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Rock’s Most Famous New Year’s Eve Shows

Elektra / Columbia (2) / YouTube / Hulton Archive / Atlantic

New Year’s Eve has always held dizzying promise — and never more so than for some of rock’s best-known figures. Jimi Hendrix, Journey, AC/DC, the Beach Boys and the Cars all played debut shows on Dec. 31. Of course, the final day of any year is also about goodbyes and fireworks, so we’ve included those in our list of Rock’s Most Famous New Year’s Eve Shows, as well …


The Beach Boys’ First Paid Concert



Barely two months after recording their first single, the Beach Boys got paid to appear in front of a live audience for the first time on Dec. 31, 1961. They joined Ike and Tina Turner at a concert held in tribute for the late Ritchie Valens at the Long Beach Auditorium.



Janis Joplin Sings in Her First Public Engagement



Proving that great things really do start in some truly humble ways, Janis Joplin sang in her first public show on Dec. 31, 1961, at a halfway house in Beaumont, Texas. It would be six years before she released her debut album alongside Big Brother and the Holding Company.



Jimi Hendrix Debuts the Band of Gypsys



Jimi Hendrix debuted his short-lived power trio Band of Gypsys with a series of concerts held on Dec. 31, 1969, and Jan. 1, 1970, at New York City’s Fillmore East. Sadly, by the end of January, Hendrix had broken them up, but not before releasing a classic live set from the shows – the only concert recording issued during Hendrix’s lifetime. Appearing with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, Hendrix constructed a new sound infused with more jazz and fusion, fashioning the definitive version of his anti-Vietnam song “Machine Gun” during these shows. By September 1970, however, Hendrix was dead of an overdose.



Bob Dylan Makes Surprise Visit to the Band



The Band‘s multi-night residency at the Academy of Music during the last week of 1971 was capped by a New Year’s Eve performance that saw Bob Dylan make a surprise appearance. In all, he played four songs with his old backing group, going well into Jan. 1, 1972. This concert, which featured horn charts by Allen Toussaint, was released later that year as Rock of Ages, and then arrived as an expanded box set in 2013 titled Live at the Academy of Music 1971.



AC/DC’s First Concert



Though the next two shows took place a world apart, superstars-in-the-making Journey and AC/DC both played their very first concerts on the same New Year’s Eve. In Sydney, Australia, brothers Malcolm and Angus Young took the stage at the popular Chequers nightclub – but without the frontman who would hurtle them to fame. The late Bon Scott didn’t join until September of 1974.



Journey’s First Concert



Meanwhile, 7,400 miles away in San Francisco, Calif., the early, Steve Perry-less lineup of Journey led by former Santana members Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie unleashed an instrumentally focused nine-song set at their hometown’s Winterland Arena.



Gene Simmons Sets His Hair on Fire



Gene Simmons estimates that he’s set his hair on fire about a half-dozen times during his 40 years of fire-breathing in Kiss, with the first being an unplanned highlight of their Dec. 31, 1973, show at the Academy of Music in New York City. Luckily, an alert roadie with a wet towel helped Simmons escape major injury – and the stunt remains a part of the band’s live spectacle to this day.



The Cars’ First Gig



On this night, Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr finally found a mixture of personalities that became the Cars, notably adding punky drummer David Robinson of Modern Lovers fame – while Orr switched to bass. Sure, this low-key entry on our list of Rock’s Most Famous New Year’s Eve Shows took place at an Air Force base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but history shows everything was falling into place for this groundbreaking group. Within two months, the Cars were regulars on the Boston club scene – and less than a year after that they released a self-titled debut album which has sold some six million copies.

Elektra Records
Elektra Records


Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Firecracker’ Show



A tour in support of Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ ended 1978 with a bang – quite literally. On the second-to-last-night of the tour, Springsteen got hit in the face with a lit firecracker. He had just completed a performance of the traditional “Auld Lang Syne,” and then a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” when someone in the crowd threw the miniature explosive onstage at the Richfield Coliseum outside of Cleveland. It hit Springsteen’s face and then went off as it ricocheted away. Fortunately, he was only slightly cut, and returned with a bandage under his right eye. After a few terse comments to the crowd, Springsteen then launched – quite unforgettably – into “Point Blank.”



The Grateful Dead Close Down Winterland



Rock’s Most Famous New Year’s Eve Shows would have to include this magical night at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, which shuttered in style with a behemoth farewell concert that went on for more than eight hours. Remarkably, the Grateful Dead played a stunning six of those hours. Several other huge acts, including Springsteen, were part of a series of late 1978 shows that culminated with the Dead’s final epic performance on New Year’s Eve. Tom Petty, the Ramones, the Tubes and Smokey Robinson also performed concerts at Winterland during its last weeks. In 2003, the venue’s final days were turned into a record and movie, called The Closing of Winterland.



Motley Crue Say Goodbye



Motley Crue played their final concert on Dec. 31, 2015, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The show concluded a sweeping 160-plus-concert trek which began in July 2014, but only after they signed an agreement legally barring members from touring as Motley Crue again. For those who weren’t lucky enough to be there, Motley Crue filmed this last show for subsequent theater and home viewing.


Next: 10 Worst First Concerts

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