Famous Final (or ‘Final’) Concerts
Whether born out of tragedy or creative restlessness, a band’s final concert is sure to become a big part of their history. On this chronological list of some of the biggest farewell shows in rock, you’ll find planned goodbyes from groups like Cream and the Band, and a doomed attempt to rekindle the early connection between the Beatles. But more often what you’ll find is an otherwise unspectacular, perhaps even sub-par performance from a band or artist who didn’t know that a breakup — or more tragically, a death — would keep them from ever performing again, at least in that configuration. At least, of course, until the all-too frequent reunion tour. So here you go, a list of the final — and sometimes ‘final’ — concerts of rock’s biggest bands.
On Nov. 26, 1968, Cream gave what would be their final live concerts, until their triumphant reunion in 2005. Together for just over two years, the idea that Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce were throwing in the towel came as a surprise to their many fans across the globe. Opening up the show at London’s Royal Albert Hall were two new bands on the scene, Taste, featuring a young guitar whiz named Rory Gallagher, and Yes, who had only been around a few months at the time. The concert was filmed and later broadcast on the BBC.
Perhaps the most well-known of our Famous Final Concerts was given by the Beatles on the roof of the Apple office building at 3 Savile Row on Jan. 30, 1969. Conceived only a few days prior and unannounced, the neighboring offices and general public were taken by surprise as the loud music rang out over London. The entire performance clocked in at 42 minutes before being shut down by police. It was recorded and filmed, with some of the footage used in the Let It Be documentary.
The Open Air Love & Peace Festival in Fehmarn, Germany is where Jimi Hendrix gave his final performance 12 days before his death. Billed as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the band featured Mitch Mitchell on drums and Billy Cox on bass alongside Hendrix. The group tore through favorites like “Hey Joe,” “Purple Haze” and “All Along the Watchtower,” as well as new material such as “New Rising Sun” and “Room Full of Mirrors.” In 2005, the entire set was officially released.
The Doors‘ reputation as a live act ground to a halt when they took the stage at the Warehouse in New Orleans on Dec. 12, 1970. By all accounts, the performance was a mess, with Jim Morrison in particularly bad form, often forgetting or ignoring the correct lyrics. Three months after the release of the “L.A. Woman” in spring 1971, Morrison was found dead in Paris. In 2002, Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger recruited Ian Astbury of the Cult to fill Morrison’s spot, a move that angered Doors drummer John Densmore.
After nearly a decade as one of the best loved American groups of the era, the Band decided to call it a day. But they wanted to make this Famous Final Concert something special. Nov. 25, 1976, at the Winterland in San Francisco was to be the last bash of the Band, complete with Thanksgiving dinner and ballroom dancing. They decided to invite a bunch of friends to help them close up shop including Bob Dylan, the Staple Singers, Emmylou Harris, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton and many more. The concert was recorded and filmed (by Martin Scorsese), later released as The Last Waltz. The Band, without Robbie Robertson, reformed in 1983 and continued to record and tour up through Rick Danko’s death in 1999.
The Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, S.C. was the site of the final concert from the original Lynyrd Skynyrd band. The concert took place on Oct. 19, 1977, only two days after the release of Street Survivors. A day later, tragedy struck the southern rockers when their plane crashed, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. The surviving members and original guitarist Ed King reunited in 1987, with Johnny Van Zant taking his brother’s place as the frontman.
Led Zeppelin‘s Tour Over Europe 1980 in support of their In Through the Out Door album finished off at the Eissporthalle in Berlin on July 7, 1980. Two months to the day after this show, drummer John Bonham was found dead. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones have come together for a few one-off shows — and Page and Plant toured together in 1994 — but have so far refused all offers to launch a reunion tour.
On July 31, 1980, the Eagles imploded in front of everybody in Long Beach, Calif. Tensions between Glenn Frey and Don Felder were simmering throughout the concert. “By the time we went on stage, I was seething, I wanted to kill Felder” recalled Frey in the 2013 documentary The History of the Eagles. Words were exchanged and threats made onstage between the two. After the show, Felder smashed his guitar, walked out, got in a limo and was gone. The band would lay dormant until the legendary Hell Freezes Over tour in 1994 when they hit the road playing to throngs of fans worldwide. They have regrouped at various times ever since.
In what became an ongoing game of never say never, the Who gave their pre-announced farewell performance on Dec. 17, 1982, at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. They would reunite in 1985 for Live Aid and again in 1988 for the Brit Awards. A full-scale tour followed in 1989, after which they again called it quits, But they were lured back out in 1996 and regularly toured thereafter, mounting yet another farewell tour in 2015.
Guns N’ Roses
The trail of turmoil left by Guns N Roses is a book in itself. The ever-combustible band hit the road in early 1991 for the Use Your Illusion tour, where they played to stadium-sized crowds, but poor internal relations coupled with (and possibly caused by) varying degrees of drug use among band members proved to be a lethal combination. On July 17, 1993, following a show in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Axl Rose unceremoniously fired guitarist Gilby Clarke, who had replaced original guitarist Izzy Stradlin before the tour began. Fellow founders Slash and Duff McKagan would never take the stage as members of the band again. Eight years later, Rose emerged with a new version of Guns N’ Roses, featuring himself as the only original member, and in 2016, he, Slash and McKagan reunited for a successful tour.