Whether it’s a sold-out stadium singalong from a pop queen, a career-defining intimate gig from an R&B superstar, or an impromptu rooftop jam by the world’s most famous rock band, the UK’s capital has seen its fair share of iconic concerts.
Extraordinary talent and generation-defining music have all propelled these performances to legendary status. Here are our top nine iconic concerts in London of all time.
The Beatles – Rooftop of Apple Corps Offices – January 1969
In what would be their final ever gig as the Fab Four, The Beatles took to the rooftop of the Apple Corps offices on 30th January 1969 and played nine takes of a five-song set before being asked to reduce the volume by police.
The performance was primarily used to provide footage for the band’s 1970 documentary Let it Be, and so was not actually a paying concert. The people on the streets below, many of whom were on their lunch break at the time, were previously unaware that the gig was taking place. However, as news of the concert spread, thousands of onlookers gathered on the streets to watch The Beatles play live, for the final time.
The Rolling Stones – Hyde Park –May 1969
Just two days after guitarist and founding member Brian Jones was found dead, the Rolling Stones performed a gig that would be remembered as one of the most iconic concerts of the 20th century. The Stones in the Park was far from the most polished performance of the Rolling Stones, but with emotions running high and an air of tragedy, this free concert marked the end of the 60s for many.
Queen – Live Aid, Wembley Stadium – July 1985
Thought of by many as the greatest live performance of all time, Queen’s performance at the Live Aid Charity Concert was an electrifying example of Freddie Mercury’s showmanship. Immortalised in the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, the performance took place in front of 72,000 people and was streamed to 2 billion people worldwide.
The Beastie Boys – Brixton Academy - May 1987
Many music fans think of 1987 as the year hip-hop went mainstream in the UK. The rise of graffiti culture, DJ Tim Westwood and, of course, hip-hop artists like LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa and The Beastie Boys brought hip-hop into the charts.
The Beastie Boys were notorious for their riotous performances, and the night at the Brixton Academy was no exception. They belted out tracks from their legendary debut album, License to Ill, and more than lived up to the hype.
Lauren Hill – Brixton Academy - May 1999
Her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauren Hill, was nominated for eight Grammys (Ms. Lauren Hill was the first hip-hop artist to win Album of the Year, and the first woman to take home no less than five Grammy awards in one night).
When Lauren Hill took to the stage at the Brixton Academy on May 1999, she did not disappoint. Heartfelt lyrics gave an honest representation of love and life, and her undeniable stage presence made this the greatest gig of the year for many.
Eminem – Astoria –November 1999
It’s safe to say that the mainstream was unsure about Eminem in the late 90s. His controversial lyrics cemented him as rap’s bad boy, but it was his undeniable stage presence that brought his 1999 gig at London’s renowned Astoria venue to legendary status.
Michael Jackson –July 1988 – Wembley Stadium
Michael Jackson’s three-hour show at Wembley was nothing short of spectacular. In 1999 he took to the stage and led his group of dancers through an eclectic selection of polished pop hits, to the delight of the 72,000 spectators – including Princess Diana and Prince Charles.
Few concerts have had the same level of hype as this one, the same as few performers have had the same lasting impact as Jackson. Even now, 30 years later, watch the DVD and you can still feel the immense buzz of excitement within the stadium, as the crowd witnesses Michael at the height of his performing powers.
The Spice Girls – September 1998 – Wembley Stadium
In the late 90s, Girl Power was sweeping the nation, and The Spice Girls were right at the centre of it all. Few bands since The Beatles had whipped up this type of mania, so when the girls announced they would be heading off on their Spiceworld tour, fans around the world rejoiced.
In what would be Geri Halliwell’s final farewell (until the late naughties, at least) before sensationally quitting later in the year, the girls put on a fierce and fiery show to 150,000 adoring fans for their last date on tour.
Lady Gaga – February 2010 – O2 Arena
Billed by Gaga herself as the first-ever ‘pop electric opera’, the Monster Ball brought a level of surreal madness to London. With 15 costume changes and a whole lot of props (a bright green Rolls Royce and a giant Octopus) and effects, this was Gaga announcing her arrival to the world.
The set was put together in just four weeks, and it’s rumoured that Gaga was still working on the final touches less than an hour before it began. By the time the show reached London, the songstress had become bored of the US show and completely redesigned it for the UK.
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