Marathon Concerts: Nine of Rock’s Most Legendary Long Shows
How long is the perfect concert?
There is no one right answer. Depending on the artist, audience reception, venue size and a whole lot of other factors, there's no telling exactly how long a concert will last. And that's part of the thrill of live music.
But some artists have definitively pushed against limits when it comes to concert length. They'll perform shows that last for hours and stretch into the early morning. Sometimes these sets are carefully planned; other times a spur-of-the-moment decision leads to an epic show.
We revisit Nine of Rock's Most Legendary Long Shows below.
Led Zeppelin, Jan. 26, 1969, Boston Tea Party, Boston (more than 4 hours)
When Led Zeppelin first arrived in the States in late 1968, they caught critics by surprise with their towering live sound. No one had quite seen the likes of them: equal parts British rockers and deep Delta blues aficionados. In January 1969, a couple of weeks after the release of their self-titled debut album, Led Zeppelin began a four-night run at Boston Tea Party, a small space (400 capacity, according to the New England Historical Society) that became known for attracting the likes of the Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead and other acts on their way to becoming global stars. The first three nights of Zeppelin's run were something to behold, but it was the fourth and final show that solidified Led Zeppelin as one of the most powerful live bands around. They reportedly played for more than four hours. After they ran out of original material, they turned to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and other cover songs. A 20-year-old Steven Tyler was in the audience, sitting crossed-legged in the back and moved by the music so intensely he cried. “As far as I’m concerned, the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus, was one that we played on our first American tour at the Boston Tea Party," bassist John Paul Jones told NME in 1973. "I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become."
Grateful Dead, May 7, 1972, Bickershaw Festival, Bickershaw, England (more than 4 hours)
It's no secret the Grateful Dead thrived on extra-long live performances – it was the musical space in which they felt most comfortable. "[I've] always been a musician and into improvising, and it’s like I consider life to be a continuous series of improvisations," Jerry Garcia told Rolling Stone in January 1972, just a few months before the Dead took the stage at the Bickershaw Festival in England. The weather was wet, and concertgoers — including Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello – trudged through the mud to hear a variety of American acts perform over several days. But it was the Dead, on the third and final day of the festival, who made jaws drop with a roughly five-hour performance. The set featured extended jams of several songs — Ron "Pigpen" McKernan delivered a 20-minute rendition of "Good Lovin,'" while "The Other One" clocked in at over a half-hour — inspiring a new generation of artists to push their live performances.
Guns N' Roses, Aug. 3, 1991, Great Western Forum, Inglewood, Calif. (approximately 3 and a half hours)
Performing the fourth of four consecutive sold-out shows in Inglewood, Calif., on Aug. 3, 1991, Guns N' Roses were onstage for approximately three and a half hours, making it one of the longest shows of their career. They played more than 30 songs, stretching the concert until the early hours of the morning, finally ending the night with "Paradise City" during a second encore. Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach appeared in the first encore, helping Axl Rose on "You Ain't the First" and "You're Crazy," respectively. Neither Use Your Illusion album was ready for release when the tour launched in May. They finally arrived in September, but that didn't deter fans from filling up the Forum and sticking around till the end.
Pixies, Oct. 13, 2010, Teatro La Cupula, Santiago, Chile (approximately 4 hours)
On Aug. 5, 2010, the collapse of a ramp leading into a Chilean mine left 33 workers trapped underground. It wasn't until Oct. 13, 69 days later, that all the miners were safely freed. This also happened to be the day Pixies were scheduled to perform at the Teatro La Cupula in Santiago, their first-ever headlining show in the country. As frontman Black Francis said at the time, the band learned of the good news about five minutes before they took the stage. “We wanted to do something to show how affected we were by this,” Black said. “So we played a special set, 33 songs for the 33 miners, the longest set we’ve ever played as a band." It's unclear exactly how long the concert lasted, likely around four hours, but it was well-received by attendees. "We were so moved by this story,” Francis said. “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."
Frank Marino, Dec. 10-11, 2010, Agora Theater, Cleveland (approximately 6 hours)
Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush didn't just play a pair of back-to-back three-hour concerts in December 2010, he also invited fans to come to the Agora Theater to watch the six-hour rehearsal the day before. (That's 12 hours of total playing time over two days.) The entire thing was professionally filmed and recorded and edited for a six-hour concert DVD. "While the lighting rig was small, it was a good old rock 'n' roll rig, the kind I specialize in and perfect for this band,” lighting director Charlie “Cosmo” Wilson, who's also rigged lights for AC/DC and Foreigner, later said. “Frank Marino has never done a proper video. I have wanted to do lights for him for so long, it was an honor to do something rare that will last forever.”
The Cure, April 21, 2013, Foro Sol Stadium, Mexico City (4 hours, 6 minutes)
In April 2013, a few days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico, the country's capital experienced another seismic event: more than four hours of music by the Cure. The occasion was Robert Smith's 54th birthday, and the band played 50 songs during a marathon show that lasted for four hours and six minutes. They played four encores, the last of which contained 12 songs. It wasn't entirely a surprise to the audience: The Cure's shows during their Great Circle Tour were known for their length. The Guardian even criticized the shows as being too long.
Phish, Dec. 31, 1999, and Jan. 1, 2000, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee, Fla. (approximately 7 hours)
Phish entered the new millennium doing what they do best: jamming like there's no tomorrow. The band set up a two-day event at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida to ring in the New Year in front of thousands of fans. (More than 80,000 people showed up even though only 60,000 tickets were sold.) The second day featured an afternoon set, plus an epic, midnight-to-sunrise performance that lasted seven hours. "The idea was to play in the continental United States outside all night until the sun comes up," frontman Trey Anastasio later recalled. "It’s the year 2000. Y2K was supposed to happen at the time. All the computers will be off. The world will come to an end. But we will all be together. Having pulled an all-nighter. Planes will have fallen out of the sky. You won’t be able to get your money out of the bank. Remember? People actually thought that."
Bob Dylan, Jan. 12, 1990, Toad’s Place, New Haven, Conn. (4 hours, 20 minutes)
One of the peaks of Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour happened on Jan. 12, 1990, at Toad's Place in New Haven, Conn. The '80s had been a whirlwind for Dylan – first spending a few years puzzling fans with a turn to religious music, then embarking on a tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and finally becoming a member of the Traveling Wilburys. In between all this, he made seven albums. By the end of the decade, his live performances had become lackluster. But when he arrived at Toad's Place, a small club with a capacity of around 700, tickets were gone in less than 20 minutes. To kick off the new decade, Dylan performed a 50-song show that lasted for more than four hours. When Dylan came off the stage at the scheduled time, he asked the venue's owner, Brian Phelps, if he could keep going. "Dylan asked me if he could play another set. And we said, Sure, go ahead!" Phelps recalled. "You know, and they asked again and played a third. 'Can I play another?' You know what? Yeah! Go ahead! There's no problem!" Dylan even took requests from the audience, playing covers of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," Hank Williams' "Lonesome Whistle" and a Traveling Wilburys' song, "Congratulations."
Bruce Springsteen, July 31, 2012, Olympiastadion, Helsinki, Finland (4 hours, 6 minutes)
Just when you think the Boss is ready to call it a night, he keeps the party going. Bruce Springsteen is well known for his marathon concerts and has continued to beat his record for the longest show many times over the years. In 2012, he played his longest concert to date in Helsinki, Finland: four hours and six minutes. (He broke his U.S. record in 2016, playing a show in Philadelphia that lasted four hours and four minutes.) To Springsteen, it's second nature to keep going. “I’m conditioned to do it from many, many years of experience,” he said in 2016. “Don’t try it at home, kids.”