14 Most Memorable Rock Concerts of 2023
As 2023 comes to a close, we’re taking a look at some of the many concerts that grabbed our attention.
The year was filled with incredible live performances, spanning the gamut of music and emotion. Some artists, like Peter Gabriel and Joni Mitchell made their highly anticipated returns, while others, including Elton John and Kiss, said farewell. Meanwhile, acts who lost core members – such as Foo Fighters, Depeche Mode and Lynyrd Skynyrd – returned to the stage following the death of a bandmate.
Here are the 14 Biggest Concerts of 2023, presented in chronological order.
Bruce Springsteen Proves He’s Worth the Price of Admission
There was palpable buzz surrounding Bruce Springsteen’s 2023 tour, his first with the E Street Band in roughly six years. Not all of it was good. Ticket prices for the shows were sky high, with some of the best seats costing thousands of dollars a pop. The situation was only exacerbated when Springsteen defended the cost, insisting fans would be getting their money’s worth. The issue was largely put to rest when Springsteen launched his tour on Feb. 1 and absolutely delivered on his promise. Across more than two hours, the Boss rocked through hit after hit from his legendary career. The E Street Band was also in fine form, with all of the musicians displaying their distinctive chemistry even after the multi-year layoff. The year wouldn’t end as strongly for Springsteen as it began. The rock legend was forced to postpone his fall leg in order to receive treatment for peptic ulcer disease.
Motley Crue Debuts Their New Guitarist
For the first time since the band's formation over 40 years ago, Motley Crue had a new guitarist in 2023. Mick Mars, a founding Crue member and the only musician to stay in the band throughout its entire tumultuous existence, announced he was retiring from touring in late 2022. While things quickly turned ugly between he and his former bandmates, John 5 – who’d previously played with David Lee Roth and Rob Zombie, among others – was announced as Mars’ replacement. The guitarist’s first show with Motley Crue took place Feb. 10 in Atlantic City, N.J. John 5 felt the love of his new band throughout the night, as they openly welcomed him into their ranks. “This motherfucker right here, 5,” drummer Tommy Lee proclaimed at one point in the set. “Dude, it sounds beautiful baby!"
Lynyrd Skynyrd Honors Gary Rossington
Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd said goodbye to their final founding member when Gary Rossington died March 5 at the age of 71. The guitarist had been battling health issues for some time and hadn’t performed with the band since 2021, still Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first show following his death was an understandably emotional affair. The performance took place March 12 at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Fla. Videos of Rossington played on the giant screen behind the band during their rendition of "Tuesday's Gone,” with the words "Gary Rossington 1951-2023: Your Legacy Lives on Forever" appearing at the end of the song. “We felt you there with us last night, Gary," the band wrote in a Facebook post the day after the show. "Looking down from Rock N’ Roll Heaven and helping us get through one of the toughest shows of our lives. We felt you during the nuances of 'Free Bird,' 'Tuesday’s Gone,' 'Saturday Night Special.' We felt you in the roar of the crowd as they cheered your name and stood up for most of the night. And we will forever feel you on any stage and in our hearts as Skynyrd’s music continues to move billions of people across the world. We love you brother."
Depeche Mode Pushes Forward
After five years away from the U.S.A., Depeche Mode returned to the States on March 23 with their tour-launching performance in Sacramento. The concert was bittersweet for the English rockers. While the group was celebrating the release of their newest album, Memento Mori, the gig also marked their first U.S. concert without founding member Andy Fletcher, who died in 2022. The rocker’s presence was felt throughout Depeche Mode’s show, including during their performance of "World in My Eyes," during which pictures of Fletcher were shown on the big screens.
Peter Gabriel Is Worth the Wait
With one of the most dynamic voices in rock and an enigmatic persona, Peter Gabriel remains a fascinating performer. The former Genesis singer had not embarked on a headlining tour since 2014, but made a triumphant return this year. His highly anticipated world tour began in May with a performance in Kraków, Poland. The gig saw Gabriel dig into his impressive catalog of material, while also debuting many songs from his new album, i/o. Gabriel’s sold out North American leg began Sept. 8 in Quebec and ended Oct. 21 in Houston. He has yet to announce any plans for 2024, but given the excitement surrounding his return to touring, fans everywhere are hoping the wait for further concerts won’t be long.
Foo Fighters’ First Show With Josh Freese
Following the tragic death of drummer Taylor Hawkins in 2022, the Foo Fighters would have been forgiven if they wanted to take a little time off. Of course, that’s not really Dave Grohl’s style. So, after honoring their departed friend with a pair of star-studded tribute concerts, the Foos returned in earnest in 2023. Speculation surrounding who would replace Hawkins behind the kit became internet fodder, but veteran Josh Freese was revealed as the new drummer in May. Days later, the band played their first official headlining gig since Hawkins’ passing, delivering an electric set at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion. The group tore through classics like “Everlong,” “Best of You” and “My Hero,” while also debuting material from their 2023 album But Here We Are.
Joni Mitchell’s Triumphant Return
To say that Joni Mitchell’s return to performing was unexpected would be an understatement. Though she’d made occasional onstage appearances, it had been roughly 20 years since the acclaimed singer-songwriter played a headlining set. After Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 that forced her to re-learn how to walk, talk and play music, many fans assumed her concert days were over. Yet, on June 10, there she was, delivering a rousing 24 song performance at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington. Joined by an array of musicians whom she has influenced – including Brandi Carlile, Annie Lennox, Allison Russell, Marcus Mumford and Sarah McLachlan – Mitchell played material from throughout her storied career. It was an emotional and uplifting night for everyone in attendance, including the star herself.
Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road Comes to an End
Elton John began his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road farewell tour in 2018, but the pandemic and a hip injury stretched the trek out longer than expected. In 2022 he played his final U.S. date on the tour, and in 2023 it officially wrapped up in Stockholm. The Swedish city was where Elton played his first show in 1971, so there was definitely added sentiment on an already emotional night. Before playing his final song, the Rocket Man gave a heartfelt speech thanking fans around the world who have supported him for over 50 years. “I wouldn't be sitting here and talking to you if it wasn't for you,” John declared. “You've bought the singles, the albums, the CDs, the cassettes but most importantly you've bought the tickets to the shows. And you know how much I love to play live. It's been my lifeblood to play for you guys and you've been absolutely magnificent, thank you!"
Foreigner Begins Their Long Goodbye
On July 6, Foreigner kicked off their farewell tour with a performance at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Atlanta. The hits came fast and furious, with “Double Vision,” “Feels Like the First Time,” “Juke Box Hero” and “I Want to Know What Love Is” among the many highlights. “It couldn't have gone better," bassist Jeff Pilson told UCR after the concert. "The audience was fabulous. You could really kind of feel the emotions of people knowing that this is the beginning of our farewell tour." The gig was the first of many for Foreigner, as the band plans to spend two years saying goodbye. A Las Vegas residency and summer tour alongside Styx have already been announced for 2024.
Dead and Company Says Fare Thee Well
Dead and Company, the Grateful Dead offshoot which formed in 2015, concluded their farewell tour on July 16 with a sprawling, two set performance at Oracle Park in San Francisco. The group – made up of former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, alongside singer-guitarist John Mayer, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, bassist Oteil Burbridge and drummer Jay Lane -- rocked through an array of classic Dead material, along with a spattering of covers. Meanwhile, the band’s visuals – which included a dazzling drone show – wowed fans in attendance. The band concluded the night with a three-song encore made up of “Truckin’,” “Brokedown Palace” and “Not Fade Away.” Though Dead and Company has stated they are done touring, the group has left the door open for occasional one-off performances in the future.
Ted Nugent Says Adios
Prolific and outspoken rocker Ted Nugent decided to retire from the road in 2023, but not until he embarked on one last tour. His Adios Mofo trek started July 12 in Florida and wrapped its way across the country before finishing on Sept. 23 in Michigan. During a mid-tour conversation with UCR, Nugent noted that he’ll still play shows, even though his days on the road are over. “I’m always going to play. I play my guitar every day. I love that shit. I’m a fighter. I still am really energized. I’m in good shape, I still have fire-breathing passion for my life, liberty and gonzo happiness. So I’ll always play, but I will never do an organized tour.”
U2’s Sphere Debut
Given all the excitement surrounding the Sphere in Las Vegas – including the venue’s exorbitant price tag that soared past $2 billion – fans were dubious as to whether the state-of-the-art venue could live up to the hype. Then U2 christened the space on Sept. 29 and both the venue and the band completely blew people’s minds. With stunning visuals unlike anything ever seen before, the Sphere provided a totally unique concert experience. And the Irish rockers proved to be the perfect debut act, displaying a willingness to deeply engage the venue’s seemingly limitless possibilities. U2’s residency at the Sphere has been nothing short of a triumph, and the band will continue their stay through March.
AC/DC’s Return Fires Up Power Trip
Some of the biggest names in hard rock history descended upon the Coachella desert for three days in October for the Power Trip festival. Each night featured two different legendary acts playing full sets: Iron Maiden and Guns N' Roses on Oct. 6, Judas Priest and AC/DC on Oct. 7, Tool and Metallica on Oct. 8. While all of the acts proved impressive, AC/DC’s Saturday night performance was perhaps the biggest highlight. The Australian rockers hadn’t performed in over seven years, and at one point it seemed like singer Brian Johnson may never perform again due to hearing issues. But there they were, back in full force at Power Trip, where they dusted off a few tracks that hadn’t been heard in decades, and also gave live debuts to some tunes from their 2020 album Power Up.
Kiss Say Goodbye… Kind of
After a long and winding farewell tour, Kiss played the final concert of their End of the Road tour at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 2. The gravity of the night wasn’t lost on the band, as Paul Stanley mentioned time and time again how meaningful it was to have Kiss’ touring career come to an end in New York, the city where everything started for the group. Kiss rocked through a dynamic setlist of their greatest hits, but it was the way the night ended that really got people talking. As the band waved and said goodnight, Stanley noted that "The end of this road is the beginning of another road.” Moments later, the big reveal: Kiss avatars, produced by the same company who handled the successful ABBA hologram tour, which will allow the rock group to continue forward as a virtual band.