10 Iconic Final Concerts Plus The End Of Beatlemania
The Beatles' concert at San Francisco's Candlestick Park 46 years ago today was the end of an era for the band. Except for a famously unannounced appearance on top the Apple building two and a half years later, it would be the final live performance that the Fab Four would ever play together.
It was hardly the biggest show of the Beatles' career, barely holding a candle(stick) to the group's legendary Shea Stadium concert the previous year. The ballpark's capacity was 42,500, but only 25,000 tickets were sold, and the local promoter took a loss on the event. That seems incredible today, but fans in attendance and around the world had no reason to suspect that this would be the final concert the Beatles would ever play.
The band, on the other hand, had already made up their minds before they stepped onstage. Throughout the group's 14-date U.S. tour that year, they'd been worn down by controversy and death threats stemming from John Lennon's much-publicized claim that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." Everywhere they went in the States, the lads were hounded by those who loved and hated them alike.
Additionally, the stadium-rock machine hadn't quite caught up to the Beatles' phenomenal popularity. Few, if any, rock and roll sound systems existed yet that could amplify the band's music enough to be heard over the screams of tens of thousands of screaming fans.
Playing inaudibly on top of second base behind a six-foot wire fence was not the Beatles' idea of a good time. When the gig was over, they retired from touring and focused on an astoundingly creative career as recording artists.
They did, however, make sure to mark the occasion for posterity's sake. Lennon and McCartney snapped photos of the crowd and the band from the stage, and bade press officer Tony Barrow to tape record the performance. That tape has since been widely bootlegged, and rightly so: It was a momentous occasion in a historic career. But it was far from the only memorable concert finale in pop history.
Whether due to the untimely death of a band member, an acrimonious breakup or some other reason, the final performances of some of the beloved acts in music history have become legendary over the years. Here are 10 more of the most memorable.
10. Stevie Ray Vaughan Final Performance: August 26, 1990
One of Texas' top guitar heroes, Stevie Ray Vaughan's incendiary playing won him fans all over the world. On August 26, 1990, he played the second night of two gigs supporting Eric Clapton at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. A day later, he was dead, the victim of a helicopter crash that also killed the pilot and three other passengers.
By all accounts, Stevie was playing on another level during his final performance, closing his set with a fiery version of Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile." He reappeared onstage during Clapton's finale, alongside brother Jimmie, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Slowhand himself for endless soloing on "Sweet Home Chicago." As final sign-offs go, he could have done a hell of a lot worse than that.
9. Blind Melon with Shannon Hoon Final Performance: October 20, 1995
Tragic as the untimely demise of Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon was, his final performance with the band only makes this list because it happened here in Houston. Blind Melon's debut album rocketed to double-platinum status on the back of the single "No Rain" and its iconic "bee girl" video, but their 1995 release Soup didn't chart nearly so high. By the time the band's '95 tour rolled through Houston, Hoon was using drugs to cope.
After the H-town gig on October 20, Blind Melon took off in its tour bus for New Orleans. Hoon was found dead on that bus the next day, having succumbed to a cocaine overdose. He was 28. Now, far be from us to speculate on where Hoon copped the drugs that killed him, but... Blind Melon had played at Numbers the night before.
8. Jimi Hendrix Final Performance: September 6, 1970
The final performance by God's favorite guitar player took place on Sept. 6, 1970, at the Isle of Fehmarn Festival in Germany. By the time of his last tour, Hendrix had already disbanded both the Experience and the Band of Gypsies and seemed unsure how best or with whom to proceed with his career. For his final gig, he was accompanied by Billy Cox on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. He died 12 days later, choking on his own vomit after taking a handful of sleeping pills in London.
Jimi's last set included all of his big hits, including a finale of "Voodoo Chile," the same song SRV would close his final set with 20 years later.
7. Nirvana Final Performance: March 1, 1994
Another legendary rock musician that played his final gig in Germany was Kurt Cobain. Nirvana gave its final performance at Munich's Terminal 1, the city's former international airport, turned music venue. Cobain wasn't feeling well during this European tour, and his voice was ragged that night. The band didn't play "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but ended with "Heart Shaped Box" instead.
Three days later in Rome, Cobain attempted suicide by ingesting a combination of Rohypnol and alcohol. After an intervention, he agreed to go to rehab, but left the facility after only a week and flew back to Seattle. A month later, he succeeded in killing himself, ending Nirvana for good.
6. Tupac Shakur Final Performance: July 4, 1996
Holograms aside, the real Tupac's final performance was given at the House of Blues Los Angeles on--what else?--Independence Day, 1996. The 24-song set showcased 'Pac's versatility, switching effortlessly from plaintive R&B to Thug-Life bangers. It also featured plethora of West-Coast guest stars, including K-Ci and JoJo, Outlawz, tha Dawg Pound, Nate Dogg and Snoop
Comfortably ensconced in his LA stronghold, Tupac was at the very height of his powers during the show. Since virtually nothing that Tupac did in life has avoided having a barcode slapped on it by this point, fans can enjoy the rap icon's final performance on DVD and Blu-ray as Tupac: Live at the House of Blues.
5. Led Zeppelin Final Performance: July 7, 1980
Once again, Germany bore witness to the last concert by a legendary rock band when Led Zeppelin played their last gig with John Bonham in Berlin on July 7, 1980. It was the last date of a European jaunt that the band hoped would tighten them up into high gear for a planned American trek to come.
By this time, the emergence of punk had cast Zep as rock dinosaurs, and in response the band excised most of its showier, solo-heavy numbers, such as "Moby Dick." Good thing, too, because Bonham was in rough shape. Earlier in the tour in Munich, the drummer collapsed onstage early in the set and had to be rushed to the hospital. The original lineup's final tune together was a loose, metallic version of "Whole Lotta Love." The three surviving members wouldn't perform together again until Live Aid five years later.
4. The Band Final Performance: November 26, 1976
Most of the concerts on this list were more or less ordinary gigs that only gained significance later. Then there's this one. When the Band decided to call it quits in 1976, it was planned as an event from the very beginning. Not only did the show feature more than a dozen guest stars from Muddy Waters to Ringo Starr, but it was filmed for a documentary release directed by none other than Martin Scorsese.
The resulting movie, The Last Waltz, is one of the greatest and most influential concert films of all time. While the Band's encore performance of Marvin Gaye's "Don't Do It" may have been the concert's highlight, for our money the documentary's filmmaking highlight was the rotoscoping out of a massive booger of cocaine dangling from Neil Young's nose.
3. Buddy Holly Final Performance: February 2, 1959
The young phenomenon known as rock and roll received its first harsh dose of reality following the final performance of Buddy Holly and the Crickets in February 1959. Holly was in the midst of headlining a three-week Midwest tour billed as the Winter Dance Party when the plane he was traveling in crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa. Along with Holly, the crash killed fellow performers Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper and would later be immortalized in Don McLean's song "American Pie" as the Day the Music Died.
Holly's final setlist at the Surf Ballroom included his classics "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be the Day" and closed with a cover of Little Richard's "Ready Teddy."
2. Sex Pistols Final Performance: January 14, 1978
The Sex Pistols' entire career together lasted less than three years, but holy shit, did they ever pack more into those three years than any band before or since. The first true punk band, the Pistols managed to upend the entire idea of rock and roll without much more than a small handful of indelible tunes and a few safety pins. Suddenly, rock was dangerous again.
If the Pistols burned hot, they burned out quick. The final date of their only American tour, at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, was supposed to be a crowning achievement--their biggest show ever. As it turned out, it was their last. For reasons endlessly detailed elsewhere, the band simply wasn't getting along anymore, and bassist Sid Vicious was deep in the throes of a fatal heroin addiction. Despite claims to the contrary, though, that final show sounded pretty damn incredible, despite the miserable circumstances.
1. Queen Final Performance: August 9, 1986
Onstage, Queen's Freddie Mercury was Superman. The ultimate frontman, he was simply born to rock stadiums, and during the band's 1986 Magic Tour, Mercury was at the top of his game. More than one million fans bought tickets to the tour's 26 European dates, making it one of the largest rock tours in history.
The tour isn't remembered for its size, of course. Today, it's remembered as Queen's last tour with Mercury before he died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. No one knew that would or even could happen one day soon at what turned out to be the original band's final concert at Knebworth Park, however. There, everything was still golden, with 120,000 fans witnessing the end of one of rock and roll's greatest live eras. Mercury himself managed to go out as true rock royalty, wearing a crown and cape during the show's encore.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.