8 Bands To See in Concert Before You Die

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The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips at Coachella 2004
J. Shearer/WireImage

Concert tickets are expensive. Really, really expensive. We know your pain. But with streaming services paying artists pennies on the penny, we rabid music fans must cope with the inflated costs. We’re here to help you separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to live shows. Some bands thrive best in the studio, but these rockers own the stage. Here are our recommendations for the groups you have to see in concert before you die.

The Flaming Lips

Yes, the Flaming Lips are as weird and wild as you’ve heard. But without Wayne Coyne bravely walking his plastic bubble atop the unsuspecting audience at Coachella 2004, the festival would not be the cultural staple it is today.

The Lips don more costumes and face paint than the Ringling Bros. Circus. Unless they’re performing with Miley Cyrus— then the whole crew and the crowd get naked at selected shows.

Yet for all the zaniness, tender moments shine through. Nothing beats a heartfelt sing-along to “Do You Realize??” It’s a contemplation that encourages concertgoers to eat up every second and appreciate the fleeting time we have on this planet.

Watch the Flaming Lips have a ball in concert.

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Weezer in concert
James Kebinger/Wikimedia Commons

Rivers Cuomo and the gang get better with age in concert. What was once a reserved, shy foursome singing about unrequited love is now an arena-rock spectacle.

Cuomo counts KISS as one of his greatest influences, and it shows when his band performs. The guitar solos blaze (the work off 2002’s Maladroit is particularly rad). At times the members have been hoisted into the sky and flown over the audience, like David Lee Roth in the video for Van Halen’s “Panama.” During the 2008 Red Album tour, they invited dozens of fans to join them for a “Hootenanny,” incorporating extra strings, vocals and woodwinds into their popular singles.

The front man also often appears in the middle of venues for acoustic versions of “Island in the Sun” and relinquishes vocals to guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner or drummer Pat Wilson. A cover or two infiltrates the sets, running the gamut from Lady Gaga to Blur.

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Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Former Weezer tour mates Foo Fighters made for a perfect companion to the cheery lads in 2005. First Foo Dave Grohl treated the stage merely as an extension of the general admission floor— he’d leap off the elevated area and ran the perimeter of the venue while screaming, playing guitar and high-fiving fans.

Going to a Foo Fighters show is like attending a demolition derby. You know things will get down and dirty. The question is: How down and dirty? Between skins man Taylor Hawkins pounding the hell out of his kit and Grohl literally breaking a leg onstage, you’re in for an entertaining bloodbath.

Watch Dave Grohl rock out in his custom throne in this 2015 clip.

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Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

Like their cerebral, genre-defying albums, Radiohead’s live act is a metaphysical experience. LED lights pulsate and manipulate the senses while Thom Yorke wails and jerks. Jonny Greenwood’s and Ed O’Brien’s dual guitars provide a helix of sound, and various synths and ambient noises disorient the audience.

Radiohead’s concerts are like Stanley Kubrick films— most people aren’t quite sure what’s going on, but if you get it, you get it. And the revelation can be spiritual and enlightening.  

Watch Radiohead perform the woozy “Reckoner” in this 2012 clip.

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Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails in concert
David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns via Getty Images

Trent Reznor and Thom Yorke are on two sides of the same coin. Both appreciate the power of light to tell a story. When Nine Inch Nails hit the stage, they assault the eyes and ears. Epileptics beware when seeing “Mr. Self Destruct” in concert— the luminescence changes intensity with every growl and gnash of his teeth.

Reznor and his team almost play second fiddle to the imagery surrounding them. It’s a shower of digital stars and biorhythms, suggesting the growing symbiosis between man and (Pretty Hate) Machine.

Watch a behind-the-scenes look at Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 festival sets.

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U2 in concert
cc-by-sa-2.5|Picture provided by Zachary Gillman

U2 are a collective that have adapted to every new technology in concert. From the over-the-top PopMart tour to the live-stream-incorporating Innocence + Experience leg, the Irishmen aren’t just musicians; they’re scientists.

Bono might be seen as an untouchable rock god who never removes his sunglasses (they’re actually for medical purposes). But at U2 gigs, he’s of the people. He’s pulled Bono impersonators onstage to sing with him and doesn’t balk when fans grab his hands as he struts on the catwalk.

The Edge; Larry Mullen, Jr.; and Adam Clayton don’t stay put, either. Constant set changes bring them to the lip of the stage (or way above it, on narrow walks dappled with projections of Dublin). There’s no line in the sand between artist and audience. It’s a place of revelry for all.

Read our review of U2’s 2015 Innocence + Experience tour.

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Fishbone in concert
Courtesy the band

If dancing and mosh pits are your things, Fishbone are your guys. These ska legends kick up the dust and pay homage to artists of yore (Sublime, Sly and the Family Stone). Jazz and funk lovers will cheer at the band’s brassiness, and those who like their front men on the crazy side will adore Angelo Moore.

Fishbone are a good-time group who show up in unique settings. We once caught a surprise set of theirs in the skiing town of Mammoth, Calif. They’ve also set sail on the Flogging Molly Salty Dog cruise and braved the midday scorch of Coachella. The road warriors never disappoint.

Watch Fishbone perform on the 2007 Warped Tour.

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Green Day

Green Day in concert
Sven-Sebastian Sajak/Wikimedia Commons

Fitting that the trio that brought punk to the mainstream also became bona fide stadium rockers. From the moment Billie Joe Armstrong threw mud on their Woodstock ’94 onlookers, anything went for Green Day’s live show. A drunken man-sized bunny would rev up the crowd. Armstrong would hump the ground and stick a mic down his tight pants. Drummer Tre Cool would seize lead vocals and caterwaul like an escaped mental patient.

The 2004-2005 American Idiot tour was notable for its political bent. Tracks like “Holiday” would become massive chants to oust George W. Bush from office and put an end to homophobic sentiment. And lighters would ignite during the ballad “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” As Green Day matured, they learned to blend the sacred and the profane.

Watch a scene from their 2005 concert video, Bullet in a Bible