between David Gilmour and Roger Waters have thawed to the point that a brief run of shows is no longer a completely impossible thought. It's just very, very unlikely.

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5. Led Zeppelin

Unlike The Who and many other rock bands, Led Zeppelin knew when it was time to call it quits. For 12 years they had toured the world relentlessly, practically inventing hard rock along the way as they developed a rabid following. Then drummer John Bonham died in 1980 and the group pulled the plug on the whole thing. Despite pleas from concert promoters, fans and his two surviving bandmates, Robert Plant has refused to bring Zeppelin back on the road – leaving their reputation pristine. In 2007 he agreed to a one-off reunion in London that proved they hadn't lost much with age, but the ever-stubborn Plant refused to do anything more with the band. Maybe one day…

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6. U2

U2's evolution into a great live band happened slowly. Listen to early live performances of late Seventies songs "Street Mission" and "Cartoon World" and it's stunning just how awful they were. In the early Eighties they toured clubs relentlessly, gradually becoming an incredible force onstage. When they graduated to the large theater on the 1983 War tour they were more than ready, and by 1987 they moved to arenas and stadiums. This summer they return to America on their massive 360 tour. Their record sales aren't what they used to be, but nobody sells more concert tickets or puts on a more epic show.

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7. Queen

Live Aid had one of the most impressive line-ups ever: The Who, Led Zeppelin, U2, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Neil Young and many more. It was Queen, however, that completely stole the show. By that point they were among the best live bands on the planet. When punk and new wave bands were stripping down their shows, Queen were glamming them up as much as possible. Driving the whole thing was Freddie Mercury, who thrived in the spotlight like no performer before or since. Since his death Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor have carried on with Paul Rodgers and other frontmen, but they'd probably be the first to say that recapturing the magic of the original is completely impossible.

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8. Pearl Jam

When you see Pearl Jam you never quite know what kind of show you're going to get. Sometimes they play all the early hits like "Jeremy," "Black" and "Alive," while the very next night be mainly deep tracks from Yield, Riot Act and No Code. Regardless of what they perform, Pearl Jam approaches every show with a Springsteen-like level of passion and respect for their fans. They go out of their way to make each show special, often extending out the encores for well over an hour. It's one reason why they continue to pack giant venues without radio hits or much media mainstream attention.

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9. The Grateful Dead

What more can be said about the Grateful Dead? During their 30-year odyssey they built up a devoted fanbase unrivaled in rock history, and basically invented a whole new genre of music. While most bands of their era were playing rehearsed shows with a very strict setlist, the Grateful Dead played epic shows that changed radically from night to night. Luckily, almost all of it was documented by tapers – leading to endless debates about when the band peaked. In Europe 1972 at very tail end of the Pigpen era? How about the American tour in fall of 1978? Some say it was all downhill after 1968, while others point to the early Eighties as an underappreciated time of wonder. Regardless, the surviving members of the band continue to tour today in constantly shifting permutations and the fans continue to follow them around the country.

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10. Kiss

Kiss knows exactly what their audience wants: explosions, fireballs, loud guitars and lots of hits. It's the reason why a Kiss show from 1975 isn't that different than one today, even though they've replaced two of the original members. The band said farewell in 2000, but everybody knew that was bullshit: They were back on the road three years later and have been touring ever since. Fans (rightfully) bitch about the absence of Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, but that doesn't stop many of them from buying tickets.