Certain musical appearances go beyond legendary and work to redefine what music actually is for the era. Ben Kopel thinks of these gigs as turning points in the history of rock music, performances where people realized what was really possible. These are six of Ben Kopel’s favorites, and why they ended up being so important.
Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival, June 18th, 1967
Hendrix was undeniably a genius at work, but it took time for people to realize it. A landmark performance was just what Hendrix needed to show off his innovation, and Ben Kopel pinpoints this Monterey Pop Festival as the starting point. From using feedback and distortion as a musical element to infamously setting his guitar on fire, Hendrix redefined rock almost literally overnight.
Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway, Dec. 6, 1969
Ben Kopel also points to the infamous Altamount Speedway concert as the key gig for the Rolling Stones – at least when it came to defining the style they brought to the rock world. Sure, all the Stones’ famed music was on brilliant display here, but the night ended in tragic riots and one death: Hiring the Hell’s Angels to act as security for the concert was, in hindsight, a very clear mistake, but incredibly on-brand for the Stones. Ben Kopel notes that their fame only continued to grow afterward, perhaps because of the sensationalism more than anything else.
Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival, July 15, 1965
Dylan had belonged to the folk music world for years, but this gig in 1965 represented his turning point. Ben Kopel notes that this was the first time Dylan unveiled new music with electrical instruments and more of a focus on rock elements – so much so that Dylan hid his plans for the evening before stepping out on stage. His fans were furious, but everyone else saw it as a sign of the times…and the future of the industry.
Sex Pistols at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall, June 4, 1976
According to Ben Kopel, the Sex Pistols were only the supporting band for this gig…but it didn’t matter. The audience was so enthralled with their edgy, pumping style that no one really noticed when the lead band didn’t show up. Ben Kopel reports that witnesses to the event included future members of Joy Division, The Smiths, and other bands that would define the era. Now they just needed to get the word out about this new style: It was going to be called punk.
Pink Floyd at (Basically All of) The Wall Tour, 1980 – 1981
The Wall Tour was famous for many reasons, but Ben Kopel reminds us that it also redefined just what was possible for a rock concert. Using the latest technology that was only beginning to develop, Pink Floyd unleashed a rock circus of props, stage effects, pyrotechnics (and occasional fires), animatronics, and more. Ben Kopel notes that this laid the groundwork for the many extravagant performances adopted by pop artists in later years – a tradition that continues to this day.
Nirvana at MTV Unplugged, Nov. 18, 1993
This Nirvana gig was everything – unexpected, tragic, haunting, beautiful, and trendsetting. Foregoing their usual hits, Cobain set a somber stage with funeral décor and played covers of his favorite songs, along with a number of Nirvana’s lesser-known gems. Ben Kopel notes that, according to legend, Cobain thought it was such a perfect ending he refused to do an encore. Several months later, Cobain’s suicide would transform the rock world again, but Nirvana had its place in history.