For many music fans, concert tours are the best way to see their favourite bands in action. They’re perfect for hearing the latest songs, enjoying old favourites or marvelling at some cutting-edge stage design.
A few concert tours can change the course of an artist’s career, or raise it to heights nobody has seen before. We’ve rounded up some of the most memorable concert tours in recent years—the ones that took bands and fans to exciting new places.
Elton John at the Troubador
Singer and pianist Elton John has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, given us smash hits like ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘I’m Still Standing’, and contributed to works like The Lion King and Billy Elliott the Musical. But his first big break was in 1970, when a 23-year old Elton played a six-night show at LA’s Troubadour Theatre.
Before the Troubadour, Elton was struggling to make a name for himself on his home soil. He’d had some success in the UK charts, but it was in America that he really gained widespread appeal. The Troubadour show was booked on the strength of Elton’s self-titled album; Doug Weston, who owned the theatre at the time, booked Elton immediately after hearing it. The audience for the show included legendary music figures like David Crosby, Quincy Jones and Mike Love (of the Beach Boys). By the show’s end, there was another musical legend in their midst.
Why exactly was it such a hit?
Part of it was the sheer energy Elton channeled, but another draw was the original music Elton brought to the concert. It was lauded for its sheer uniqueness, and with a career spanning five decades it’s safe to say this is one talent that’s stood the test of time.
The concert included a mix of old and new songs like “Your Song,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Take Me to the Pilot.” It was rapturously received by the audience; LA Times critic Robert Hilburn said Elton was “going to be one of rock’s biggest and most important stars,” while 1990’s Rolling Stone magazine declared it one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most important concerts.
More importantly, it was a stepping-stone to wider success around the world. Elton would go on to perform further tours across Europe, and never really stopped. Unfortunately this legend is bowing out with the Elton John Yellow Brick Road Farewell Tour, which commences this September.
The Ramones’ 1977 European Tour
American punk rockers The Ramones are famous for songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Judy Is a Punk”. Their music helped to establish punk rock as a unique sound. But it also stripped away the gaudy excess that defined the rock bands of the 1970s, and cemented their place in rock history.
The Ramones would go on to perform at over 2,000 concerts, and one of their most significant ones was in 1977. After playing at venues across Europe—including Switzerland, France and the Netherlands—they saw out the year in a series of shows at London’s Rainbow Theatre.
The 1977 tour lived on thanks to the 1979 album It’s Alive. Featuring audio from the London show, it was the first of seven live albums the band would produce. This album went on to be one of the most acclaimed live albums ever released. It’s not hard to see why; according to Rolling Stone Magazine, the atmosphere was so charged fans were ripping seats from the floor and throwing them at the stage.
Tina Turner’s Wildest Dreams Tour
The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner has sold more than 200 million albums and singles in her glittering career. She’s also sold more concert tickets than any other performer, and several of those were for her 1990s Wildest Dreams Tour.
The Wildest Dreams Tour ran for 16 months across 1996 and 1997. It featured pop legend Cyndi Lauper as an opening act, as well other standouts like Toto, Belinda Carlisle and The Accelerators. Performances spanned five continents, with dates in Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia and North America. The Europe destinations covered most of the continent, with performances in the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey and Russia.
In short, this rock legend took workaholic to a whole new level. But fans loved her for it as she made sure as many of her fans as possible were able to attend this now legendary concert tour.
Sadly the tour was also marked by tragedy. Kenny Moore—pianist and longtime collaborator with Turner—died while the tour was in Australia. He had worked as the musical director, background vocalist and keyboard player in Turner’s band for 20 years before his death, and Turner dedicated her later performances to his memory.
Even now the Wildest Dreams Tour remains Turner’s biggest tour to date, with more than 250 performances and three million fans attending worldwide.
U2’s 360° Tour
Irish rock band U2 has gained a “love-em-or-hate-em” reputation over their 42-year career. What’s undeniable, though, is that they know how to put on a show. One of their more recent efforts was the U2 360° Tour, which ran across two years and 110 shows from 2009 to 2011.
The tour ran in support of No Line on the Horizon, the band’s 12th studio album. However, its crowning achievements may be technical rather than musical. A key component of the show were its circular ‘Claw’ stages, which gave the audience a 360° viewing angle of the band’s performance. Following its eight-hour assembly time each of the four stages measured 165 feet high, weighed 180 tonnes, and covered more than 28,000 square feet.
The stages cost between £15 and £20 million to construct, and each one required 120 trucks to transport. Fortunately at least one of these trucks has gone to a new home; it will become a permanent installation at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Utah. (We’ve got our priorities firmly on the trucks and event transport aspect).
Another major innovation was the stage’s expandable screen, which according to Bono inspired LED screens elsewhere. The 54-tonne screen used half a million hexagonal LED ‘pixels’ to generate its imagery. At its peak, the screen had an area of 14,000 square feet.
Today the tour remains the highest-grossing music tour in history. At its conclusion it had made £450 million in sales, and seven million people had turned out worldwide.
The Rolling Stones’ A Bigger Bang Tour
Though band members have come and gone, The Rolling Stones have been rocking out since 1962. The English band has estimated record sales of more than 250 million, and they’ve given us four of the highest-grossing concert tours in history. Before U2 knocked it off the top spot A Bigger Bang Tour was the highest grossing tour the world had ever seen, earning over $558 million.
The band launched the tour in support of their Grammy-winning album of the same name, and it ran from 2005 to 2007. The majority of the shows took place in Europe (Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Serbia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark, Finland and the UK just to name a few) and North America, though there were several performances in South America, Oceania and Asia as well.
Rolling Stones tours are famous for their unusual stage designs and A Bigger Bang was no exception. Early concepts took inspiration from opera houses in the 19th century. The final stage design featured sweeping, 15m-high balconies on the back wall of the stage, which could hold up to 400 audience members. Other features included detachable stage sections, a huge LED screen and even CG graphics representing the original Big Bang.
The tour faced some hurdles along the way though.
Its European leg was delayed for a month by Keith Richards, who got a concussion after falling out of a coconut tree in Fiji. Two more concerts in Spain had to be pushed back when Mick Jagger contracted laryngitis. Still, the Stones have never let little things like illness get in the way of their music; their No Filter Tour concluded earlier this year in Warsaw, and we expect to hear about a new tour very soon.
Roger Waters’ Us + Them Tour
Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters made music history with politically charged The Wall Live, the highest-grossing concert tour by a solo artist. Its extravagant stage featured a 250-brick wall, which collapsed at the end of each show. The Daily Maildescribed it as ‘one of the most ambitious and complex rock shows ever staged.’ Now he’s back with the Us + Them Tour, which brings that energy and creativity to a new audience.
The European leg of the tour will perform in 23 countries including Spain, Italy, UK, Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria, though there have been several shows in America, Australia and New Zealand before then. The stage was designed and manufactured by TAIT, who have also worked with artists like Pink, Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake. It features a main stage 74 feet wide, a bank of laser units, flying pigs (as you can never have too many flying pigs in a show) and even inflatable smokestacks.
So far the show has received positive reviews. Dave Simpson’s Guardian review praised its ‘impeccable’ sound quality, and said the mostly retrospective show ‘feels alive and relevant.’ Ella Kemp’s review in The Independent described it as ‘a thematic emporium of Pink Floyd’s greatest moments’, while Metal Wani said the show was ‘unmatched for its quadraphonic surround sound and out of this world sensory visual production.’
The tour runs until the end of August; visit the official site to learn more about it.
The Killers’ Wonderful Wonderful World Tour
Nevada rock band The Killers have gifted us hits like ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘Mr Brightside.’ Since their first album in 2004 they’ve remained a consistently entertaining part of the music scene. Their latest album Wonderful Wonderful received its fair share of praise, but there’s a personal edge to it too; lead singer Brandon Flowers explores sensitive topics like his wife’s PTSD in the music. Now fans have the chance to see them live in the band’s latest tour.
Mixing new songs with old classics (and some impressive dance moves), the Wonderful Wonderful World Tour is paying visits to Thailand, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong throughout September. Previously the band has been all over Europe including the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg to name a few destinations.
Reviews from last year’s shows have been typically positive. The Independent’s Jess Denham said The Killers ‘are back, bigger and bolder than ever’, while their London show ‘was pure euphoria—from sparkling start to fizzing, life-affirming finish.’ Their Sheffield show—according to The Yorkshire Post—was ‘a non-stop sonic assault of sing-along anthems and a wall of noise, eagerly lapped up by an audience keen not only to hear new material but of course the hits which have made The Killers such a popular live draw.’
If you’d like to see the band do their thing for yourself, visit the official website here.
We hope we’ve shown there’s no shortage of wonderful concert tours in music history. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for the next generation of concert tours!
If you’re looking to do something similar, we at Stagefreight are concert tour trucking experts. Our team has plenty of experience with live event transport, and we know what it’s like when the pressure is on.
Our experienced lead driver takes control of the trailer schedule, ensuring you get the right trailers at the right time. When your stage materials arrive, our drivers will support you with lighting choices and even help to build the stage with your team.
We’re also experts at planning the most fuel-efficient, cost-effective route to an event.
We’ll get your event equipment to you on time, every time.
Visit our Contact Us page for more details, or call us now on 0113 238 0805.