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The 50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years

From Led Zeppelin’s U.S. debut to Jay Z and Kanye West’s ‘Watch the Throne’ spectacle, and beyond

The list below was born out of some pretty serious arguments. Was Bruce Springsteen better in 1975 or 1978? When did Kanye hit his stride? Which was more awesome, “The Joshua Tree” or “Zoo TV”? The concerts and tours that made the final cut weren’t just huge spectacles, they deepened the power of rock & roll itself – from Neil Young thrashing out 20-minute jams with Crazy Horse to Beyoncé turning stadium glitz into a personal outpouring. “You’re almost levitating on the energy from the audience,” says Keith Richards. “And I miss it when I’m not doing it.” Here are the people who’ve done it best.

LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden

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LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden

“It’s your show,” LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy shouted to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The raging farewell by Murphy’s beloved group was a Last Waltz for New York’s early-’00s dance-rock scene. “I thought it would be really sad,” recalls keyboardist-vocalist Nancy Whang. “But it was just fun. The energy in the room was really charged.” Fans danced to near-exhaustion as LCD played songs from their entire catalog. With barely two months to prepare the nearly four-hour spectacle, featuring a choir, a horn section and a rickety spaceship, the band tackled a production scale beyond its experience. “It was held together with gum and string,” Whang admits. The night (captured in the 2012 film Shut Up and Play the Hits) ended in a snowstorm of balloons, culminating the band’s dream of throwing “the best funeral ever.” W.H.

Jay Z & Kanye West 'Watch the Throne' Tour

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Jay Z and Kanye West ‘Watch the Throne’ Tour

“I’m sorry if this is your first concert,”
Kanye West said to a Los Angeles crowd on the Watch the Throne tour. “It’s
all downhill from here.” Supporting their triumphal 2011 LP, Watch the
Throne,
Jay Z and Kanye convened the greatest superstar summit in hip-hop
history. The pair performed on giant, rising cubes that projected video, and,
when the tour hit Paris, encored with their hit “Niggas in Paris” 12
times in a row. “People just wanted more,” says the tour’s lighting
designer Nick Whitehouse. “It made people crazy.” C.R.W.

Fleetwood Mac 'On With the Show' Tour

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Fleetwood Mac ‘On With the Show’ Tour

The return of Christine McVie after 16 years
brought the Mac’s live show to a whole new dimension. Lindsey Buckingham’s
guitar solo on “Go Your Own Way” soared to new heights; Stevie Nicks
seemed possessed during the nightly exorcism of “Rhiannon”; and all
three voices locked seamlessly on “Little Lies.” It was all the magic
of 1977 without the distractions of hard drugs and sexual soap operas. A.G.

Taylor Swift '1989' Tour

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Taylor Swift ‘1989’ Tour

“You’re not going to see me playing the
banjo,” Taylor Swift warned Rolling
Stone
at the outset of her 1989 world tour. On her Speak Now and
Red tours, she claimed her turf at the crossroads of country, pop and
classic arena rock. But for 1989, Swift made her bold move into full-on
dance pop. She turned up the glitz with new material like “New Romantics”
and “Blank Space” (“blatant pop music,” as she put it), but
she didn’t compromise on her trademark emotional overshares, whether opening up
in confessional interludes or torching up ballads (“Clean”). Swift
aimed for a glammier look onstage, reflecting the grown-up flair of the music,
and she invited high-profile guests: In Nashville, she duetted with Mick
Jagger; in L.A., she brought out Beck, St. Vincent, Justin Timberlake, Chris
Rock and Alanis Morissette. It all summed up her staggeringly ambitious vision
of modern pop. Rob Sheffield

Beyoncé Formation Tour

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Beyoncé Formation Tour

Strutting in stacked heels across the turf of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, wrapped in golden bandoleers and flanked by a Black Panther–styled phalanx of dancers, Beyoncé performed “Formation” at the 2016 Super Bowl in a cameo appearance even fiercer than her 2013 Super Bowl triumph. It was the overture to a tour that redefined stadium-scale concert staging. “She had an overall vision of what she wanted,” says Steve Pamon, chief operating officer of Beyoncé’s label, Parkwood Entertainment. “Not only in terms of a business, but in the type of experience we want to give the fans.”

Four days before the tour began, Beyoncé surprise-dropped her instant classic Lemonade. British set designer Es Devlin, who had previously worked with Kanye West and U2, created a kind of spectacular intimacy that fit the album’s personal themes. At midstage was the “Monolith,” a video-screen centerpiece standing seven stories high that projected the show in 70-foot magnification, making every seat feel front-row. On opening night in Miami, Bey burned through “Crazy in Love” and “Bootylicious” in a fire-engine-red latex bodysuit and matching boots, looking like an anime empress. The shows also dialed it down for slow jams like the breakup meditation “Mine,” during which the Monolith split in two to reveal dancers suspended on cables while Bey and a squadron in lace bodysuits rose up from beneath the stage. At the end of the show, a moving catwalk connected the main stage to a huge wading pool, where Beyoncé and her dancers sp