“To steal the show” is a phrase that sometimes gets overused in entertainment. Not every great performance is a show-stealer, and certainly any attempt to list these moments, in any genre, is just inviting debate and disagreement. However, these discussions (even if heated) can lead to people discovering (or rediscovering) some amazing performances. So, without further ado, here is one rock fan’s list of the top show-stealing performances ever. The only criteria for the list is that there had to be other established acts on the bill for the show to be stolen from.
1. Queen – Live Aid – July 13, 1985
Still arguably the most famous concert ever, this show to raise money to combat hunger saw incredible performances from both London (U2, David Bowie, The Who) and Philadelphia (Eric Clapton, Patti LaBelle, Mick Jagger & Tina Turner). However, it was Queen who strolled into Wembley Stadium and proceeded to deliver a 20-minute performance that many still proclaim the greatest live gig by a band ever. Its importance in Queen’s career is evident by the decision to make it the climax of their biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.
2. Ozzy Osbourne – Moscow Music Peace Festival – August 13, 1989
The first major rock concert in Moscow produced a string of “what really happened” moments, as you had a slew of heavy metal musicians drinking, doing drugs and being rowdy en route to a show that was promoting peace and unity in fighting against drug use. One of the most commonly referred to stories involved arguments over when bands would perform, with Bon Jovi (who did headline), Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne supposedly jockeying for position on a bill that also included the Scorpions, Cinderella, Skid Row, and Russian act Gorky Pork. Regardless of when he went on, Ozzy and his band (including Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, guitarist Zakk Wylde and the late Randy Castillo on drums) decided just to go out there and blow the crowd away. Remember, this is USSR-era Moscow, where rock music was only available via smuggled in imports and bootlegs. Jon Bon Jovi himself would later admit that Osbourne was the star of the festival.
3. The Who – Concert For New York City – October 20, 2001
Just a little over a month following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Madison Square Garden played host to an audience of heroes, as Paul McCartney organized a benefit show that would honor the first responders and their families. A slew of bands performed, joined by celebrities from all fields, but it was The Who that gave the emotional proceedings a giant exhale of rock n’ roll relief. In what would be bassist, John Entwistle’s last U.S. performance, the band just delivered on a level that no one else could match. In response, when The Who were honored at the Kennedy Center seven years later, a choir made up of FDNY members returned the favor, performing “Baba O’Riley” with Rob Thomas.
4. Metallica – Woodstock ’94 – August 13, 1994
By 1994, Metallica was taking a victory lap on the massive success of their Black Album and subsequent three year-plus tour. The Summer of 1994 saw the band taking a final jaunt across the U.S. headlining various outdoor venues, and they were booked for a slot on day two of this three-day festival, a modern take on the classic Woodstock. The plan was for Metallica and Aerosmith to both play full-length sets on the main stage. However, the show ran long, and there was an extended delay as the stage was cleaned following Nine Inch Nails’ mud-covered performance. By the time Metallica took the stage late in the evening, the crowd was ready to explode, and they did. Aerosmith, who took the stage at 2 am after them, played a great show, but looked like a cool-down act after the Metallica assault.
5. Pink Floyd – Live 8 – July 2, 2005
As the story goes, when Bob Geldof approached Roger Waters about rejoining Pink Floyd for the Live 8 concert, Waters had to ask him for David Gilmour’s phone number. When Waters did get in touch with him. Gilmour made it clear that Pink Floyd (himself, Nick Mason and Richard Wright) would decide whether they were going to play the show or not, and then extend an invite to Waters. Not exactly the makings of an epic performance, but it turns out they delivered one. By far the most well-received of the dozens of acts that performed at multiple venues that day, fans felt so passionately about their performance that MTV was flooded with complaints and phone calls when they cut away for a commercial break… to the point the entire set was rebroadcast the next day.
Extreme – Freddie Mercury Tribute – April 20. 1992
Quiet Riot – US Festival – May 29, 1983
Deep Purple – California Jam – April 6, 1974
Sammy Hagar – Texxas Jam – June 13, 1983