x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A night to remember: great live shows

Jimi Hendrix was legendary as a live act. To mark the 40th anniversary of his death, we asked some of The National's music lovers about great live shows they have seen.

Edward Seaga joined Bob Marley on stage at the One Love Concert for Peace in 1978.
Edward Seaga joined Bob Marley on stage at the One Love Concert for Peace in 1978.

From his blistering club shows to his headline appearance at the Woodstock festival in 1969, Jimi Hendrix was at his best in front of a live audience. Combining an unprecedented level of musicianship and energy, he set the template for live rock performances for decades to come. Here we take a look at some personal memories of other great live performances.

The high point of reggae's roots era, the One Love Concert for Peace, took place in circumstances that were anything but peaceful. Conceived by two rival ghetto warlords when they found themselves sharing a prison cell, it lured Bob Marley back to Jamaica following more than a year in exile, after being wounded in a botched assassination attempt. The concert was supposed to bring some measure of peace to the Jamaican capital's violence-plagued ghettos. It failed in this objective, but it did inspire perhaps the most riveting stage performance of Marley's career. Held in Kingston's National Stadium on April 23, 1978, it featured just about every top reggae act of the day, and reached its climax soon after midnight, when Marley strolled casually on to the stage singing a gentle Rastafarian anthem, Conquering Lion. The tempo picked up quickly, until, after performing a string of his hits for about an hour, Marley exhorted the former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley and his arch-rival Edward Seaga, the opposition leader, to join him on stage. Eventually they did, clasping hands, somewhat uncomfortably, above Marley's head. Half an hour later, the epic concert was over, and before long, the violence in Kingston was back to its usual levels. Just over three years later, Bob Marley died, a victim of cancer. Standout track: Jamming Garry Steckles

Not only does Oasis no longer exist, but the former home stadium of the brothers' beloved football team, Manchester City, is now a housing estate. So as the years have gone by, their mid-1990s homecoming show has fixed in my mind as an iconic one-off. It's become fashionable to mock Oasis in the 21st century, but this gig was at the very apex of the band's career. Don't Look Back in Anger had just reached the No 1 position in the UK singles chart, their album What's The Story Morning Glory was selling millions, and the Gallaghers truly believed they were the best band in the world. They played like it too: there were none of the gig-ruining strops that would characterise later years, Noel played a Union Jack guitar, and the emotion of headlining the very place where the band had watched their own heroes perform made the show a cut above the bigger concerts at Knebworth later that year. Liam Gallagher strolled, bow-legged, on stage in his inimitable way and bawled: "Manchester, are you mad for it?." We were. Standout track: Acquiesce Ben East

The Colorado Desert, where country rock rules and Gram Parsons died, is a strange place to watch the pioneers of electronic music play live. To see Kraftwerk perform had been a long-held ambition; the chance to do so under a huge sky somewhere near Joshua Tree, in that sparse, alien landscape, was such a perverse, magical and unmissable prospect, we'd travelled all the way from England. My work had taken me to countless gigs before then - boys with guitars mainly - but inside that heaving marquee, waiting for four 50-something Germans to appear, the excitement was something else. Then the opening bars of Man Machine kicked in and their motionless, ghostlike silhouettes were revealed. In person, they were as icily enigmatic as anticipated and as far from rock'n'roll as you can get; dressed in matching suits and ties and making only the slightest of movements - to operate their laptops - while behind them, on a giant screen played an impeccably synchronised film of computer animation spliced with footage of cycle racing (what else?). There was no dialogue, no interaction and certainly no onstage antics, but the vastness of their presence and the power of their extraordinary music - the glorious rush of Tour de France, the precision-perfect Autobahn - made that show more visceral, more thrilling than any rock gig before or since. Just over an hour later, ambition spectacularly realised, we shivered in the chill night air, drained, dazzled and relieved. They hadn't let us down. Standout track: Tour de France Helen McLaughlin

In the great history book of rock, sometimes the thunderous riffs of idealised hindsight drown out the more complex, nuanced notes of personal memory. The way I recall it, Nirvana's fabled headlining set at the UK's Reading festival in August 1992 was a patchy disappointment. Kurt Cobain arrived in a wheelchair and hospital smock, mocking rumours of his drug-ravaged sickness.This joke proved to have a bitter aftertaste when the troubled grunge superstar killed himself 18 months later, elevating the band's final British show to unassailable legend status. Refreshing my memory with last year's belatedly released live album, I must concede I was unfair on Nirvana in 1992. For around half this show, they were on pulverising form, clearly relishing playing hardcore headbangers to a stadium-sized crowd. Even so, there were sludgy plodders and slack lulls, not helped by boringly basic stage presentation. Today, perhaps it is all that tragically unrealised potential that makes this performance feel so momentous. Sometimes, history gets it half right. Standout track: Negative Creep Stephen Dalton

It was supposed to be her farewell tour and everybody wanted to be in the grounds of the palatial Woburn Abbey that warm summer night in July. I had tickets right up at the front, and when she appeared you could have heard the roar 80 kilometres away in London as 75,000 people leapt to their feet. Turner was visibly excited by it and boy did she give value for money, singing all the hits on the Foreign Affair album, including Proud Mary, the song she used to sing with ex-husband Ike. She looked her rock-star best in a variety of skimpy outfits and those huge shaggy wigs, but my lasting memory of her was in tight blue jeans and a white shirt with that megawatt smile stomping out to the edge of an arm of the stage that projected into the audience and belting out The Best. It was her second or third encore. We just wouldn't let her go. I was on my feet dancing and singing along like some besotted teenager. She really was the best. Standout track: The Best Philippa Kennedy

At the start of 2005, Brooklyn's Animal Collective were still a fairly marginal proposition. Sung Tongs, an album of primitive acoustic guitar and gibbering, indecipherable vocals, had made it into a few year-end best-of lists but the group was still being tipped as part of the so-called Freak Folk scene, presumably for want of anywhere better to file them. Three years later they were the most imitated new guitar group on the planet, their DNA unmistakable in every keening, yodelling, wood-sprite outfit from Bon Iver to MGMT. When I caught them in 2005, they were meant to be touring their indie-rock breakthrough album Feels, but actually mid-way through their metamorphosis into a sort of maximalist dub-techno version of the Beach Boys. It was hard to make out what they were doing at any given time; a guy with a big beard and spelunking headlamp was bobbing around at centre stage working a mixing desk. Occasionally someone would scrape one-handedly at a guitar or bang a couple of wooden sticks together as they capered about the stage. The vocals were constant, enveloping, alternating between chiming harmonies and cartoon wolf howls. Somehow, the chaos resolved itself into teeming, intoxicating music. At a certain point, when the light-show let up, I noticed that everyone else in the audience looked like a musician. Subsequent events suggest that a fair few of them probably were. Standout track: We Tigers Ed Lake

Jimi Hendrix had been at the peak of his powers when I caught him at London's Saville Theatre in 1967, before the fame and the drugs and the frustrations of being an immortal in a world of lesser beings had started to dim his magic. But for pure fist-pumping, adrenaline-surging, rock'n'roll excitement, nothing quite matches Led Zeppelin's homecoming to Birmingham in December 1972. Three of us had driven up from London and, of course, had got hopelessly lost amid Birmingham's infernal series of interlocking roundabouts. By the time we reached the Odeon, the band could already be heard out on New Street. Little did we know it, but our timing was actually impeccable. We had just forced our way through the swing doors in to the packed auditorium and were trying to elbow our way towards the front when Robert Plant broke off mid-song. The police had reported a bomb threat. Would everyone please make their way outside so the place could be searched. This was before the infamous IRA pub bombings of 1974, so there was no panic. Good humouredly, 2,000-odd Brummies started to shuffle towards the exits. Three rather shaggy hippies from London started to shuffle in the opposite direction until we found ourselves stage right immediately next to the speaker stack. And there we stayed. When the crowd returned the sense of good humour actually seemed heightened rather than diminished. The band quickly picked up on it and hit blazing form. Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, Whole Lotta Love, classic after classic; Plant and Page duelling and taunting each other to ever more extraordinary heights. We of course, right next to the speakers, were perfectly situated to appreciate every last note. The sound was enormous, physical. My ribcage wasn't so much rattling to the bass drums as exploding (and until then, I hadn't realised that John Bonham could beat 16 to the bar with his feet). The only thing to spoil the evening was the bells. I'd never heard them in a Led Zep set before. They started, I seem to remember, midway through the first, or was it the second number after the band came back on. And I'll swear they continued even through the drum solo. In fact, now I think about it, they're still ringing. Sorry, what was that? No, you'll have to speak up. I'm a little bit deaf you know... Standout track: Dazed and Confused Robert Cowan