The 10 Most Innovative Live Performances

Pivotal concerts, tours, and shows that left a mark on music history.

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Complex Original

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The live performance has always been a way for artists to connect with their fans, and the medium has grown to be an almost spiritual experience. Some artists stick to conventional concerts while others plan extravagant, mind-blowing shows. Innovation in art direction and a visionary mentality have been quintessential in the evolution of the live performance.

Those who continue to make strides in live performance establish themselves as more than just musicians. They toy with techniques, disguises, alter egos, lighting, story lines, and in some cases, all of the above. From groundbreaking performances that became the model for future shows to stages that are unlike anything that came before, musicians keep pushing the boundaries of what we expect when we buy a concert ticket.

Many musicians are taking the stage at SXSW this week to perform in front of crowds of music lovers, an event that is founded on the tradition of live performances. To celebrate this festival, we took a look back at The 10 Most Innovative Live Performances.

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10. Jane's Addiction at Lollapalooza 1991

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Known for: The music festival model
Date: 1991

Lollapalooza was conceived partially as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction in 1991. Jane's Addiction was headline act, of course, but the festival included other rock and hip-hop heavyweights like Siouxsie & The Banshees, Living Colour, Nine Inch Nails, Ice T, Rollins Band, and Violent Femmes. Jane's Addiction played 22 dates in as many cities, but little did they know that their goodbye sets would birth a recurring festival for many years to come.

Overall, when the band performed in Chicago half way through their tour, they played with as much energy as ever, connecting with the crowd as they had done their entire career. While the performance itself was a typical Jane's Addiction show, their goodbye birthed Lollapalooza, a model for today's music festivals.

Lollapalooza did not take place between 1998-2002 and saw a revival in 2003. The following year, however, it was cancelled due to a lack of ticket sales. It wasn't until 2005 that Lollapalooza become a two-day destination festival, held annually at Grant Park in Chicago. Despite the ups and downs of the Chicago festival, it became blueprint for some of today's biggest music festivals.

Gorillaz at the 2006 Grammys and the 2010 MTV EMAs

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Known for: Cartoon virtual hologram performances
Dates: 2006 and 2010

Gorillaz formed a bond between art and music when the virtual band was founded in 1998 as a pet project of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and English comic-artist and designer Jamie Hewlett. Albarn was responsible for the music while Hewlett created the cartoon characters that became the face of the band.

Albarn and his collaborators have performed in many different settings, including hidden behind or silhouetted by colorful screens, as a live band in front of animated visuals, and as holographs depicting the cartoon members. Most notably Gorillaz appeared as holographs during their 2010 MTV EMAs performance of "Feel Good Inc" with De La Soul and during their 2006 Grammy performance alongside Madonna.

The Libertines and The Others' Guerrilla Gigs

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Known for: Internet-promoted guerrilla gigs

The guerrilla gigs of 2004 were a special point in time for die hard fans of British bands The Others and The Libertines. The Libertines made habit of performing in living rooms and flats while The Others took to tube trains in London's metro. The latter startled commuters and the former raised hell for landlords. Other locations of London's guerrilla gigs included radio station lobbies, parking lots, and even treetops.

Fans would find out the locations of the performances via the Internet, provided by the band and management, just hours before the show. The use of the Internet during this period marks an important time in music and was just the beginning the industry's attempts to harness the power of social media. With their guerrilla gigs, The Libertines and The Others were ahead of the curve.

Ziggy Stardust Tour

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Known for: Birth and death of an alter ego
Date: July 3, 1973

Aliases have long been a tool for musicians to lean on during recordings and live performances. As far as alter ego's go, no one did it better than David Bowie when he introduced the world to Ziggy Stardust. Pulling from science fiction, theater, musicals, and television, Bowie created one if the most highly regarded albums of all time, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

The album became the soundtrack behind a quasi-musical for the Ziggy Stardust Tour, which transformed concert halls into rock stages that helped lift Ziggy to a divine state. But it was at London's Hammersmith Odeon that Ziggy performed one of his most memorable shows. During the encore of "Rock and Roll Suicide" on July 3, 1973, Bowie announced, "Not only is this the last show of the tour, but it's the last show we'll ever do." The announcement sent shockwaves through the crowd and the music world. Ziggy Stardust was an pivotal figure in the music world, allowing artists to take on other personas, but it was the death of this avatar that etched Bowie's tour is music history.

Glow in the Dark Tour and Yeezus Tour

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Known for: Elaborate concert storylines
Dates: 2013 and 2014

Kanye West has vowed over the course of his entire career never to be placed in a box, something that's evident from his last two solo tours, Glow in the Dark in 2008 and Yeezus in 2013-2014. In his performances, West created a dramatic visual experience with exaggerated storylines, pulling from theater and opera as well as performance art.

For Glow in the Dark, Yeezy interacted with a spacecraft named Jane. During Yeezus, Kanye delivered a stage design unlike anything seen before in hip-hop. Equipped with a massive, oval LED screen, a replica of a mountain, and a runway, West created a setting filled with religious iconography. His stage design was modeled after avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's film The Holy Mountain, and performance artist Vanessa Beecroft contributed to the staging of the show. The Yeezus tour became a momentous collaboration between art, film, music, and design.

Mariah Carey's Hologram Performances

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Known for: Hologram shows in five cities
Date: Nov. 10, 2011

Since entering the music business in 1990, with her debut self-titled album, Mariah Carey has gone on to sell well over 200 million records worldwide. One of her best and most memorable shows occurred 2011 when the singer performed live in five European cities at once. Fans attended holographic concerts in Germany, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Poland. The groundbreaking performance was in collaboration with Saatchi & Saatchi and its "Life's for Sharing" campaign with Deutsche Telecom's T-Mobile brand.

During her performance, the hologram of Mariah interacted with real-life dancers and live audiences, making it an unforgettable experience. Carey delivered five choreographed performances simultaneously, which included renditions of "Silent Night" and "All I Want For Christmas." Jason Romeyko, European creative director for Deutsche Telekom, was the visionary behind this project, an event that left a lasting impression in the marketing world as well as the music world.

Daft Punk at Coachella 2006

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Known for: Live electronic performance
Date: 2006

Long before Daft Punk was winning Grammys, the French duo broke into the music scene as members of the guitar trio Darlin', made up of Laurent Brancowitz, Thomas Bangalter, and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. Eventually disbanding, Brancowitz established the group Phoenix while Bangalter and de Homem-Christo formed the electronic band Daft Punk. Now the duo is a household name, and the helmeted musicians have bridged the gap between today's and tomorrow's sounds while also giving us a look at the future of live performance. Daft Punk performs rarely, but their signature disguises and pyramid stage design have revolutionized the live element of dance music.

Daft Punk performed in 2006 at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival. During the critically acclaimed live show, Daft Punk distorted synthesized elements via a 40-foot-tall, LED-surfaced pyramid. The pyramid was powered by software, such as Ableton Live, along with supercomputers, Behringer BCR2000 midi controllers, ethernet remote computer screens, Minimoog Voyagers, analog synthesizers, and JazzMutant Lemur. The technology involved in the electronic performance made it one of their most memorable shows ever.

Björk at the New York Hall of Science

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Known for: Implementation of science and technology
Date: Feb. 2012

In Feb. 2012, Björk embarked on a six-show residency in Flushing, Queens' New York Hall of Science. The artist's short-term residency was a result of her 2011 album Biophila, the world's first app album, where each track was released with a different app. The album's delivery was unorthodox at the time, but that was nothing compared to the following live performances at the Hall of Science.

Those lucky enough to attend embarked on a journey with the Iceland native. The show included workshops, previously orchestrated in her native country, for New York city schoolchildren, as well as many unconventional instruments, like a harp powered by four 10-foot pendulums. In order to wrap your head around what Björk set out to accomplish, think part science lecture, part technology experiment, and part live music show.

Pink Floyd at the UFO Club

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Known for: Light shows and slide shows
Date: 1967

Pink Floyd is known for their revolutionary approach towards live performances, many of which were the brainchild of Syd Barrett, who believed that visual elements help connect the audience to the music. Even from the beginning, Pink Floyd incorporated light shows into their performances, and the band became one of the first to use a travelling light show. During their time with Barrett at the helm, the band took the stage with liquid light shows and slide shows, employing veteran light artist Mike Leonard to create pieces for their performances.

Besides innovation in visuals, Pink Floyd also mastered distortion and exaggerated sound, which they transmitted from quadraphonic speaker systems. This was most evident during their shows the UFO Club in London in 1967. 

The Beatles at Shea Stadium

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Known for: First stadium concert
Date: Aug. 15, 1965

When you think about The Beatles, the first things that come to mind are their countless number one hits and albums. The band further solidified their legacy when they invaded Flushing, Queens, N.Y in 1965 for a performance at Shea Stadium. The Beatles took the stage 40 yards away from 56,000 crazed fans under the unbearable heat of stadium lights. The Queens show was the highlight of the foursome's 1965 tour, and it also happened to be their largest show up until that point.

Pulling from footage taken during the show, the documentary The Beatles at Shea Stadium, hosted by Ed Sullivan, later debuted on BBC in late 1965 and appeared in the U.S. on CBS in early 1966. The Beatles' performance became known as the first major stadium concert ever, a true achievement in the history of music.

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