The 13 Coolest Rolling Stones Shows…

Steve Matoren
11 min readApr 3, 2015

When you’re the world’s greatest rock and roll band, you can play anywhere you want- and for 50 years now, that’s exactly what the Rolling Stones have done. After announcing another US outdoor tour, let’s look back at some of the more memorable places around the world the Stones have performed. From the small clubs of England to the vast beaches of Rio, the Stones rocked them all.

*Note: The following collection of shows is not necessarily the “best” Stones’ performances; rather, it’s a celebration of the coolest venues and shows they’ve played- ranked only by one fan’s opinion and by no means, meant to be the definitive “cool” list. Not to worry, there’s plenty here for every Stones fan.

1. Copacabana Beach — Rio De Janeiro — July 22, 2007

A free show to a million and a half people on the beach in Rio. That is way too fucking cool.

Enough said.

2. Circus Maximus Rome — June 22, 2014

2000 year old chariot racing stadium.

Rocking ancient ruins.


3. Club Gigs — Toronto, Canada — Various years

The city of Toronto deserves its own cool listing for the number of special club gigs here over the years. Many world tours promoted by local resident and long time former Stones promoter Michael Cohl began up north with a surprise show.

a. El Mocambo — Toronto — March 4–5, 1977

The inaugural Toronto club gig was at El MoCambo, the historic music venue that opened in 1850. The fact it’s still rocking out its 458 person capacity space today is totally cool. U2, Elvis Costello, Queens of the Stone Age, Jimi Hendrix, Little Steven, Duran Duran and The Ramones have all graced its stage. The venue’s website posts: “Looking for an unprepossessing venue to record in, The Rolling Stones played the first of two performances at the club, billing themselves pseudonymously as “The Cockroaches.” It was their first live club date in 14 years. Their opening act was Canadian rockers April Wine of Montreal. The Stones shows were recorded and released as one side (Side 3) of the double album “Love You Live,” which reached #3 in the UK and #5 in the US.” As a not so unimportant side note, Canada’s first lady, Margaret Trudeau, turned the weekend affair into just that. Still married to then-PM Pierre Trudeau, she hung out stage-side and presumably, bedside — as Ron Wood’s date.

b. RPM Club — Toronto — July 19, 1994

Ever the blues and rock historians, this warm up show for the “Voodoo Lounge Tour” coincided with a landmark Elvis Presley anniversary- 40 years after the release of the King’s first record, “That’s All Right (Mama).” The Stones fan club site IORR notes, “People walking by the RPM club in the morning noticed the poster saying “The Rolling Stones — Live tonight — $5.” Less than 1000 people crowded the small place. The Stones played 16 songs over 90 minutes.”

c. The Horseshoe Tavern — Toronto — September 4, 1997

300 people saw this show. Stones opened with Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” Mick’s harmonica induced “Little Red Rooster” in the middle and they closed with “Brown Sugar.” The show wasn’t announced until 7pm- 4 hours before the Stones took the stage. Mick later remarked, “It was pretty impromptu, yeah,” said Jagger. “I just said the night before, ‘Hey, we should play tomorrow.’ But we hadn’t planned it. It wasn’t for publicity. We just wanted to do it. To get one little gig out of the way ‘cause one gig’s worth a week’s rehearsal in my books.” Keith offered more, “I said, ‘Yeah, let’s give ‘em a smell of blood — practice on the public. It was good fun and it does wonders for the band. One little shot like that. You notice it the next day back at rehearsals, everybody’s like: ‘Let me at ‘em. Let me at ‘em’.”

d. Palais Royale Ballroom — Toronto — August 16, 2002*

Hard to imagine a cooler short set than this one: It’s Only Rock’n Roll * Sad Sad Sad * If You Can’t Rock Me * Stray Cat Blues * Hot Stuff * Don’t Stop * Honky Tonk Women * Torn And Frayed * Wild Horses * Happy * I Can’t Turn You Loose * Heart Of Stone * Can’t You Hear Me Knocking * Jumpin’ Jack Flash * Brown Sugar.

*The 2002 “World Licks Tour” ended up rotating between stadiums, theaters and clubs- very cool. Two other club dates from that year worth mentioning took place at the original Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. Except tickets for this intimate show on Nov. 29 show were not under $20 — they were $1000 each. Not cool. Two weeks earlier on Nov. 16, Texas billionaire David Bonderman threw himself one hell of a 60th-birthday party, booking the Stones, along with John Mellencamp and Robin Williams, for a private 500-person bash. The reported cost was $7 million.

e. Phoenix Club — Toronto — August 10, 2005

Another tour- another opening club gig in Toronto. This show kicked off the “Bigger Bang Tour” and held about 1,000 people. Blue Lena has a fantastic first person recap below, as do a number of others at IORR.

4. Stones in the Park — Hyde Park, London — July 5, 1969

They’re going to do what? Where? And it’s going to be FREE?! After taking two years off from touring, this free show in London’s famed Hyde Park was to be the coming-out party for new guitarist Mick Taylor. Two days before the scheduled gig, ex-guitarist Brian Jones was found dead in his home. Rather than cancel, the band decided to turn the concert into a tribute to their late brother. More than 500,000 people showed up. writes: Just before the Stones hit the stage Mick Jagger came out and read from the Percy Shelley poem ‘Adonais,’ in a touching tribute to Jones after which hundreds of white butterflies were released into the summer air. “We wanted to see him off in grand style,” guitarist Keith Richards wrote in his autobiography ‘Life.’ “The ups and downs with the guy are one thing, but when his time’s over, release the doves, or in this case the sackfuls of white butterflies.”

So cool.

And of course, the Stones filmed it all.

5. Beacon Theatre — New York City — October 29 & November 1, 2006

These pair of shows doubled as President Bill Clinton’s 60th Birthday Bash and the subject for Martin Scorcese’s “Shine A Light” concert film. Jack White, Buddy Guy and Christina Aguilera guested. Later on, I remember hearing Keith recall, “I wondered who that pretty blonde girl was singing.

6. EchoPlex — Los Feliz (Los Angeles) — April 27, 2013

On the day of this surprise show, word spread quickly across social media The Stones were playing a gig somewhere in LA. The concert would officially kick-off their “50 & Counting” tour. I happened to see a Facebook post from a friend who had been tipped off earlier the Stones were playing somewhere and tickets were going to be available to the public. By the time I caught up with her in line outside the El Rey theatre there was already several hundred eager fans waiting. Except the show’s exact location (The EchoPlex — across town) was still a secret; only tickets were being sold at the El Rey. For $20 you got one ticket with a number marked on the back tied to your name and a wristband slapped on to ensure you could not resell it. It was a throwback to the pre-internet days when you lined up to buy tickets to see your favorite band- as you could imagine, there was a lot of electricity and buzz around LA that day. I, along with nearly 700 other fans, ended up with a ticket, and seeing the Stones in that kind of venue, that close, was an unbelievably cool experience.

7. Hollywood Bowl — Hollywood, CA — November 6 & 8, 2005

Only the 2nd time since 1966 The Stones performed here. The iconic venue seats just under 18,000 and is probably the most historic outdoor music venue in the United States.

It’s built into the Hollywood Hills and the sound is spectacular. The Beatles played under the infamous shell in 1964 and just about everyone who’s anyone has graced the stage since. All the stars came out to the Bowl for these two shows including LA based rockers Gene Simmons and Tom Petty. I was lucky enough to be at both. Here’s hoping the rumors of a return trip this summer are true.

Stones at the Hollywood Bowl, 1966

8. Toad’s Place — New Haven, CT — August 12, 1989

This surprise club gig was the first time the boys had played together in 7 years. On the verge of breaking up, they decided to give at a crack one more time. According to The New York Times, the band had been rehearsing at the nearby Wykeham Rise School for six weeks prior, and wanted to put on the relatively small show as “a thank-you to Connecticut for the hospitality.” Tickets were $3.

700 fans showed up for the rousing, albeit, brief performance. The 11-song set re-affirmed The Stones weren’t done rocking. Ever since this de facto opener for the “Steel Wheels Tour” the band continues to launch each new tour with a surprise club gig.

9. Prudential Center — Newark, NJ — December 15, 2012

The final show of the abbreviated “50 and Counting Tour” which turned out to be the beginning of what we now know to be a two and a half year long tour. This one was offered on Live PPV throughout the US which made it an “event” show. A bunch of friends of mine gathered to watch it together, which I’m sure happened in many homes around the country. A bevy of special guests joined the Stones on stage, including Lady GaGa, John Mayer, Gary Clark, Jr., The Black Keys, Mick Taylor and The Boss of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen. It was one legendary night that seemed like a finale, but turned out to be only the beginning.

10. At the Max IMAX Film — across Europe — 1990

Anyone who saw this concert film in an IMAX theater in 1991 knows how incredibly cool it was. Shot over five nights on the last leg of the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour, Variety reviewed, “The future of concert films is here and its name is IMAX.” Consultant Julien Temple claimed, “In many ways, this movie is even better than the concert experience.” Only the biggest screen in the world could properly capture the biggest band in the world.

11. Super Bowl XL Detroit — February 5, 2006

While the performance was nothing out of the ordinary— it is still the Super Bowl and the audience is bigger here than for anything else. And that, in itself, is pretty cool. What was not so cool was the NFL running a 5-second delay on the TV broadcast, so they could bleep out indecent words from the songs.

12. Altamont Race Track — Livermore (San Francisco) — Dec. 6, 1969

Trying to recapture the magic from Hyde Park, the Stones set their sites on a similar show in the US. What started out with the spirit of Woodstock, at a never before concert site, quickly turned into an out-of-control nightmare fueled by drugs, booze and the Hell’s Angels. While the idea for the show was totally cool; tragically, the end result was not. Amazingly, the documentary film Gimme Shelter captured it all.

13. The Swamp at Florida FieldGainesville, Florida — Nov. 27, 1994

Hardcore fans may scoff at this one making the list, but I’m going to try my best to justify its cool factor. For starters, it was, and still is, the largest stadium in the state of Florida and tickets were only $50 and $25. Today, seats go for 10 times that. Two- the last full scale concert to take place here was this one. Three- The stadium sits in the middle of the magnificent University of Florida campus. And finally, four- I was there, so that made it all the cooler. I hear Florida’s Athletic Director, Jeremy Foley is looking to bring back a major act to play the Swamp- like the Stones, or even Springsteen & the E Street Band. Now that would be cool! Go Gators!

— — — — — — — -

Whether you’re some hipster millennial, or just one of the poor nomads who’ve never experienced the Stones live- do your soul a favor and catch them on this upcoming tour.

It’s only rock and roll, and I like it- and you will too. Satisfaction guaranteed.



Steve Matoren

Jersey boy. Bruce Springsteen is my only Boss. I'd drive all night just to...