The 47 greatest live guitar moments: the most iconic, infamous and explosive onstage antics in six-string history

31. Kyuss hit Europe for the last time (Europe, 1995)

While perhaps not as fabled as their early “generator parties” in the outdoors of Southern California’s high desert areas, some of the best live footage of the stoner rock heroes was recorded at Germany’s Bizarre festival in the mid Nineties. 

Adding to the legend is the fact that they broke up just weeks later, with guitarist Josh Homme’s mainstream success in Queens of the Stone Age seemingly putting an end to any chance of a reunion – though in 2020 he did, for the first time ever, say he was open to the idea

These rumbly renditions of songs like Gardenia, One Inch Man and Green Machine are breathtakingly earthy and weighty, championing psychedelic fuzz in a way that few have been able to get so right.

32. Oasis break records (Knebworth House, 1996)

Though Queen and Led Zeppelin had famously played the grounds of this Grade II-listed house in the past, Oasis set the record for the biggest crowd it had ever greeted – with more than 4 percent of the British nation applying for tickets, of which a quarter of a million were lucky. 

The performances, taking place over two nights and revisited on their 2016 Supersonic documentary, saw them riding high on the success of second album What’s the Story (Morning Glory), released the year prior. 

The setlist was as watertight as it gets, focusing on the alternative brilliance of early works such as Columbia and Supersonic, as well as cult B-sides like Acquiesce, The Masterplan and Round Are Way.

It was, in many ways, Britpop’s finest hour, earning Noel Gallagher a god-like status for his seemingly inexhaustible supply of anthems. 

33. Alice In Chains go unplugged (Brooklyn, 1996)

Those in attendance for Alice In Chains’ acoustic MTV set were lucky enough to witness history in the making. There had always been an acoustic element to the Seattle group’s earworm melodies; however, the unplugged interpretations presented their heartfelt honesty in a new light – fraught with an emotion and depth that delved way beyond the usual confines of heavy noise. 

The live album, which came out on CD and VHS that year, was littered with highlights, from chordal masterpieces like Nutshell and Rooster to the open-tuned Over Now, but it’s arguably their stunning fingerpicked rendition of Down in a Hole that will be forever remembered as alt-rock at its absolute finest.

34. Joe Satriani recruits a stellar six-string lineup (G3, 1996)

Perhaps inspired by his appearance at Seville’s Guitar Legends concert (see no. 26), Joe Satriani sought to bring a taste of that all-star magic to a touring format with G3. 1996’s inaugural effort showcased headline gigs by three of the greatest guitarists of their generation in Satriani, Steve Vai and Eric Johnson, captured on a live release the following year.

But it’s not just the incendiary performances of the artists’ classic cuts that makes G3 such a celebration of exemplary guitar playing; it’s the climactic jams that offer an experience quite unlike any other, as the three headline acts cut heads over classics from the likes of Hendrix and Zappa.

Later tours have played host to everyone from John Petrucci to Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert, but while the lineup shifts, each and every show is guaranteed to be a jaw-dropping showcase of world-beating guitar playing.

35. Radiohead conquer the setbacks to rescue Glastonbury (Glastonbury, 1997)

By their own admission, Radiohead’s first time headlining Glastonbury should have been a taste of heaven but ended up more “like a form of hell” – riddled with equipment failures that left them “in crisis mode” and forced members into questioning whether to even continue with the set. 

But it was also in the face of adversity where the Oxfordshire quintet prevailed, rescuing a mud-soaked weekend of sinking sages, late starts, dropouts and cancellations. Their setlist was a perfect storm of new offerings from OK Computer and the two albums before it, a most definitive and spellbinding summary of Radiohead’s more guitar-dominated years. 

Concocting their own orchestra of alternative sounds, guitarist Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien and Thom Yorke were splicing grunge and Britpop through the glare of their own psychedelic lens, and with staggering results.

36. Phish cross over to The Dark Side (West Valley, Utah, 1998)

According to legend, due to poor ticket sales for a November 1998 show in Utah, Phish had a “What the hell?” moment and decided to treat their dedicated Phans to a spot-on rendering of Pink Floyd masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon in full – right in the middle of their set. 

Actually, it turns out the band spent that entire afternoon going over the album in their rehearsal space. To paraphrase ourselves (from earlier in this story), if there’s one show most Phish fans wish they’d witnessed, it’s this (and maybe 1996’s Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh…?). 

Of course, we can’t mention the Phish performance without a shout out to Dream Theater, who famously performed the same album at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in October 2005 – joined by backing singer Theresa Thomason and saxophonist Norbert Stachel for good measure. It was recorded for an official bootleg, and the quintet even had enough gas in the tank for two encores after. Bravo! 

37. Metallica put the class in classical (Berkeley Community Theater, 1999)

It goes without saying that Metallica’s career has been quite frankly littered with magical moments. But if you ask fans which single performance they wish they could have been there for, many will argue it’s the S&M set with the San Francisco Symphony orchestra that captured the thrash innovators at their most sonically expansive and daring. 

It was Michael Kamen, the man they partnered with on 1992 single Nothing Else Matters, who suggested the idea in the first place and – with him arranging and conducting the symphonic accompaniments – the live recordings ended up sitting among their most deeply admired releases. 

It’s notable how Kamen’s score adds to the group’s heaviness rather than taming it, bringing even more gravitas and weight to tracks like Battery, Wherever I May Roam and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

38. Steve Vai shows us how bad his horsie really is (London Astoria, 2001)

The Grammy-winning virtuoso’s first live release remains a fan favorite to this day. Filmed at the fabled Astoria venue in London’s West End, it arrived surprisingly late in his career, long after his stints in Whitesnake and David Lee Roth’s band, and following the stretch of Nineties albums that cemented his stature as the master of artful shred guitar. 

For Bad Horsie, the opening track from his 1995 Alien Love Secrets EP, he walked out onto a dark stage beaming light out of his headset, with red lasers shooting from each finger dancing across his LED fretboard. Playing up to his own eccentricities, looking and sounding like a robot overlord from a long-distant galaxy, it would be one of the most inspired performances in this visionary’s storied career.

39. Opeth unleash double trouble (Shepherd's Bush Empire, 2003)

What's more impressive than performing your newest album in full? Performing both your new albums in full – which is precisely why Opeth had this evening in the UK capital recorded for their first live release. And it was the juxtaposition of those records, the first set being comprised of the cleaner, more progressive rock-leaning ideas of Damnation and the second built from its nightmarishly heavy sister album, Deliverance, that made for a most historic night. 

The Lamentations release would mark a turning point in the Swedish group’s career, transforming them from an underground obscurity to world-beating masters of the extreme.

40. Prince makes his guitar intensely wail (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2004)

Prince was far greater, as a guitar player, than his most famous solo. There’s something, however, about the way he absolutely stole the show with this – his wailing, emphatic exclamation point to an all-star cover of The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony – that sticks out when remembering his once-in-a-generation genius. 

Waiting patiently in the wings while luminaries like Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Dhani Harrison and Steve Winwood handled the verses, choruses and Eric Clapton’s unforgettable original solo, Prince took his turn with gusto. 

In the span of a couple minutes, Prince put on masterclasses in vibrato, bending, rhythm work and showmanship, all the while never losing sight of the stirring melody that made the song one of the Fab Four’s most towering achievements. To top it all off, he tossed his guitar sky-high at song’s end... only for it to mysteriously never come down. 

Soulful, fiery and executed with jaw-dropping skill, the solo is quintessentially Prince, and one of the greatest of the 21st century. 

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.