Bands rise and fall, live attractions come and go, but there is always The Rolling Stones. The group that earned the inarguable nickname of “The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World” have renewed the ownership of that title with each passing decade – and the best Rolling Stones live performances prove exactly why.
The deluxe edition of their Honk compilation, which itself spanned 45 years of classic Stones hits and album favorites, was another reminder of their performing pre-eminence. It featured ten live tracks taken from the band’s expansive touring schedule of recent years, including renditions of such classics as “Let’s Spend The Night Together,” “Under My Thumb,” and “She’s A Rainbow.” Also included were memorable guest appearances captured around the world with Florence Welch, Ed Sheeran, Brad Paisley, and Dave Grohl.
In tribute to the Stones’ mastery of the concert stage and as a depiction of how they have mesmerized audiences ever since their formation in 1962, we present 15 of the best Rolling Stones live performances, taking us from TV specials to arenas and from stadium spectaculars to the biggest live audience in history.
What Rolling Stones live performances would make your list? Let us know in the comments section, below.
15: Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami, November 25, 1994: ‘Happy’
We begin by remembering the experience shared by a sell-out crowd of 55,935, and a TV audience in the millions, one night in Florida in 1994. Deep into the North American leg of the Voodoo Lounge tour, the Stones were supported on this tranche of dates by Spin Doctors; their powerhouse show was given even greater zip by the presence of guest stars Bo Diddley, Sheryl Crow, and Robert Cray. Here was Keith Richards on his staple from Exile On Main St, and countless concerts ever since, “Happy.”
14: Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, Virginia, December 18, 1981: ‘Shattered’
The Stones had played this Virginia venue in 1978 when their Some Girls album was new, and the set featured one of that album’s most raw rockers, “Shattered.” Three years later, the song was still an integral part of their set, even with their next album, Tattoo You, on release, as the band played a two-night stand at the Hampton Coliseum during their 50-date North American excursion of 1981.
13: Los Angeles Forum, July 12, 1975: ‘Star Star’
Complete with our language warning, here are the band with Ronnie Wood newly in the fold on their so-called Tour Of The Americas of 1975, which in the end “only” visited North America. The tour featured a typically high-octane “Star Star,” from the 1973 album Goats Head Soup.
12: Ireland, 1965: ‘I’m Alright’
For anyone keen to catch up on early Rolling Stones history, and to see evidence of their rise to rock royalty status, the documentary Charlie Is My Darling is a must. Amid the deafening screams and fan adulation that followed them through Ireland – and everywhere they went – here’s their version of a song by one of their great heroes, the aforementioned Bo Diddley.
The Rolling Stones - I'm Alright (Live - Ireland 1965)
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11: Wembley Stadium, summer 1990: ‘Tumbling Dice’
The year-long Steel Wheels tour that signalled the arrival of the latter-day Rolling Stones touring machine was so vast that by the time it reached Europe, it had a new setlist and a new title. From the Urban Jungle leg, here’s another Exile classic from one of their homecoming shows at Wembley Stadium.
10: London Stadium, May 22, 2018: ‘Wild Horses’
Featured in the deluxe editions of the Honk retrospective, here’s the memorable and unique occasion on which Mick Jagger shared vocals on the timelessly elegant “Wild Horses” with Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine.
9: The Ed Sullivan Show, February 13, 1966: ‘Satisfaction’
The Stones appeared on the American television institution on six occasions between 1964 and 1969, including twice in 1966 alone. From a three-song performance in February 1966 that also included “As Tears Go By” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” this version of “Satisfaction” sees Jagger at his magnetic best.
8: Texas, June 1972: ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’
Among the numerous ambitious concert films released by the band over their long history, there’s a special place in the hearts of fans for Ladies And Gentlemen…The Rolling Stones. Even more so following the 2010 restoration that lets us see them, complete with Mick Taylor, in their full 1972 pomp.
7: London, December 11, 1968: The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus
Speaking of restored TV specials, here’s the trailer for the unforgettable 1968 extravaganza that brought together the Stones, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull, The Who, and others. You’ve heard of Oxford Circus…
6: Marquee Club, London, March 26, 1971: ‘Dead Flowers’
As featured in the From The Vault series of live landmarks, the Sticky Fingers track as introduced to a lucky group of London fans when the Stones returned to the scene of their very first gig, nine years earlier.
5: Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago, November 22, 1981: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’
A show that the Stones still talk about. One historic night on the South Side of Chicago, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and stalwart road manager Ian Stewart joined the man who was not only their inspiration but who recorded the very song they were named after. Here they are sharing another 50s Muddy Waters gem.
Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones - Baby Please Don't Go - Live At Checkerboard Lounge
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4: Hyde Park, London, July 2013: ‘Miss You’
Forty-four years after their historic appearance there following the death of Brian Jones, the Stones returned home for two Hyde Park shows during their 50 & Counting tour. Here they are sharing the Sweet Summer Sun with about 65,000 admirers.
3: Hyde Park, London, July 5, 1969: ‘I’m Free’
That takes us back to the incredible scenes of summer 1969, when Mick Taylor’s first gig as a Stone was before a crowd lumbering somewhere between a quarter and half a million. The 2015 DVD reissue takes us back to a singular moment in rock history, and one of the most memorable Rolling Stones live performances in their decades-long career.
2: Ford Field, Detroit, February 5, 2006: Super Bowl XL
Soon after their A Bigger Bang tour smashed records as the highest-grossing ever, the Stones rocked into the Motor City for an incredible Super Bowl half-time treat. It went down in history as not only one of the best Rolling Stones live showings of all time, but one of the best live performances period.
1: Copacabana Beach, Rio De Janeiro, February 18, 2006: ‘You Got Me Rocking’
When it comes to a live spectacle, no one thinks as big as the Stones. Less than two weeks after re-writing what live music can achieve, they did it again by playing the biggest concert ever seen. An estimated audience of 1.5 million got their ya-ya’s out.
Buy or stream the multi-format A Bigger Bang, Live On Copacabana Beach.