I go to more concerts than is probably healthy. Besides the music and the fun of it all though, the jaw-dropping beauty of the stages of some bands, whether it be innovative or retina-frazzling, is just irresistible to me. Never did I feel that I would feel so disappointed to have missed Coldplay, as I did on their Mylo Xyloto tour. It would have been great to see the ridiculous ‘Xylobands’ in action (everybody was given a light to be worn on one’s wrist that blinked with the music. That’s rather pretty when there are 90,000 attendees).
Having been pretty surprised by a Bowling For Soup stage just a few days ago (as a comedic pop-punk band band, one wouldn’t expect a stage nearly as elaborate as their Ye Olde Soup Inn pub replica, complete with flame-throwing beer kegs), I couldn’t resist compiling a list of my ten favourite stages that I have been lucky enough to see in person. Comment below which other stage shows blew you away.
Bloc Party (10th October 2005, Portsmouth Guildhall)
You know how your ears ring at the end of a bloody loud concert? Prepare for its visual equivalent. It has now been over ten years since this concert, and yet it remains the most sickeningly intense use of strobe lights that I have ever witnessed. Aside from the calmer blue lights during ‘Blue Light’, the entire set flashed almost non-stop. Literally. The drum kit was suspended on a platform built from translucent plastic, containing strobe lights. The fact that this was all in time with the music, and they performed everything at what seemed like twice the tempo, made it awesomely justified, at least for those who could still see. Believe it or not, the one band to come close to being so vomit-inducing was Electric Six.
Sigur Ros (20th November 2008, London Alexandra Palace)
Sigur Ros have had some beautiful stages over the years. Before the Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust tour, there was a regular, brutal strobe show of their own, as their silhouettes were projected onto massive screens during ‘Popplagid’, and since then, they had a great stage, warmly glowing from the many, many lightbulbs onstage. However, there was something very special about this show in particular (recorded and released on the Inni album). Fire, screens and innovative lighting is a mainstay of these shows, but one thing at this show that I haven’t witnessed since was water. During the massive middle section of ‘Saeglopur’ and during ‘Popplagid’, water fell from the ceiling, forming a massive sheet of liquid separating the band and audience. I’m not entirely sure how this was safe, but it was apparently safe enough.
Nine Inch Nails (15th July 2009, London O2 Arena)
Does the fact that there was barely a stage at all count for this list? A few acts could be listed here for this reason, with Rage Against the Machine standing out in second place against the background of a giant ragged red star logo. However, the additional sentimentality of this show from Nine Inch Nails snatches the title. Nine Inch Nails have had some amazing screen-based stages such as the Lights in the Sky tour (featuring semi-see through screens that they could be seen performing behind), and their most recent tour (which I was lucky enough to catch at Birmingham NEC), but Reznor and friends (including a guest appearance by Gary Numan) definitely had the right idea on their Wave Goodbye tour. Like Muse performing a set that would get focus upon its music (more on that later), this was meant to be the last time us Brits would get to see NIN. This meant that they decided for the show to be stripped back.
Radiohead (30th August 2009, Reading Festival)
This was the second time that I had caught Radiohead on their In Rainbows tour, and I’m very glad that I did. After all, what good were the stunning lighting pillars in broad daylight in Victoria Park?
They formed an amazing and innovative three-dimensional screen around the band. I came away from that concert pondering a question that I’ll never truly understand the answer of – how on earth did they program those things?
Jonsi (26th November 2010, HMV Hammersmith Apollo)
While Sigur Ros have had some aforementioned amazing sets, my jaw dropped the furthest for frontman Jonsi’s solo show – a construction made to resemble an abandoned warehouse was at the back of the stage. The wall had been created to make it look as though part had fallen down, and we could see a projected tree outdoors. Beautiful as it was already, when closer ‘Grow Till Tall’ began, it became apparent that the material used for the wall was in fact a projector screen, unused until the finale. The audience was stunned as the lights dropped and the set appeared to fly away. Words cannot do this justice. Just watch.
Roger Waters (18th May 2011, London O2 Arena)
So, Jonsi managed to pretend that his stage set was destroyed. How does one beat that? How about actually destroy it? Pink Floyd have forever been known to bring massive stage shows on tour, with the 1979-80 The Wall tour being cemented in history for its outrageous ambition. After all, it takes some serious mad geniuses to have come up with the idea for a massive wall to be built during the first half of the show, blocking the band from view, aside from Roger Waters who sings with the wall functioning as a huge screen, only for it to be knocked down at the end of the show. For three years, Roger Waters revived the show and toured it around the planet. If this didn’t make the list, I might have been crucified. It is just that legendary.
Flaming Lips (1st July 2011, London Alexandra Palace)
Here is another band whose appearance is inevitable on the list of anybody who has seen them. Flaming Lips are known well for their ridiculous barrage of confetti, streamers, balloons, lasers and strobe lights, throwing more upon a 2,000 capacity venue, than one should probably do in a 20,000 capacity venue. I’m not sure whether there is an optimal size venue for their big screen, which contained a door in the centre to enter the stage through (therefore looking as though they were entering through a giant psychedelic vagina. ‘Flaming lips’ I guess…). To show the degree of intensity of the lights and lasers, when I saw them at Portsmouth Guildhall, even though the visuals had been downsized, the show was stopped for twenty minutes, as it still caused several people in the crowd to suffer seizures during a performance of ‘The W.A.N.D.’ (during which frontman Wayne Coyne wore a giant strobe light around his neck).
Pulp (27th August 2011, Reading Festival)
Could this be my favourite concert ever? Quite possibly. This was a show that got everything right, and I have watched it back countless times. The reason that this stage set was so fantastic was that it was spectacular, and yet it was the very last thing that anyone was talking about when the show was over, helped of course by the masterfully distracting Jarvis Cocker’s enthusiastic thrusting. The set progressed perfectly with novel moments assigned to certain mainstay songs. For example, the excessive smoke and psychedelic lasers during ‘Sorted For E’s and Wizz’, white lights at the back of the stage floor to replicate the sunrise for (well…) ‘Sunrise’, and Jarvis’ night-vision camera giving views of the crowd, and up his nose, blown up on massive screens, during ‘I Spy’.
Muse (28th August 2011, Reading Festival)
Just one day after Pulp? Reading and Leeds Festival did pretty damn well this year. Muse are another band who have put on various shows that could have been chosen. In 2006, on the Black Holes and Revelations tour drummer Dom performed inside a cylindrical screen. On the current Drones tour, titular balloon-shaped drones hover over the crowd. However, I have the biggest soft spot for their Reading and Leeds stage – purpose built to resemble the cover of Origin of Symmetry, which they performed in its entirety, in front of the biggest screen I have seen as of yet.
Rammstein (25th February 2012, Birmingham LG Arena)
It was inevitable. Rammstein will forever be known for their outrageous use of pyrotechnics onstage. The Made in Germany tour, as a best-of show, was defining as they dug up their most famous routines and this many years on, decided to make them ten times as big. Penis-shaped foam cannons, a bridge that lowered over the crowd for the band to reach a mid-audience B-stage. Flame-throwers used to cook keyboardist Flake Lorenz in a giant pot. It really has to be seen to be believed, and I am chuffed to bits that I’ll catch them once again at this year’s Download Festival.
Comment below which other stage shows blew you away.