The 50 best live acts of the 90s
It doesn’t matter what record label you’re on, how much money you have, how you look or who your friends are – you just can’t fake being a good live band.
Live performance is how we fall in love with burgeoning bands and so many of our greatest experiences as music lovers come via seeing our favourites artists in the flesh.
But some artists are just better at it than others. Some have that special, indescribable connection with each other and with their audience that feels like magic.
After polling the entire Double J staff, these are the artists that came out on top as the artists who were at the top of their game in one of the greatest decades of music.
Here are the 50 best live acts of the 1990s.
50. Jane’s Addiction
In the early-90s, Jane's Addiction were mindblowing live. And, I promise, it wasn’t just the sight of all those tanned and tattooed torsos that kept me staring at the stage. Perry Farrell has always had a kind of freaky shamanistic quality, which makes their live shows something quite otherworldly and carnivalesque.
First touring Australia in '91, Jane's Addiction were at a low point in their relationships with each other, but were also at the height of their musical super powers. Ritual De Lo Habitual was an epic game changing album and, with drummer Steven Perkins, bassist Eric Avery, and Dave Navarro on guitar, the band were a live powerhouse, capable of thundering Zepplinesque riffs one minute and quiet but trippy acoustic tunes the next. – Karen Leng
There was something deeply musical and strangely emotional about the progressive house sets that Orbital turned in through the 1990s. While they knew how to get a room moving, their method of doing so was far more complex and calculated than many of their peers.
Rather than just drop their biggest tracks, the Hartnoll brothers practically brought the studio along with them to their live shows. They’d perform versions of their songs that didn’t necessarily sound like their records, or even their show from the night before. They also employed some really stunning visual elements to their shows, which added to the whole experience.
It was an exciting new way to present electronic music and one that firmly held a middle finger up to the detracting rock fans of the time. – Dan Condon
I had a VHS of Korn playing the 1999 Big Day Out that I’d recorded from the telly and I swear I must’ve watched that tape 10,000 times over. Firstly, David Silveria was an absolute weapon on the drums. Munky and Head each played guitar with such idiosyncratic style and angular precision.
Fieldy, well who really knows what he was playing, but it was deep and it was slapped and it resonated more like a percussive instrument than melodic. Then there was the enigmatic Jonathan Davis, equal parts fierce and fragile, going 0 – 100 in one word, ‘C’MON’. – Gemma Pike
47. The Breeders
When I first saw The Breeders at the 1994 Big Day Out, I’ll admit to thinking it was as close to the then-defunct Pixies as I’d ever get. But they certainly weren’t a consolation prize. The band had released Last Splash the previous year and tracks like ‘Cannonball’, ‘Divine Hammer’ and ‘Drivin on 9’ were moshable songs that united the crowd.
Kim Deal found some autonomous creative freedom with sister Kelley and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly in The Breeders, and when they did a reunion tour for that album for All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2013, never has she looked more relaxed and energised. The mood was elevated, fun and joyous, the crowd receptive to their college-kid enthusiasm. – Tatjana Clancy
Pulp is a band, yes. But, live, all eyes are always trained to the gangly limbed, boyish faced, highly charismatic frontman. Because, in the 90s, no one embodied irresistible geeky charm like Jarvis Cocker.
Always sleekly attired, he knew how to assume a certain stance, perform microphone acrobatics and straddle stage monitors in ways looked like he was delivering the latest in high fashion catwalk moves. But there was never any hint of pretentiousness. He wasn’t some distant, inaccessible pop stud. His lyrics and interaction with audiences always came with a knowing wink and a wry sense of humour.
Cocker and co. enjoyed the dynamic between a band and a crowd and revelled in the delight and difference they espoused through their pop eccentricities in the Britpop years. – Caz Tran
45. Cypress Hill
No strangers to putting a bit of rock‘n’roll into their hip hop (musically and antics-wise), Cypress Hill became the first rap act to be banned from US TV show Saturday Night Live when DJ Muggs lit up a joint on stage.
As band member Sen Dog put it in 1993: "I think American kids have been raised too long having people telling them what to do. And I think at one point every kid rebels. We rebelled and we stayed rebelled." – Lance Ferguson
The first ever tied cricket test happened at the Brisbane Cricket Ground in December 1960. Many pundits still consider it the greatest game of cricket ever played. There’s an old joke that there were 13,000 people there, but 130,000 claim they were.
That’s kind of like Portishead’s show at Brisbane’s Festival Hall in April of 1998. Ask on the streets of Brisbane between the age of 40 and 50 and they’ll tell you they were there and that it was the best show they have ever seen. That’s how much of an impact they made on their first trip to Australia. – Dan Condon
There was no band more fun to see than Regurgitator. Every song was a killer, the music was delivered with a contagious fervour and there was a little something for everyone; the punks, the hip hop fans, the clubbing kids, the pop fans and the chin-stroking indie rock devotees.
Perhaps most extraordinary was the way Regurgitator walked that fine line between novelty and earnest. They were never either of those things, but they kept things light hearted without being too silly. It’s probably why they endure after all this time. – Dan Condon
August 10 and 11, 1996. At height of the English summer, five lads from Manchester performed at a stately country manor in front of 250,000 people. Knebworth House had hosted many concerts since the 70s but none with a level of excitement that would overtake an entire nation.
One in 20 Brits tried to buy a ticket to see Oasis, a band responsible for two of the best British albums of all time. The Gallaghers performed with typical supreme confidence turned up to 11, unable to see where the mass of people ended. The concerts were the high point of Britpop and came to define a generation.
Consequently, it also signalled the (for some, painful) comedown of the movement. But for those two nights, as always, they were rock‘n’roll stars. – Dorothy Markek
We’ve recently had the unfortunate task of writing a lot about Soundgarden, but unsurprisingly these tributes were overwhelmingly positive.
Just think back to the power of ‘Jesus Christ Pose’, with Chris Cornell’s screeching, pitch-perfect vocal soaring over the incessantly-pounding riffs, or the times we had fists in the air, singing along to ‘Outshined’.
Soundgarden were immaculate live in the 90s, and it’s sad to think we’ll never see them on stage again. – Nick Langley
40. The Cruel Sea
In early 1995, the triple j's Live At The Wireless team dragged our ‘portable’ recording gear up the very stairs at Sydney's Metro Theatre to capture The Cruel Sea in action. That thing was heavy – we're talking hip replacement heavy – but it was worth it.
With the hugely successful The Honeymoon Is Over album under their belts and Three Legged Dog about to be released, Tex, Ken, Jim, Danny and James unleashed a killer set of swampy voodoo blues onto their rapturous audience.
That gig is now considered one of Triple J's Classic Live At The Wireless recordings. It's just that good. The Cruel Sea at the height of their powers. – Phil McKellar
39. Primal Scream
My strongest memory of catching Primal Scream at a BDO sideshow in the mid-90s was the state of Bobby Gillespie on stage. We’re talking seriously messy. But he was renowned for his shenanigans on stage and off so it wasn’t a great surprise.
For all his disarray, Gillespie was a brilliant frontman as Primal Scream kicked out the perfect blend of Stonesy swagger, trippy soul and club beats around him. Screamadelica was an incredible album, but hearing Primal Scream play it live, was euphoric. – Karen Leng
38. Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor knew how to create a sinister atmosphere.
His band’s brand of dirty, pulsating industrial was already evocative enough, but combined with frenetic light shows and a full band marching defiantly around the stage looking for their pigs in the crowd, the mosh pit at a Nine Inch Nails show was an intense place to be.
If you don’t feel something after watching their cathartic ’94 Woodstock set, with full band covered in mud, you’re awfully hard to please. – Nick Langley
37. Magic Dirt
One of my best live music memories ever actually involved a technological mishap at one of Magic Dirt’s shows at the now defunct Gypsy Bar in Canberra.
Frontwoman Adalita Srsen compensated for some dodgy sound issues by heading backstage and coming back with her rider, handing out beers and offering up song requests to punters lucky enough to be close to the front, which wasn’t hard in such a tiny venue. – Tatjana Clancy
36. De La Soul
After ushering in hip hop’s psychedelic ‘Daisy Age’ in 1989 with their classic 3 Feet High & Rising album, De La Soul’s 1991 sophomore De La Soul Is Dead went in a much more musically lean and mean, muscular direction. That same year I caught them live at Festival Hall in Melbourne, which was my very first true hip hop live show experience.
What struck me the most was that the songs almost became secondary to the crowd/performer interaction. Rather than rolling out faithful renditions of all your favourites, Maseo, Trugoy The Dove and Posdnous re-invented, remixed and re-constituted their sounds on the fly, reading and riding the crowd as they went. The fact that they incited the heaving crowd to states of delirium with just three microphones and a pair of turntables was a total revelation. – Lance Ferguson
35. Massive Attack
With a catalogue as flawless as theirs, Massive Attack had no shortage of material to draw from for their live shows. But presenting it in a tasteful manner was going to be key to cement them as one of the great acts of the decade.
Of course, in the hands of 3D and Daddy G, this wasn’t a problem. With a variety of guest vocalists and musicians on hand at any given time, as well as some stunning visual elements, the trip hop trailblazers gave their brilliant music a new edge on the live stage.
They might not have been the best of friends at every stage through the 90s, but Massive Attack didn’t let that get in the way of their live dominance. – Dan Condon
34. Faith No More
Whereas other 90s front people presented a modicum of danger onstage, Mike Patton was danger incarnate, switching between Vegas crooner and blood-curling haranguer with terrifying ease.
33. Hoodoo Gurus
You could put Australian rock’n’roll royalty Hoodoo Gurus in this exact same list for any decade that they’ve existed. But considering the band released some of their most beloved material in the 90s, there’s something to be said for the shows they played at this time too.
You didn’t get to hear Miss ‘Freelove ’69’ or ‘1000 Miles Away’ in the 80s. You didn’t get that pang of guilt from ‘Waking Up Tired’ or feel your blood start to rush with the chorus of ‘The Right Time’.
In the 90s, Hoodoo Gurus continued to write great songs and continued to absolutely dominate in the live arena. And nothing has changed since. – Dan Condon
In the 90s I was in no way straight-edge, but I adored Fugazi. I even flew to Washington DC once, just to see them play. They were punker than punk. They ran their own label (Dischord) and were fiercely DIY. They only played all ages shows, they kept ticket prices low, they lived a do-no-harm ethos, banned stage diving at shows and sang about issues that mattered.
Their albums were great, but not a patch on their live shows. Stop start dynamics, ripping guitars, dub influences, sinewy basslines, two impassioned singers and a deep groove made for an inventive, thrilling take on punk rock.
In 1997 while producing Recovery, I filmed them live at Manly Youth Centre. It was an awesome show but capturing them onstage through a handicam lens only delivered a tiny taste of the electricity and passion that made Fugazi one of the 90s most essential live acts. – Karen Leng
31. Tori Amos
In 1999, Tori Amos released To Venus And Back, an experimental, atmospheric and generally pretty decent record. But it was the second disc that accompanied the studio album that both casual and dedicated fans latched onto more.
Its 13 tracks were recorded on her 1998 Plugged tour, and served as the perfect artefact for all those fans who’d been blown away by her performances – including those in Australia – over the preceding decade.
Whether or not you ever got to see this amazing artist live, this record is well worth tracking down and giving some attention, as both Amos’ raw emotion and brilliant musicality are staggering. – Dan Condon
What better way to get away with such a wicked and mischievous intellect than remaining completely hidden. Never has a band covered in such non-descript masks retained such a huge personality.
A TISM show was a barrage of crazy beats and huge hooks, laid forth with tongue shoved in the cheek.
It was a continuous torrent of pointed political and social satire, dismantling our very being, yet, against all odds, everyone in the room still leaves with a grin. – Henry Wagons
29. Smashing Pumpkins
Say what you will about Billy Corgan nowadays, the guy wrote a stack of brilliant songs in the 90s and they packed a serious punch on stage.
From the screams and squeals of ‘Zero’ to the impressive technicality of ‘Geek U.S.A.’, the Smashing Pumpkins were no strangers to heavy rock. It was their ability to seamlessly balance that energy out with their calmer hits in ‘Tonight, Tonight’, ‘Disarm’ and ‘1979’ that made them a powerhouse.
The Smashing Pumpkins still exist in some capacity to this day, but their live line up was never as charismatic and encapsulating as it was with James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky and the incredibly talented Jimmy Chamberlin. – Nick Langley
28. The Living End
It’s not as if The Living End ever pretended to be completely unique. In fact, they were brazen about how much acts like the Stray Cats and The Clash influenced them. But there was something completely different about this band in the context of the live scene in the 90s. The mere presence of a double bass was astounding and Chris Cheney’s chops put his punk brethren to shame.
In hindsight, they probably could have showed off a whole lot more than they did. But there was a great sense of communality in their music that meant it was better that they didn’t. Who didn’t love screaming along to those monster hits? – Dan Condon
Garbage hadn't intended to be a live proposition. The video for debut single ‘Vow’ was the first time the band actually performed live together, and this newfound chemistry meant they could take the band out of the studio.
Touring Australia twice in the 90s, Garbage were loved for their compelling mix of alt rock, brooding/pounding electronica and power pop sensibility. Front and centre was Shirley Manson’s charisma and can’t-keep-your-eyes-off-ness. – Dorothy Markek
26. Ice Cube
O’Shea Jackson Sr. might have carved a lane as one of West Coast rap’s most commanding orators with NWA, but it was as a solo artist that he secured his position as a superlative live act.
Combining that voice with a surprisingly nimble stage presence, Ice Cube’s on-stage confidence continued to grow in the 90s as his catalogue swelled to include a clutch of classic solo LPs alongside the gangsta rap blueprints he drafted for NWA. – Sam Wicks
25. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Love them or loathe them, the one thing everyone has agreed on is that the Red Hot Chili Peppers can play. They progressed, got more versatile and as solid as a rock when Chad Smith got behind the kit with his ranging styles and John Frusciante brought his mellifluous guitar to perfectly blend with Flea’s funk.
Due to personality issues, Frusciante would never make it to Australia on their first two tours of the 90s. That aside, the band continued to build their fan base both here and worldwide through the 90s, and much of that was due to their live reputation. What the band lacked in clothing on stage, they made up for in their chops. While the musically possessed Flea manically drove the band on stage, Kiedis drove the audiences into mania. His charisma puts him as one of his generation’s great front men. – Richard Kingsmill
24. The Chemical Brothers
The 90s was the era of the superstar DJs. However, the transition from the clubs to the festival mainstages was a gradual process. No one envisaged one or two figures standing on stage behind decks in front of 40,000 people at the start of the decade. By the close of the 90s though, as Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, Moby, Basement Jaxx and The Prodigy all gained momentum, punters demanded these acts leave the tents to properly headline festivals.
The groundwork laid by The Chemical Brothers in this respect was hugely important. Slowly they rose the Glastonbury ranks, and as they did, their show met the demands. With a light show that turned night to day, tracks like ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, and huge mind-altering climax moments like ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ took tens of thousands into euphoria. – Richard Kingsmill
23. Crowded House
November 24, 1996. Sydney Opera House steps. Were the 90s the greatest decade in music? Probably. Was Crowded House’s Farewell to the World the greatest concert of the 90s? Without a doubt.
The evidence is strong. A set list taken from four albums that earned the band global success. The return of Paul Hester having quit the band two years earlier. Special appearance by Tim Finn. A supporting cast of fresh Aussie talent (Custard, You Am I and Powderfinger). With the firm belief that this was it for Crowded House, a devoted crowd of somewhere between 100,000 and 250,000 sang every word...
But not me. Heavy rain postponed the concert till the next day. I turned up for my weekend job at a hardware store in Wollongong certain that Neil would approve of my (stupid) work ethic. – Dorothy Markek
22. Foo Fighters
There’s one thing you’re assured of when you get to see Foo Fighters in action, you are getting every ounce of sweat and fire they have. Dave Grohl’s fierce head swings, headbanging and lurching about the stage and Taylor Hawkins’ tightly gritted teeth and tornado of bony arms, is counterbalanced by the stabilising presence of Messrs Mendel and Schifflett and, sometimes, the awesomely cool Pat Smear.
You can tell there’s a genuine affection and bond that these guys share personally which makes their smiles contagious, their delivery intensely affirming and their live shows a relentless and exhilarating experience. – Caz Tran
21. The Dirty Three
The Dirty Three are still, to this day, one of the most sonically dynamic bands I've ever seen, creating instrumental-only narratives with as many twists, turns and surprise endings as any dexterous verse.
They were a freak show of instrumentalists in the best possible way. Warren Ellis, like a dizzy Tasmanian Devil, Mick Turner a hypnotic mechanical monolith and Jim White, drumming like a mad professor spinning plates.
It was impossible to take it all in. I still have no idea exactly what I saw, exactly what they were. I just know my brain swelled, and it was worth it. – Henry Wagons
You had to be the complete package to be one of the most adored bands of the 90s. Radiohead somehow managed to bring the exploratory genius of their music to the live stage realty effectively through the 90s.
As their music became more complex, their live shows became more revered. Australia finally had the chance to witness the newly minted titans of modern music in February of 1998 as they toured OK Computer, and people are still raving about those shows almost 20 years on. – Dan Condon
19. Public Enemy
Public Enemy arrived fully-formed at the start of the 90s as a live juggernaut. Built around the axis of Chuck D, Flava Flav, Terminator X and The S1W security troop, PE’s live shows read like political rallies rather than concerts, mirroring the sonic assault of their songs.
Public Enemy would never best the records their in-house production unit the Bomb Squad cooked up in the 90s, but they maintain their spot as rap music’s most combative and crucial live force. – Sam Wicks
18. Beasts Of Bourbon
I’ve seen frontman Tex Perkins in many incarnations – as Johnny Cash, in The Cruel Sea, with Don Walker and Charlie Owen, with his Dark Horses – but nowhere is he as fearsome and commanding then out front of the Beasts of Bourbon.
Their grinding blues is dirty and menacing, their stage presence ferocious. If you never had the pleasure, check out From The Belly Of The Beasts, one of the best live albums from that era. Tracks like ‘Chase The Dragon’ and ‘Hard Working Drivin Man’ will take you straight into that moshpit, hypnotised alongside everyone else by Perkins’ messianic delivery. – Tatjana Clancy
TOOL in the live arena were transformative – for both the band and audience – with psychedelic visuals often given full focus and the band relegated to the shadows. It took roughly seven years for Maynard Keenan to put a shirt on, and when he finally did it was for the sake of ludicrous outfits. Nobody really cared how he dressed himself, however, as his belting vocal performances never wavered.
When their impressive lightshows allowed a glimpse of drummer Danny Carey behind his imposing kit, you’d see his legendary stickwork was somehow possible with four limbs. A TOOL live show was a place for the weirdos of the world to feel at home, whether they were metalheads, proggers, alt kids or grungers – and what a place to call home. – Nick Langley
Over three separate world tours supporting three critically acclaimed albums – Debut, Post and Homogenic – Björk brought childlike wonder and virtuosic creativity everywhere she went, including Australian shows in 1994 and 1996.
She rewrote the MTV Unplugged playbook in 1994, eschewing conventional instruments and bringing in strings and horns, a gamelan crew, musical wineglasses and Nitin Sawhney. Her tour supporting Homogenic featured an Icelandic string octet and Mark Bell from LFO on beats.
Many artists claim to take you to another world with their live show, but with Björk, it’s a given. Her performances are human and vulnerable, despite the surreal costuming and alien sonics. When flannel-laden guitar bands were posturing for authenticity with costumes and crutches of their own, Björk brought deep musicality, artistry and emotional depth. She strived to connect and explore the human experience meaningfully with every performance. – Tim Shiel
15. Fatboy Slim
My first proper rave up was at the 1999 Big Day Out and Norman Cook had just released his bona fide big beat boomer You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby. He was a big drawcard.
It was still daylight outside as I entered the Boiler Room and there I would happily stay to furiously shake it down for the duration of his set. I had little idea what that distant figure with the headphones on stage behind the desk was doing, all I knew was that he was blowing my tiny mind with his stellar selections of brain pummelling, at times kooky, irresistibly body movin’ mixes.
A gateway gig for me into a period of my life seeking out more from the dance community. – Caz Tran
14. Rage Against the Machine
I remember we were at the New Zealand Big Day Out in Auckland and we were waiting to go on, or we’d just gone on, and in the middle of the bands at some point on the PA system they played ‘Killing in the Name’. It was just through the PA – they played the CD – and the crowd went absolutely nuts, as if Rage Against the Machine was actually playing.
I’ve never seen anything like it, so you can imagine what the reaction was like for that song when the band actually did play, which I’ve seen as well, and it’s epic. – Kram (from Artist in Residence)
Put simply, Beck’s Odelay tour of Australia of 1996 was one of the best live shows of the decade. The album itself was a perfect sign o’ the times, a distillation of funk, hip hop, rock, folk and blues – not the easiest mix to perform live, but Beck came into his own on this tour, proving himself a consummate show man, backed by a cracking band.
As he busted some serious dance moves on stage during ‘Devil’s Haircut’, Beck’s performance felt part Las Vegas review, part Prince funkathon, with a little James Brown for good measure. Then, he flipped the musical coin, stripping away the layers with intimate acoustic songs from earlier albums.
This chameleon like ability to move between genres while creating a cohesive whole has always been Beck’s great talent. But, in the 90s, Beck delivered audiences something that grunge didn’t: sparkle and spectacle. And we all need a bit of that in our lives. – Karen Leng
12. The Cure
In the mid-90s I was witness to an epic three hour set by goth-pop legends The Cure, at the Royal Theatre in Canberra. Their most recent album at the time was the contemplative and grandiose Wish.
The first half of the show was a dreamy soundscape that incorporated that record and some of the more experimental moments of their career – while the second half contained all the glorious singalong hits from epic albums like Disintegration, Head on The Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me.
By all accounts they recreated this glory nearly 20 years later at their headlining Splendour In The Grass set last year, with Robert Smith’s mojo still on point (even if he never got the lipstick quite right). – Tatjana Clancy
11. You Am I
With a slew of great releases throughout the decade, it’s not surprising that You Am I were in high demand and played just about everywhere in the 90s. And it was clear, even in those early days, that we were witnessing a band of rock gods.
Russell Hopkinson’s powerful precision and swinging flourishes on the kit, Andy Kent’s expressive bass playing and Tim Rogers’ vigour as a rock jumping frontman and windmilling guitarist was raw and unparalleled.
His tales of suburban malaise and redemption, and his keening voice made him feel totally relatable all the while, we all understood that he was also untouchably cool. Live, they generated a tangible sense of imminent chaos that teetered at the edges of each of their spine-tingling shows. – Caz Tran
10. Pearl Jam
Equal parts The Who and Ramones in concert, Pearl Jam took their stagecraft seriously from the jump, making a statement by setting their first two singles (‘Alive’, ‘Even Flow’) to footage culled from early live performances.
Collectively drawing on the histories of Green River, Mother Love Bone and a clutch of Seattle and San Diego punk and rock outfits, Pearl Jam carried an impressive live pedigree. But it was in Eddie Vedder – the band’s impassioned, introspective frontman – that Pearl Jam possessed a singer whose much-mimicked vocal stylings and crowdsurfing heroics made him one of his generation’s most singular performers. – Sam Wicks
9. The Prodigy
The Prodigy should never have worked. A band that combines the most visceral parts of 90s club culture with the power and energy of punk and metal, fronted by Keith Flint, a terrifying, energetic, unleashed maniac, and anchored by Liam Howlett, a genius songwriter and producer with a handle on a wide variety of music.
Even if it did work on record, bringing it to the live stage was undoubtedly a whole new challenge. But they nailed it. At festivals, raves, and club shows the world over, The Prodigy delivered the most brutal shows of the big beat big guns and probably changed the minds of a whole lot of electronic music sceptics. – Dan Condon
The stage floor was a massive flat surface upon which most bands would have played football, not music. Seeing Metallica own that space for two hours and propel the crowd into one vast air guitar fest was one of the greatest memories of the 90s for me.
It was 1998 and Metallica had been touring consistently through the decade. It showed. The ferocious take-no-prisoners approach of James Hetfield particularly is as clear as if it was yesterday.
Metallica started the 90s playing to over 1.5 million people in Moscow, and ended it playing with the San Francisco Symphony for the S&M album. In between: 174 shows on the Wherever We May Roam tour, a co-headline tour with Guns ‘N Roses and headline sets at Lollapalooza and Ozzfest. That’s just a fraction of what Metallica delivered in the 90s. – Richard Kingsmill
7. PJ Harvey
How does anyone rock so hard in a pair of heels? Weirdly, this thought has often mesmerized me watching PJ Harvey live. Even in the early-90s when playing raw rock in her trio circa Rid Of Me, PJ Harvey’s style and sense of theatrics defined her as one of the era’s most captivating performers.
I saw her in London in the 90s, early in her solo career. Onstage she oozed sexuality but still felt untouchable. She played guitar like it was welded to her body, launching her raw, poetic and heart-wrenching songs like little missiles into the crowd.
While the likes of Courtney Love were letting it all hang out in the 90s, PJ Harvey was all British poise. And just like an iceberg, it’s her mysterious depths which provide all the power. – Karen Leng
6. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
He’ll convert you after the first song, so magnetic is Nick Cave’s presence and chemistry with his Bad Seeds. I have seen Nick countless times, though one particular mid 90s show at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion sticks with me.
The encore featured my two favourite songs, which sat at opposite sides of his live show spectrum. The raw and melancholy ‘Your Funeral My Trial’ and the wild and uninhibited fury of ‘From Her to Eternity’ both slayed and had me on a high for days.
Other memorable moments include guitarist Blixa Bargeld doing Kylie Minogue’s part in ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ at The State Theatre and a particularly epic version of ‘The Mercy Seat’ amidst the spectacular backdrop of Cockatoo Island. – Tatjana Clancy
5. Beastie Boys
Every time I saw the Beastie Boys play in the 90s I found myself in the seething mosh. It was the only place to truly be part of the mayhem and dance my butt off. Where so many 90s hip hop acts were a disappointment live, the Beastie Boys succeeded, because they were hilarious but took their live show seriously, knew how to work the crowd and could totally kick out the jams on tunes like ‘Sabotage’.
Onstage, the live line up was bolstered by a much larger band, featuring DJ Hurricane and keyboardist Money Mark. They could effortlessly flick between guitar driven thrashy punk and super funky hip hop jams as they endlessly bounced around the stage trading rhymes. Never has live hip hop been more thrilling. – Karen Leng
Prince had a tumultuous and volatile ride through the 90s. Changing his name to that inscrutable love symbol in 1993 as a protest against his record label, and releasing a series of sprawling multi-disc official sets, containing new music and older material from his legendary vaults.
One thing that remained consistent, however, was his ability to create the most spine-tingling live performances. In 1991 he burst out of the gates with The New Power Generation, which seemed more than just his live backing band: they were more like the Power Rangers, a larger-than life all-star super hero team, each player possessing their own unique musical power.
If YouTube had existed in 1993, I might even be tempted to post footage here of my very first live gig in a Prince tribute band, doing the rap verse on ‘Sexy MF’. Count yourself lucky. – Lance Ferguson
With a rhythm section that could hold down a skyscraper and a singer with vocal chords that helped changed the course of music, it was impossible not to levitate after seeing Nirvana belt out one of their live shows.
Sweat would drip from the ceiling of a small club by show’s end. In a large stadium, where the crowd was one large swaying and singing head, they were just as commanding. But not for long. Nirvana’s rapidly increasing popularity – and the testosterone fuelled knucklehead crowds that soon came their way – did not sit well with Kurt’s ideals. The live shows thereafter became hit and miss, as Kurt’s health and drug problems too took their toll.
When we saw the MTV Unplugged concert – and how the band’s music translated so well in a different environment – it spelt out even louder than before what we had lost in April 1994. – Richard Kingsmill
I’d seen U2 on each of their Australian visits through the 80s. By 1992, however, they’d taken their live show to the next level. Inspired by ground-breaking Pink Floyd and Talking Heads tours, the Zooropa tour was U2’s on-stage realisation of 1991’s Achtung Baby. It was a mind-blowing production. A huge stage, screens everywhere, old East German Trabant cars dangling from the scaffolding, satellite interviews done mid set by Bono with the rich and famous. By moving forward at this point, it saved the Irish superstars from being forgotten in the post-grunge era.
Not content with that, the later PopMart tour satirised our consumerist world, with a huge single arch centre stage, a kitsch giant lemon, an enormous LED screen which at times needed us to apply sunscreen to enjoy it. Through these shows, U2 cemented their importance in the 90s. – Richard Kingsmill
1. Jeff Buckley
With Jeff Buckley’s first tour in 1995, there was a considerable level of excitement and anticipation. Australia had had plenty of time to live with Grace, as it had been out for exactly a year before his live show got here.
Everyone knows now that Grace is a classic. But, even after a year of it being out, he was still more a cult artist than a superstar.
The shows booked in Australia on that first tour were pretty modest size rooms – nothing like the big theatres he played on his follow up tour here in 1996. It’s fair to say the crowd was full of as many local musicians as there were punters.
As soon as he started playing, and then when he sang, the room was his for the next 90 minutes.
It was, and still is, as close to a perfect concert I’ve ever seen. He knew this was an important show and that there was a lot riding on it for his growing popularity here.
He and his band were on fire that night. All in his camp agreed afterwards it was a good one. For me, when towards the end of the night he started dropping in really challenging covers like Big Star’s 'Kangaroo', it had gone way beyond being just a great gig. It was simply a thrill to be a music fan and there that night to soak it all up. – Richard Kingsmill
Hear Chit Chat present live music from the 50 best live acts of the 90s from 1pm Saturday on Double J