The Best ‘Final Shows’ of Rock History
And Two More On The Brink…
By: Patrick Gipson
When LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy announced last spring that his then-upcoming album This is Happening would be his final under the LCD Soundsystem moniker, some were naturally skeptical of this commitment. It seems in these days of reunions and comebacks from long-defunct bands, the idea of a complete shutdown of the artistic train seems precarious. In this case, we’re talking about the permanent closure of an internationally successful dance-punk outfit after a mere three albums in one decade.
We’ve heard the same relentless “we’re done” schemes from many legendary groups, only to realize that time and money outlasted our heroes’ words. From the Pixies to Soundgarden to Pavement, the bold withdrawals of our generation’s bands are lasting the lifespan of a pet hamster.
And yet, our elder rock veterans have shown us the true meaning of resilience, frequently through enduring bitterness. From David Byrne’s egotistical exit from the Talking Heads, to Morissey’s distaste for the Smiths, to Roger Waters perplexing abandonment of Pink Floyd, the word ‘retirement’ can frighten fans across the globe.
Saturday’s finale has now come and gone. LCD Soundsystem super-fans made the pilgrimage from across the nation to witness the three-plus hour long extravaganza. As one media outlet put it, “it was clear the band was on a mission to blow the roof off of MSG.” Yet, this seemingly historic moment in dance punk is nothing more than another chapter in a long lifeline of ‘final shows’ in rock history.
Before you hang yourself over missing this one, let’s reexamine some historical rock ceremonies that went bust and even some that have withstood the test of time…Who knows, maybe next time you’ll make the right decision.
#7 Nine Inch Nails (2009)
Los Angeles, California
Trent Reznor first hinted at a closure for his industrial-electronic project Nine Inch Nails as early as February 2009. Yet, his remarks weren’t enough to soften the blows felt by dedicated fans at that summer’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, where Reznor declared towards the close of the set that it was his final Nine Inch Nails performance in the U.S., not barring a few remaining European dates. A more proper sendoff would be scheduled at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on September 9th, where Reznor would take a 37-song journey through the band’s 20-year history. Numerous guests made appearances onstage in the three hour, 16 minute performance, including longtime NIN co-producer Atticus Ross, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, metal band the Dillinger Escape Plan and English singer Gary Numan, one of Reznor’s most championed influences Always the dramatic type, Reznor closed out the set with an epic version of “Hurt,” before dimming the lights to “In This Twilight.” Once all his bandmates had descended into the darkness, the crowd was left hanging on the final lyrics delivered by one of our generation’s greatest musical pioneers. While the 44-year-old Reznor toys with his new group, How to Destroy Angels, there are reportedly no plans slated for a return to Nine Inch Nails. Yet, according to the energy he displayed at the Wiltern Theater in September, Reznor’s spirit is stronger than ever, which summarily cannot rule out a return to his proudest creation.
#6 Smashing Pumpkins (2000)
During a live radio interview in May of 2000, Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan surprisingly announced the Pumpkins’ impending disbandment. Amongst the many months leading to the band’s final show were a lengthy tour and the release of the group’s final album, Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music. On December 2nd, at The Metro in Chicago, the same stage where the band started 12 years prior, fans were treated to a 38-song spectacular. Attendees even received free copies of the live recording from the band’s first Metro show on October 5, 1988. The Metro show in 2000 was the last time Pumpkins’ co-founders Billy Corgan and James Iha would share the stage. In a blog post in 2008, Corgan noted that the two had not spoken in years. By 2005, with Corgan’s solo career a solidifying failure, a Smashing Pumpkins revival was announced via a full-page ad in the Chicago Sun-Times. Since then, Iha’s absence and a revolving cast of bandmates have reflected Corgan’s legend alongside the likes of Axl Roses’ counterfeit Guns n’ Roses outfit. More importantly, the Smashing Pumpkins fanbase, much like the group’s original lineup, has been irreparably divided. Historically, at least, the band’s curtain call at The Metro has never seemed so distant.
#5 Phish (2004)
Jam-band veterans Phish made a lengthy farewell to fans in 2004, when the band announced its intentions to disband after more than 20 years of playing together. The final summer tour culminated at the band’s Coventry Festival, where 65,000 attendees were treated to an extensive reflection of the Phish catalogue, including hits “Fast Enough For You,” “Down With Disease” and “Piper.” During the song “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” keyboardist Page McDonnell choked up with emotion. Unable to sing, McDonnell eventually turned the microphone to a sea of fans, which relieved the singer briefly with their own harmonious renditions. As guitarist Trey Anastasio saluted fans with a ‘We’re done’ to close the show, many unsuspecting fans basked in what seemed to be the epic final chapter in the band’s celebrated history. And yet, the band would reconvene just four and a half years later, embarking on a full reunion campaign, including the release of their fourteenth studio album, Joy, and a supporting tour. McDonnell’s emotional response to the band’s withdrawal would prove to be short-lived, as the group would reconvene some five years later. Yet, many fans still rejoice in the 2004 Coventry show as perhaps the band’s preeminent moment, not as a farewell, but as a true Phish revelry.
#4 Diana Ross & The Supremes (1970)
Las Vegas, Nevada
The 1970s was a gradual landslide for the Motown sound. With disco flooding the airwaves and many of Detroit’s finest groups dissolving, it was a time of change. The Supremes, one of Motown’s vanguard acts, was about to undergo its greatest lineup altercation to date. Lead singer Diana Ross, whose lovable vocals and charismatic beauty had vaulted her to the forefront of the group, was suddenly thrust into a solo career with the help of Motown’s finest, even beginning recording sessions before her official exit. However, one final performance would reunite the original lineup for an evening of their enchanting hits at Las Vegas’ New Frontier Hotel and Casino on January 14th. The band traveled through a mirage of classics, including “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Baby Love” and “Come See About Me.” An engaging cover of “Let the Sunshine In,” in which Ross invaded the audience and shared the microphone with adoring guests, shed all woe from the finality of the event and truly let the sun shine once again on the most revered female singing group of the era. The guest list itself was a spectacle, with notables including Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Dick Clark and Johnny Carson all paying a respectful salute. The conclusion of the show included an anticipated farewell by Diana Ross, who would leave Mary Wilson as the only original member. The show was recorded and released as a live album in 1970 under the applicable title “Farewell,” however the sounds of that evening live in lore, as footage of the performance remains unattainable. In 2000, Ross would participate in a Supremes reunion tour, although the absence of Wilson and Birdsong was attributed to their dispute over Ross’ higher contract offers, leaving the singer to perform under a bandaged lineup of former Supremes step-ins. The tour was met with a critical response from the fan base and its eventual cancellation. Meanwhile, “Farewell” lives on as vital piece to any Supremes fans’ collection.
#3 The Police (2008)
New York City, New York
Sometimes, live finales can occur decades after your last studio album, on the tail end of your worldwide reunion tour, as English rock group The Police showed us in 2008. After disbanding in 1984 following their Synchronicity tour, the band enjoyed a relaxing 22-year break from each other, before reemerging from obscurity with a massive, 30th anniversary reunion tour beginning in 2007. After more than a year of touring, the reunion concluded with an August 7th performance at Madison Square Garden, the tour’s 150th show. (When your concert’s opening act is legendary rock group The B-52’s, you know you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime concert.) Opening with an exhilarating cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” The Police had many surprises in stock, including the NYPD marching band, which joined the band onstage to perform their hit “Message in a Bottle.” Any grief spent over the performance’s closing moments was swathed with humor, as the band brought new meaning to the phrase “it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” inviting an overweight lady to lip-sync to opera, before switching the big screens to a clip of Looney Toons character Porky Pig’s infamous adage, “that’s all folks!” The band swore it was their final performance ever, although we have yet to see what happens once another 22 years passes. Hey, you just never know…
#2 The Who (1982)
Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
Following drummer Keith Moon’s death in 1978, British rock band The Who soldiered on, adding former Faces drummer Kenney Jones on the sticks. However the transition wore on the trio of Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle, as their succeeding albums in 1981 and 1982 received mixed results on the ‘new Who’ sound. Meanwhile, Townshend, fresh off his failed marriage, developed a nasty heroin addiction, which led Daltry to vow against touring if it meant preventing another of his bandmates’ deaths. Townshend straightened up in time for the group’s farewell tour of 1982, which included a two-night finale at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on December 16-17. Wasting no energy on their opener, the group rekindled that rebellious, youthful attitude with early hits “My Generation” and “I Can’t Explain,” before erupting fireworks accompanied “Sister Disco.” Lost rarities are even shared, including “Dr. Jimmy” and Entwistle’s “Boris the Spider.” Appropriately, the set concluded in thrilling fashion, with an anthem-to-anthem pairing of “Long Live Rock” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” The frenzied crowd was of course, treated to an encore, which included a fun return to the past with the band’s rendition of “Twist and Shout.” The concert, which was filmed live and even broadcast via HBO, now lives on in the concert DVD “The Who: Live from Toronto.” Excluding a one-off performance at Live Aid: 1985, the band wouldn’t formally reunite until 1989. However one thing was unquestionable; the Toronto show marked the end of an era for one of rock’s most electrically endearing acts.
#1 The Band (1976)
San Francisco, California
Not barring the greatest final performances ever, this is arguably one of the finest live shows ever assembled. On Thanksgiving Day 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, fans were not only treated to an appetizing banquet of roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, but a massive jam by one of the most acclaimed bands of the 1960s and 70s. Alongside astronomical guest icons Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Neil Young and many more, The Band’s musical celebration stretched over five hours. The show even garnered the attention of director Martin Scorcese, who filmed the performance, turning it into one of the most hailed live concert films of all time and a perennial relic of rock lore. Historically, the performance cast a light over the legacy of a group that started as Bob Dylan’s backing band. The Last Waltz was the defining moment where The Band escaped the gigantic shadows of their infamous peers, reassuring the immaculate musicianship of the five-piece from up north. It was an impeccable exodus for The Band, who ended their career on the same Ballroom stage on which they began. Although some members would reunite by 1980, this was the final showcase with the Band’s complete lineup…a genuine homage to the title of ‘The Last Waltz.’
Two More On The Cusp Of Closure…
Aerosmith—Classic rock legionnaires Aerosmith, who have eclipsed their half-century mark together, are enduring some of their greatest strife as band mates. With lead singer and frontman Steven Tyler now serving as a judge on Fox’s American Idol series, guitarist Joe Perry’s criticisms have left the group’s future in question. “It’s [Tyler's] business, but I don’t want Aerosmith’s name involved with it,” Perry told the Calgary Herald in an interview in late 2010. What was potentially the band’s last performance, which occurred in Vancouver on September 16, 2010, came at the tail end of 2010’s ‘Cocked, Locked and Ready to Rock’ tour. After Tyler accepted the Idol gig, Perry speculated on the possibility of touring the Aerosmith name once again, albeit with a new lead vocalist. “I’m not going to sit around for two years waiting for him to come back to Aerosmith,” Perry said. “(You’ve got) four guys that are great together, and if you find the right singer, there’s no reason you can’t go and entertain people.”
The Scorpions—German rockers The Scorpions have shared their arena-inspiring ballads with fans for over four decades, which according to the band, is long enough. In January 2010, the band announced that their upcoming and seventeenth studio effort Sting in the Tail, would be their last. “We don’t want to grow old in the spotlight, onstage,” guitarist Matthis Jabs, the third most tenured Scorpion, said in an interview with StarPulse.com in April 2010. The album was released on March 23, 2010, immediately reaching the top of the charts in Germany. The band embarked on a two-month, 31-show supporting tour in the United States and Canada. The second leg of their worldwide farewell tour begins April 15th in Saarbrücken, Germany, with dates stretching (for the time being) into late November 2011, although sources have noted that the group expects to move the tour into 2012.