The lights go out across a stadium after the epic last note of a solo fades into a dwindling howl of electric distortion that escapes from the PA system, and cheering from fans merges into an amorphous sound that fills in the blackness. Silence follows, then egging on from the crowd, whether by clapping, whistling, or chants of one, more, song.
Often our heroes indulge us, returning to the stage at when we had just started to lose hope, to play something off their B-sides or the hit track we feared they’d finally grown tired of. And when they do come back to slake pleas from the crowd, a different side of the artist emerges — someone more inhibited, and more connected to the audience before them.
While we don’t owe this tradition to classic rock — encores in fact started with opera — it’s within this realm that some of the most legendary encore performances have occurred. From the tail end of the 1960s to 2016, we’ve rounded up some of the memorable encores from late and living legends.
1. Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock, New York, 1969
True to rock star apathy, it was rare for Jimi Hendrix to play encores. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons his performance at Woodstock was such an anomaly. After the breakup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with which he recorded three studio albums, Hendrix formed Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, who accompanied him during this iconic performance. Playing uninterrupted for two consecutive hours, including a solo rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Hendrix closed the festival in front of a dwindling crowd of 200,000 diehard fans, playing into the early morning hours of the following day. The performance lives on in video form, made all the more cinematic by the light of dawn.
2. The Rolling Stones, Madison Square Garden, New York, 1972
In the summer of 1972 The Rolling Stones were touring America in support of their double-album Exile on Main Street, selling out shows all over the country. From drunken revelry to equipment getting blown up by bombs, this tour told a true rock ‘n’ roll narrative. During their encore at Madison Square Garden, they delighted the crowd with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and their own hit, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”
3. Diana Ross, Central Park, New York, 1983
Not your typical encore, Diana Ross played a second unscheduled concert in Central Park in 1983, following a rained-out performance the night before. While the first show, which was for an audience of 450,000 was cut short, it stands as one of the most legendary and heart-rending shows of her career. The night is immortalized as nine bonus tracks from Ross’s Live at Central Park album. The second performance on July 22 was twice as long where Ross sang her hits “Endless Love,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
4. Queen, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, England, 1986
30 years ago almost to the day, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon were taking a backseat to ‘80s contemporaries like U2. And though it seemed as if their hey-day had ended, Queen’s all-out performance stole the show during what May remembers as the greatest day of their lives. Performing between sets by Elton John, David Bowie and Dire Straits, Freddie Mercury emphatically led the band through two encores, including “Radio Ga Ga,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We are the Champions,” for a performance that truly went down in history.
5. Nirvana, Reading Festival, Reading, England, 1992
Two years before his tragic and untimely death, Kurt Cobain entered the stage at the landmark Reading Festival in a giant wig and hospital gown. Following rumors of a near drug-overdose, Cobain faked a collapse onstage that was made all the more believable by the reactions of his bandmates. Acquiescing to a supportive audience, Cobain gave up the act and went on to play one of the most legendary performances of the band’s career, and sadly their last in England. Their set lasted for over 90 minutes and included a seven-song encore, where they played “Dumb,” Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz,” and “Spank Thru.”
6. Bruce Springsteen, Hyde Park, London, 2012
The Boss is known for his epic, long-lasting live shows with performances often running over three hours with little to no breaks. One particularly contentious performance took place during the Hard Rock Calling festival. For the finale of his headlining set, he brought on Beatles legend Paul McCartney telling the 76,000 person crowd, “I’ve been trying to do this for 50 years.” Backed by the E Street band and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, the group played “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “Twist and Shout.” But as the song was coming to a close, the sound was suddenly cut, causing confusion and booing from the crowd. The show ended soon after with London’s Westminster Council citing curfew. As British journalist Richard James said, “…only in Britain could a local council pull the plug on the greatest artists of the last 50 years giving it all.”
7. The Cure, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, California, 2016
This year we’ve seen a resurgence in classic rock — from Iggy Pop’s relentless touring and high-energy performances around the world, to the birth of festivals like Goldenvoice’s “Oldchella” (AKA Desert Trip), whose lineup consisted exclusively of heavy-hitters like Neil Young and The Rolling Stones, it’s clear that rock still has many good years ahead of it. In the same vein, ‘80s new-wave emblems The Cure proved their relevance and perseverance with a recent slew of sold-out tour dates. In May of this year, Robert Smith and co. displayed true showmanship with not one but four encores at the Hollywood Bowl, running up and down their extensive catalog to eventually end on “Boys Don’t Cry.” You probably should have been there.
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