How long should a good gig be, and conversely what’s the earliest a band or artist can exit the stage without the audience feeling ripped off? How long is a piece of string (perhaps you’d better ask a string theorist)? Also, there’s the old quality vs quantity conundrum: a concert can go on for days, but if the music played is awful then that’s of no use to man or beast. But how about if you were to get quality and quantity, like a giant musical Ferrero Rocher party and all your Christmases come at once? Here are 10 memorable concerts that went on seemingly forever, and one that was over in a heartbeat.
Bruce Springsteen at the Olympiastadion, Helsinki, 31st July 2012
Boy can the Boss go on, which if you’re a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, is a prolonged eternity in heaven with the fatted calf and all the trimmings. Famously, Bruce Almighty likes to sate his fans until they can barely walk with over-nourishment, but even he outdid himself playing at the Olympiastadion in Helsinki a few years ago, breaking his own personal best with a show that lasted four hours and six minutes. The gig no doubt featured his classic ‘Born To Run’, but nobody was running anywhere fast that evening.
Bruce Springsteen with Paul McCartney in Hyde Park, 15th July 2012
A few weeks before the Helsinki show, the Boss was at it again, and this time he’d brought Beatles legend Paul McCartney on stage to sing the band’s classics ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Twist And Shout’. For those who hadn’t fainted already, ecstasy was all but guaranteed. Or was it? As it turned out, Bruce had gone on far too long for Westminster Council’s liking, and some of the oligarch’s who own properties nearby weren’t too happy about the noise, and so the plug was pulled on America’s greatest modern rock artist and one half of the finest songwriting duo of the 20th century. Still, it had been quite a night. Imagine how good it would have been had someone actually turned the volume up? “When did England become a police state?” asked incredulous guitarist Steven Van Zandt, a member of Springsteen’s E Street Band, on Twitter. Van Zandt was miffed that “English cops” had stopped “80,000 people having a good time”. Quite right Stevie!
Muse at Olympiastadion, Helsinki on 27th July 2013
What is it they put in the Karelian pasties in Finland to give artists that extra stamina needed to break their own long standing records? Or is it just the clean Nordic air? According to Setlist FM, Muse performed their longest ever show at the same arena Springsteen managed his PB, performing two encores and 27 songs in all, lasting an entire age. The audience might have got Stockholm Syndrome had this happened next door in the neighbouring capital city of Sweden. Do you see what I did there?
Chilly Gonzales at the Ciné 13 Théâtre, Paris between May 16th and 18th 2009
Gonzo is the self-proclaimed ‘Entertainist’ where performing on the old joanna is concerned, and having held the attention of an audience in Paris for more than a day while managing to stay awake and break the world record for longest solo concert into the bargain, well, who could argue? The Canadian musician tinkled the ivories for an incredible 27 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds, getting through 300 plus songs and an awful lot of anecdotes in the process. Bravo!
Pixies at Teatro La Cúpula in Santiago, on October 13th 2010
Black Francis and co. performed an incredible 33 songs, one for each of the 33 previously trapped miners in Chile who were rescued while the eyes of the world watched, back in 2010. “We were so moved by this story,” said Frank in a statement “by how many lives had been affected by this, and how the Chilean people banded together to support what can only be described as a miracle.” And where better to play this incredibly long show than in a city named after their own guitarist, Joey Santiago?
Jarvis Cocker and friends at the Village Underground Gallery in Shoreditch, London 9th-11th November 2009
Not so much three gigs as a three day-long installation (with two sleeps), Monsieur Cocker of Pulp fame dragged the kids of Shoreditch in to jam with him over three, long and occasionally challenging days, while others performed yoga and headstands. This all-inclusive concept and free-for-all was sometimes more delightful than the execution, but how heartwarming that hundreds of young musicians could go away and tell their mates they’d played on stage with Jarvis Cocker.
The Cure at the Foro Sol in Mexico City, April 23rd 2014
If you have a phobia of long silences then The Cure have the antidote, playing endless sets that are the enemy of quietness. Debate on some seriously crepuscular fan message boards rages regarding the longest ever show from Fat Bob and the boys. Was it Berlin or was it Paris? All of these shows were suitably protracted, but Robert Smith celebrated his 54th birthday in Mexico City with an incredible fifty song set lasting 4 hours and six minutes. Not even a 5.9 magnitude earthquake could deviate them from the path of righteousness.
Live Aid on the 13th July 1985
You must have heard of it. 75 acts played for 16 hours linked by satellite between Wembley and Los Angeles, beamed live into the homes of millions, raising many more millions for starving children in Africa. And most importantly Phil Collins got to fly across the Atlantic and play at both events, including a stint on drums for Led Zeppelin! The mother and father of all telethon events kick started a glut of similar – and some might say – inferior imitations. Or Freddie Mercury punching the air and making the world realise it needed Queen again? Or Bob Geldof shouting “give us yer fookin’ money”?
Radiohead at the Great Stage Park in Tennessee, 17th June 2006
Radiohead are a band that like to give back, and have done so often with preposterously long live sets. There’s some confusion as to which show is longest, but their most robust this century was almost certainly at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, lasting 2 hour and 20 minutes and featured two encores and 28 songs. Despite the massive offering, they couldn’t find room for their breakout hit, ‘Creep’.
Grateful Dead at the Winterland Ballroom, 31st December 1978 to 1st January 1979
The Grateful Dead made the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco their second home, and it’s here where they supposedly played a number of six-hour shows; the suggestion that all their shows were that long is somewhat apocryphal though. One set that may well have surpassed the six hour mark (there were 36 songs, and Jerry Garcia and the band’s songs do go on a bit) was the New Year’s Eve show of 1978 that rolled well into New Year’s Day 1979. A somewhat shorter show at the Winterland earlier in that same year saw the Sex Pistols bow out with the now infamous line: ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’
As for the shortest show…
The White Stripes achieved one that lasted less than a second when they played one note – believed to be C# – at a venue in Newfoundland, Canada in 2007. Hundreds of fans showed up for the event, and were warned in advance of the brevity of what would transpire, but the Guinness Book of Records failed to honour the stunt as an official record. Jack White had to wait until last year to break one when he released ‘Lazaretto’ in the fastest time during 2014’s Record Store Day.