While perpetually shifting trends, genre-blending and digital technology have changed the music industry forever, one standard remains constant: the live performance.
In 2012, rock’s biggest and brightest combated fluctuating album sales by doubling-down on concert appearances, from stadium runs for the mega-stars to package tours and the growing proliferation of music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, which allow emerging bands the chance to earn new fans the old-fashioned way: with a kick-ass concert. For the best live band, fans are more than willing to catch their rock heroes more than once over the course of a tour.
With so many great acts criss-crossing the globe leaving happy fans and rocked-off faces in their wake, we’ve narrowed the field down to the Top 12 bands to leave it all on a stage over the course of 2012.
With a truly engaging live experience more important than ever to the bottom line of any musical act, here are the dozen that are well worth spending your hard-earned concert dollar to see all the way live.
The Black Keys – This two-man Ohio blues explosion blew up into a full band for their latest concert tour supporting the El Camino album, adding a bassist and keyboard player for a bigger and more diverse onstage sound. The extra musicians fleshed out the band’s hard-charging songs without losing any of their raw, organic edge. The results packed arenas across America, and scored the Black Keys a headlining slot on this year’s Coachella line-up.
Muse – The UK power trio has never been shy about their stadium-rock god aspirations, and the band’s current tour in support of new album, The 2nd Law, is one giant step in that direction. Boasting a grandiose stage set that includes a huge upside-down pyramid and massive bank of TV monitors, Muse blends classic rock excess with modern technology to achieve an overwhelming rock spectacle with the visceral experience of a mega-rave.
Imagine Dragons – These relative newcomers to the rock music scene have made an immediate impact in concert, with a highly engaging and interactive live show that reveals the band to be accomplished musicians and performers in addition to their stellar songwriting skills. Their live sound is augmented by lead singer Dan Reynolds and his trademark (and quite large) drum, which the band promises will be even bigger on their upcoming 2013 Night Visions tour.
Jack White - The former White Stripes frontman has run through a series of bands before finally striking out on his own with the Blunderbuss full-length. He did so in elegant and grandiose fashion, building two different backing bands (one all-female, one all-male) to fully realize his blue-tinted vision. Fans never knew which band he’d bring to this year’s solo shows, which were also liberally peppered with songs from his various other bands, including plenty by the still-beloved White Stripes. The show packed theaters across the country, hitting major festivals like Outside Lands before winding up the year with a memorizing set at the 2012 KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas shows.
Mumford and Sons - While these earnest UK folk-rockers are known for penning memorable and instantly catchy tunes, the band built their name on heartfelt, life-affirming shows that turn into massive singalongs by diehard audiences. Organizing their own traveling festival known as “Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers,” Marcus Mumford and the guys captured a celebratory show at the legendary Colorado venue for the upcoming DVD release, The Road to Red Rocks.
Slightly Stoopid – The sprawling SoCal collective continued to explore the outer reaches of their multi-genre sound on latest album, Top of the World. The band took their laid back and marijuana-friendly good vibes to the people with a fall tour (co-headlining with fellow travelers 311 on many dates), which was kicked off with a red-hot (and, um, fragrant) set at the Red Bull Sound Space at KROQ.
Deftones – The pride of Sacramento, CA, surpassed expectations with their latest full-length salvo, Koi No Yokan. And while many of their late-’90s “nu-metal” compatriots had faded over time, Chino Moreno and the band have continued to stay at the vanguard of modern metal. The band’s live show is as fiery as ever, which they displayed with a stage-torching set at this year’s Epicenter Festival in Irvine, CA, over the summer. Fans can look forward to even more Deftones dates throughout 2013.
Metallica - These hardcore thrash-metal legends kept the Metallica banner flying high over the last year with a series of appropriately bombastic headlining shows around the world, including mega-festivals such as Rock over Rio, Outside Lands and even filling in for Green Day at the last-minute to top this year’s Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans after the Bay Area punks were forced to cancel due to singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s current stint in rehab. Featuring fan-pleasing set lists heavy on tracks from early albums like Kill ‘Em All, Metallica continued to prove they’re still the world’s heavy metal kings.
No Doubt – While the OC party-rocker’s latest full-length, Push and Shove, might’ve felt too pop for the band’s diehard fan base, they could all agree that Gwen Stefani and the boys can more than hold their own onstage. The band’s triumphant six-night stand at the Gibson Amphitheater was capped off by a surprise set at this year’s KROQ Almost Acoustic Xmas show, with the band primed and ready to take the energized new show across the country (and the world) in 2013.
Linkin Park - After the more experimental 2010 release A Thousand Suns, Linkin Park honed in on their signature sound with 2012 album Living Things, taking it to the road on a massive world tour, including a run of dates with fellow California modern rockers, Incubus on the Honda Civic tour. Linkin Park proved they’re still capable of inciting a live riot with their aggressive rap-rock emo anthems and eye-popping light show.
Incubus – Linkin Park’s Honda Civic tour mates Incubus were at the peak of their powers over the course of 2012. Delivering hit-filled and crowd-pleasing set lists that ranged across their expansive catalog, Brandon Boyd and his musically accomplished gang (including recent readers poll winners Mike Einziger and Jose Pasillas) again showed why they stand among modern rock’s most enduring and popular bands. As the band goes on a hiatus after another extensive live campaign, fans can relive the 2012 experience with the recently released Incubus HQ Live release
Foo Fighters – Still supporting their outstanding 2011 studio album, Wasting Light, the Foo Fighters were the music festival kings of 2012. Dave Grohl and the crew took their big rock singalongs anthems to many of the world’s biggest fests, including Outside Lands, Reading and Bamboozle. Foo Fighters were also politically active this year, performing for Rock The Vote during the Democratic National Convention as well as an Obama fundraiser in Los Angeles during this year’s hotly contested Presidential race. The band is currently on hiatus as Grohl promotes his Sound City film documentary, which includes the much-discussed reunion of surviving Nirvana members with Paul McCartney.
-Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local