Ask any music enthusiast what they missed the most in 2020 and they’ll likely tell you: live shows. The dearth of performances this past year has been felt by hardcore fans and the occasional concertgoer alike, creating a sense of longing so potent that it’s even sparked a TikTok trend in which users discuss their favorite live performances of all time. That got us thinking—what about our favorite musicians? What shows have resonated with them, and even influenced their approach to being on stage? Below, we spoke with Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim; Matt Champion, Jabari Manwa, and Dom McLennon of Brockhampton; Róisín Murphy (whose remix album Crooked Machine made with DJ Parrot dropped on April 30); and The Internet’s bassist Patrick Paige II, who also has a new record titled If I Fail, Are We Still Cool? coming out May 21. Each artist opened up about why they love the shows they do, and how each performance affected how they understood the art of live music forever.
“Grace Jones was certainly the most influential performer on my own attitude toward live shows. I saw her playing in an amazing space just outside Florence, maybe 15 years ago, when I happened to go to Italy for a weekend break with my girlfriends. We went into this fashionable clothes shop, and saw the advertisement for the show that night. We went along as normal punters, as we say in the U.K.
“The space looked like a modern aircraft hangar warehouse, but it was built over an archeology site. Grace came on—and it was during a time when she was touring with a very small setup. Most of the time, it was only her on the stage. It was super simple, yet super dramatic. She used herself to the maximum capacity, getting as much juice out of the fact that she’s amazing as possible. She had a simple lighting setup. I don’t even think there was a screen and she didn’t use a lot of colored lights. There was a set of black steps and a couple of other podiums, some levels to stand on. She had herself and she had her music. It was spellbinding, the simplicity of it. There was just a purity, and a real understanding of drama. And I don’t mean drama, drama, dahling—I mean true drama: theatrical staging and storytelling done in a pared-down way.
“But there wasn’t any expense spared in the clothes department, that was for sure. The outfits were incredible: she has that bowler hat that’s made of mirrors, and at a certain point it pinged one laser off of her head, going in all directions. It’s not enough to call them clothes; she used them as architecture. She carved out an identity for each song on the stage. I’ve never seen her with the full band—I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I’m glad I saw a show of hers as simply as I did.
“We were lucky enough to be chatted up by a couple of the guys who worked with the promoter. They were like, “Would you want to come back to Grace Jones’s hotel afterwards and see if we can hang?” We were like, “Okay, fine. Let’s try that [laughs].” We arrived at the hotel just as she was coming back from the gig, and she wasn’t having us coming in, I’ll tell you that. She turned around, put her hands on the wall, and went, “Control, control, [security,] get these people out of here.” It was the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
Este Haim: We’d like to discuss the same performance.
Alana Haim: It’s one we always go back to.
Danielle Haim: It’s a Tom Petty performance from The Wiltern in 1985. He does his song called “The Waiting”—you know the song. It’s maybe his best song.
Este Haim: Arguably. Definitely his best song before “Wildflowers,” I think.
Danielle Haim: It’s basically a genius display of the best storytelling before a song. Meanwhile, the song is called “The Waiting” and in the performance, he’s telling this minute and a half story, so you’re literally waiting for him to play.
Alana Haim: And it’s at The Wiltern, which is one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles. I remember when we sold out The Wiltern, it was a huge deal, because growing up, we would always pass the venue—at that time, we would be playing to crowds of about four people and we’d be like, “One day, hopefully, we get to play The Wiltern.”
It starts out: Tom Petty is in the spotlight, darkness behind him. He’s just noodling around on the guitar—but the thing that’s so crazy about Tom Petty is his confidence. He knows the crowd is eating out of the palm of his hand. He knows what’s coming, and he takes his time and savors the moment, which is incredibly hard to do. I can’t do it; I can’t keep my cool onstage. When I’m telling a story, I’m way too energetic.
Danielle Haim: He goes into this story about breaking his hand—he’d gotten upset in the studio, punched a wall, and broke his hand in five spots.
Alana Haim: He went to the doctor and the doctor said, “Are you a guitar player?” And he was like, “Yes.” And the doctor goes, “Not anymore.” And then Tom Petty goes, “And what did I say? I said, ‘Fuck that.’”
Este Haim: Crowd erupts.
Alana Haim: You hear the crowd go fucking insane. Also me, watching this, I went insane. I’m watching it on YouTube as if I’m there in 1985. But then he continues: “You know, every day, what I did? I just picked up my guitar and I just started looking at it. Then I started playing these chords, and one day, I came up with this.”
Este Haim: And then he just launches into the intro.
Alana Haim: It’s just him playing the song with a guitar in hand. And you’re like, Holy shit—is the band ever going to come in? We don’t know. And at this point you’re drooling. You’re like, Give me the goods, Tom.
Danielle Haim: You’re like, Where is the percussion?
Este Haim: The waiting is the hardest part.
Alana Haim: All of a sudden, the bridge kicks in and you hear some cymbals—but he’s still in the darkness. And then the solo kicks in and all the lights turn on. The camera does a shot of the crowd, and everyone is losing their minds. They’re all so close to each other, they’re reaching for Tom.
My dream is to do something like that. But every tour we’ve ever done, we’ve never had a good enough story to tell. He takes you on a journey, and you’re with him every second of the way. It’s not just a light show or whatever. You can tell that he took time to create something that was going to be memorable.
Danielle Haim: It’s also so simple, but it’s done so well. Honestly, there’s magic in this video, too. And we’re such big Petty fans.
Alana Haim: If we could Blue Skidoo into any concert, I would want to Blue Skidoo into that video.
Este Haim: I wouldn't be able to handle it. There’s no way. I would lose my goddamn mind.
Alana Haim: I hope that that was a good description.
Danielle Haim: We didn’t do it justice, honestly.
Matt Champion, Jabari Manwa, and Dom McLennon of Brockhampton
Jabari Manwa: My favorite live performance was Travis Scott performing “Sickomode” at The Forum in 2019. Growing up, I was a little Travis Scott Stan, and seeing how far he’s taken his career has been super inspiring for me. I remember when a lot of the people didn’t care as much about him—but at that concert, I was looking at Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Jay Z, and Beyoncé in the crowd. He really brought everybody out. It inspired me to stay consistent in what I’m doing and believe in myself, trust my ideas—that has really come from Travis being a producer and artist. All that connected for me when I was able to see him live and feel the energy in the crowd. I don’t think anybody else could do the Astroworld tour besides Travis Scott.
Dom McLennon: The interactive stage props that he had were incredible as well, the ferris wheel and the multiple stages he would alternate on every six or seven songs. Throughout the concert, his team would grab people out of the crowd and have them sit on the ferris wheel while Travis was performing. That opened up to this Guns N’ Roses-style rollercoaster bridge that went between both of the stages; there were random fans just standing on top of it. He was able to create these interactive experiences with the crowd, which is incredible for artists to do.
Matt Champion: I wanted to touch on Travis Scott’s 2018 Governors Ball performance because his crowd control in that specific concert is amazing. Being able to keep control of the crowd is a skill—you have to be engaged while also falling into it. It helps to have incredible fans and people that are excited to be there [laughs]. Then it becomes extremely euphoric. In Travis’s performance, the entire crowd is fully invested—and this is without the rollercoaster, without any big props. He’s just running it up there, pure energy for two hours. It’s crazy that he can do both, have huge immersive experiences, and also just be by himself on stage, going crazy, and it still has that same effect.
Dom McLennon: I want to talk specifically about Beyoncé at Coachella. The reason I almost don't remember being there is because I felt like I was watching a movie. I’m a big Beyoncé fan and my parents are also Beyoncé fans—we used to watch her Behind the Music documentary together. I remember watching her talk in that movie about becoming Sasha Fierce on stage. Watching Beyoncé become Sasha Fierce at Coachella was a moment in its own realm. I wouldn’t even put the Homecoming performance in the conversation with all these other ones—she was on another planet.
We also saw Gorillaz at Lowlands Festival in the Netherlands in 2018. We were on tour in Europe; this was right before we made Iridescence. The stage was set up with four giant LED panels showing their music videos. Above it, there was a small, circular porthole, referencing their “On Melancholy Hill” video, where they’re all in a submarine. They were incorporating things that weren’t actually in the music video on the screen, and it made for a brand new experience.
Patrick Paige II
“One of my favorite live performances I’ve ever seen was Korn at The Forum in Inglewood. It was 2015, during the summertime. The concert was a childhood dream; it was all my favorite bands from middle school: POD performed, so did Limp Bizkit and Suicidal Tendencies, and Korn headlined. I was actually working with Suicidal Tendencies at the time, helping them out on stage during their performance—I helped move shit out the way, because they’re crazy, jumping around, and I’m moving their quarter-inch cables so they don’t trip and fall.
“That performance stuck with me mainly because I got to talk to James Shaffer, Korn’s guitarist, afterward. I saw him walking by backstage and I was like, “Yo, I’ve been a fan, can we get a picture?” He was like, “Yeah.” And then he just kept making conversation, very casually. He’s like, “I remember seeing my favorite band here and being like, ‘I want to do that.’ And I did it.” I haven’t forgotten those words, that conversation. It made me think, I want to be at an arena and tell somebody, “Yeah, I saw my favorite band here and said, ‘I want to do that.’” It was a real full-circle moment, and it was so simple, too.
The performance was incredible—‘Shoots and Ladders,’ was crazy. But it was definitely the conversation that stayed with me the most, to be completely honest.”