Thank you and good night? The art of the farewell gig

The farewell might often be false, but as bands from Cream to LCD Soundsystem prove, final gigs hold a special place in rock history

James Murphy has shown a knowing sense of pop history ever since his debut single as LCD Soundsystem, “Losing My Edge”, in 2002. LCD Soundsystem’s farewell concert at Madison Square Garden on 2 April 2011 was a typically self-conscious nod from this electronic pop pioneer to rock history. The show was first commemorated by a documentary, Shut Up and Play the Hits, and a DVD. The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden, the five-LP box-set he has just announced, suggests the whole affair is a tribute to the rock farewell concert’s pinnacle, The Band’s multi-media blow-out The Last Waltz.

Last concerts are more often accidental, and these days provisional, as almost every band seems prone to reforming. Whether permanent or not, here are some of rock’s most notable live goodbyes.

Cream Royal Albert Hall, London, 26 November 1968

By 1968, Eric Clapton, hating the music Cream were making and caught in the middle of the constantly warring Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, wanted out. This concert, filmed for the BBC, was one of rock’s first formal career full-stops. At least, until the band reformed to play the Albert Hall again in 2005.

The Beatles Savile Row, London, 30 January 1969

The Beatles hadn’t played live since 1966. Three years later, an attempt to rekindle the now dimming spark between them by making a back-to-basics album just made things worse. The Let It Be film captured this, but there was a last, impromptu concert on the roof of the band’s Apple Corps building in London’s West End.

The sound of the most famous musicians in the world stopped the Thursday lunchtime traffic, people peering up amazed as The Beatles gamely played in the face of driving winter wind. The police famously pulled the plug. A further album, Abbey Road, would be recorded before Let It Be was released. But this gig was a brief, happy reminder of the raucous rock’n’roll band The Beatles once were.

The Band Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 25 November 1976

The Band were touched with genius. But by 1976 their leader Robbie Robertson was exhausted, and decided they should quit touring with an all-star farewell concert. Signing up Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison, Robertson envisaged a celebratory wake, like a New Orleans funeral. Martin Scorsese’s documentary The Last Waltz and a triple-vinyl box-set immortalised a gig far more bloated than The Band had ever been in their prime.

Kate Bush Hammersmith Odeon, 14 May 1979

“The most magnificent spectacle ever encountered in the world of rock,” Melody Maker declared after Kate Bush’s first tour, an ambitious theatrical spectacle, precisely planned by the 20-year-old. She danced, sang (often inside a velvet-lined, womb-representing egg), and changed costumes and characters 17 times, alongside magicians and poetry. This was also her last tour, with only guest spots since (singing “Comfortably Numb” with David Gilmour was the last to date, in 2002). Whether because of the death of young lighting director Bill Duffield early in the tour or her studio-based perfectionism, Bush quit touring almost as soon as she’d brilliantly begun.

Elvis Presley Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, June 26 1977

Three weeks before Presley’s death on August 16 1977, two Midwest gigs were filmed for a TV special. Elvis looked like “a creature from a Hollywood monster film,” his biographer Peter Guralnick wrote of the tragically swollen figure the footage showed, although singing “Unchained Melody”, Guralnick still saw a kind of “grace”. Five days later, Presley ended his last show with “Hurt”, introduced his father to the crowd, and reluctantly left the stage.

Sex Pistols Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 14 January 1978

The Sex Pistols’ embattled tour through a USA indifferent or dangerously hostile ended in the symbolic home of the hippies. The writer Greil Marcus recalled the gig felt “as close to Judgement Day as a staged event can be”. An impassive Sid Vicious’s nose was bloodied, and Johnny Rotten clung to the mic-stand as coins and shoes were hurled at him. “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” he sneered into the darkness. He quit the Pistols, and his Rotten persona, after this punk apocalypse.

The Smiths Brixton Academy, London, 12 December 1986

What would prove to be The Smiths’ final tour was already over as they played this Artists Against Apartheid benefit, intended for the previous month, but postponed after Johnny Marr crashed his car. It being a politicised 1980s gig in Brixton, rows of mounted police waited outside. I was there, and there was a happily violent energy as the crowd smashed into each other, inspired by Morrissey and the band’s underestimated rock force. They’d make their final album, Strangeways, Here We Come, the next year, still at full creative strength. But Marr was burnt out. The Smiths split in 1987.

Take That Istora Senayan, Jakarta, Indonesia, 17 October 1995

Boy and girl bands tend to finish when their fans outgrow them, as JLS have just done. Take That were fatally holed by Robbie Williams’ departure, and Gary Barlow’s expectation of a similar solo success. They finished a long way from home, before reinventing a boy band’s life expectancy by plugging into thirtysomething nostalgia with a 2006 comeback.

The Kinks Norwegian Wood festival, near Oslo, 15 June 1996

Ray Davies’s solo career was tentatively beginning and his guitarist brother Dave was tired of The Kinks, as the band entered their 32nd year. Going on after a uninterested Van Morrison, their final gig was a typically haphazard affair. “You never know it’s the last gig,” latter-day Kinks drummer Bob Henrit recalled. “The band played full of spirit… if Ray thought it was the end, he never mentioned it.”

Mötley Crüe 2015

Nikki Sixx’s LA hair-metallers have stoked interest in their next world tour, and acknowledged the way everyone from Meat Loaf to Barbra Streisand enjoy repeated, money-hoovering “farewells”, by signing a “legally binding” contract to never tour again after 2015. Sixx has dubbed the arrangement “genius marketing”.

Wilko Johnson Koko, London, 10 March 2013

Wilko Johnson’s unexpected second coming had begun with Oil City Confidential, Julien Temple’s 2009 documentary about Essex R&B band Dr Feelgood, for which Johnson was guitarist. His cancer diagnosis in December 2012 seemed grim news. The farewell tour that followed was, though, joyous. This Sunday night show was overflowing with fans and good feeling, and Wilko responded with his most ferocious playing in years. Having since comfortably outlived the six months his doctor gave him, this is one false farewell that should make everyone happy.

‘The Long Goodbye’ by LCD Soundsystem is out on 19 May on Parlophone. ‘Wilko Johnson: Live at Koko’ is out now on DVD

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own