Joyful Stage Returns: Watch 21 Rockers’ First Post-COVID Shows
Many of rock's biggest names returned to the stage in 2021 after months away from in-person audiences, much to the delight of fans and musicians alike.
"You could feel it in the audience," Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl told NME over the summer. "You could hear it when they sang along. You could see it when they danced. It's been a town-to-town celebration of the return of live music everywhere we go — opening new venues, reopening venues that had shut down. And you could see that people have been starved of live performance, as have we."
Though the coronavirus pandemic isn't over, multiple high-profile tours launched over the course of the year, along with performances everywhere from large-scale festivals to intimate clubs – signaling a slow but steady restoration of the live music industry. We're revisiting 21 of the best returns to live rock, in no particular order.
1. Bob Dylan
Return Date: Nov. 2, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Dec. 8, 2019
Bob Dylan got back on track with the launch of his Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour. Dylan featured eight songs from his most recent LP on opening night in Milwaukee, dedicating the show to late guitar pioneer Les Paul. "We know he was from here," Dylan said. "And we wanna honor him tonight with this show.” These dates will reportedly stretch into 2024, though no further shows have been announced yet.
2. The Rolling Stones
Return Date: Sept. 20, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Aug. 30, 2019
The Rolling Stones' concert return followed their Tattoo You anniversary box set reissue. This Miami show also marked the band's debut without founding drummer Charlie Watts, who died in August. “This is our first-ever tour we’ve ever done without him,” Mick Jagger said, as photos and videos of Watts were displayed on the arena's big screens. “We’ll miss Charlie so much, on and off the stage.”
Return Date: Aug. 24, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 7, 2020
Eagles relaunched their disrupted tour celebrating Hotel California at New York's Madison Square Garden, appearing two days late in the wake of Hurricane Henri. They performed the album in its entirety, along with a second set of greatest hits. Guitarist Joe Walsh dedicated "Life's Been Good" to Charlie Watts, while drummer Don Henley also made note of the recent passing of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. "It’s so nice to be out here," the late Glenn Frey's son Deacon said from the stage. "This energy is insane."
Return Date: Sept. 16, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Sept. 8, 2019
"We’re BAAAAACK!!" Metallica said in a statement posted to their website, shortly before performing a surprise September set at a small venue in San Francisco. "It’s been 738 days since our last live show, but hey, who’s counting?! Well, that shit all stops tonight!!!" Metallica began the evening with "Whiplash," apparently for the first time ever. They also included several songs from 1991's self-titled Black Album LP, which was reissued as an anniversary deluxe box set earlier in the year.
Return Date: Aug. 18, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 10, 2020
Kiss resumed their farewell tour after almost a year and a half in Massachusetts. "If you told me two months ago we could have 15,000 people in Mansfield, I woulda said no way!" Paul Stanley said early on. "But here we are!" As Kiss continued their tour, some road blocks emerged — both Stanley and Gene Simmons tested positive for the coronavirus within the same week, forcing the postponement of some shows — but everyone pushed on, after some much needed rest and recovery.
6. Lindsey Buckingham
Return Date: Sept. 1, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Dec. 9, 2018
Lindsey Buckingham's return to the stage was particularly special, given it was his first live appearance since undergoing heart surgery in 2019. In addition to some Fleetwood Mac classics, Buckingham also debuted several new songs from his recent self-titled solo album. "We are finally here," he told the audience in Milwaukee, "and you are finally here – and we couldn't be happier."
7. Bruce Springsteen
Return Date: June 26, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Jan. 18, 2020
When Broadway returned, so did Bruce Springsteen. Following the success of his 2018 residency, Springsteen relaunched the show over the summer. "It's been a long time coming!" he said after the opening song, "Growin' Up." The 15-song set list featured a few adjustments since last time: Springsteen added "Fire," "American Skin (41 Shots)" and "I'll See You in My Dreams," replacing "Brilliant Disguise," "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and former show-closer "Born to Run."
8. Guns N' Roses
Return Date: July 31, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 14, 2020
Guns N' Roses brought along some friends when they got back to live shows in the form of opening act Mammoth WVH, fronted by the late Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang. “We’re just trying to remember how we do this thing up here," Axl Rose admitted that night. "Get back in the swing of things." The 10-song set included a hefty offering of tracks from GNR's debut album, Appetite for Destruction, as well as covers of Wings' "Live and Let Die," the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
9. Foo Fighters
Return Date: June 15, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Dec. 7, 2019
Foo Fighters' first show back was on June 15, 2021, at a small club in Los Angeles. Five days later, they made a much grander return at Madison Square Garden, the first full-capacity concert to be held at the iconic venue since the onset of the pandemic. Frontman Dave Grohl was visibly overwhelmed as he sang "Times Like These," the opening song. “Goddammit, this feels good,” he said onstage. The performance showcased drummer Taylor Hawkins on lead vocals for a cover of Queen's "Somebody to Love," while Grohl took over his kit. There was also a surprise guest appearance from comedian Dave Chapelle, who joined the band for a rendition of Radiohead's "Creep."
10. Robert Plant
Return Date: July, 19 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Dec. 22, 2019
Robert Plant has emphasized recently that he can't fathom the idea of retiring anytime soon. "I still don’t know enough to stop in any respect," he admitted in November. "There’s always something new to learn, somewhere new to take it." So his return to the stage during a summer run of shows in U.K. was inevitable — this time performing with a new band, Saving Grace.
Return Date: July 29, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Dec. 31, 2019
Journey have yet to embark on a full-scale tour, but they appeared numerous times over the course of 2021, beginning with an extensive show at the end of July at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. It was the first time they'd performed live following the March 2020 firing of longtime drummer Steve Smith and co-founding bassist Ross Valory. Journey also headlined at Chicago's Lollapalooza and New York's Central Park Homecoming show over the summer.
Return Date: Sept. 20, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Oct. 13, 2007
Prior to 2021, Genesis had not performed together for more than a decade. So that made their Last Domino? reunion tour a highly anticipated event, as Genesis launched first in England and then made their way stateside. Phil Collins performed seated on stage, the result of nerve damage to his back and hands. The band was completed with Collins’ son Nic taking over his father's spot on drums. Genesis nevertheless delivered a sturdy and memorable performance for what appears to be their final opening night ever.
Return Date: June 16, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 17, 2020
Styx treated fans to two and half hours of music in Florida as they dusted off old favorites and also debuted songs from their latest LP, Crash of the Crown. “There was that feeling of, we’re doing this for us again," keyboardist and singer Lawrence Gowan told UCR shortly after the first week of show dates, "and isn’t it great that we have a sea of a couple of thousand smiling faces looking back at us?"
14. Ann and Nancy Wilson (solo)
Return Date: June 22, 2021 (Ann), Oct. 30, 2021 (Nancy)
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Feb. 16, 2020 (Ann), March 1, 2020 (Nancy)
Heart has not returned to touring as a full band, but both Ann and Nancy Wilson have appeared live as solo performers. Ann joined Gov’t Mule to perform covers of Led Zeppelin and Tom Petty, and also launched a brief series of solo shows in August. Nancy appeared for one night only in October in her hometown of Seattle, performing several songs from her new album, You and Me.
15. Alice Cooper
Return Date: April 24, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 10, 2020
Alice Cooper's shock-rock show got back on the road in Atlantic City, marking the live premiere of tracks like "Social Debris" and "Go Man Go" from his 2021 album, Detroit Stories. "It's really just getting your wings back," he told UCR before the tour launched. "I think everyone’s just happy to get back on stage. It's almost to the point of being giddy."
16. Judas Priest
Return Date: Aug. 15, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: June 29, 2019
Judas Priest began their 50 Heavy Metal Years tour in August, though the U.S. dates were postponed after guitarist Richie Faulkner underwent treatment for a heart condition. Still, their live debut offered an impressive set list of deep cuts, hits and songs that had never been performed live before, including "Invader" and concert-opener "One Shot at Glory."
17. Billy Joel
Return Date: Aug. 4, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 6, 2020
Billy Joel played through the rain at Boston's Fenway Park over the summer before a sold-out crowd. (His set list included a segment of ZZ Top's "Tush," in recognition of the recognition of the passing of Dusty Hill.) Joel had previously appeared at Fenway Park for six summers in a row, stopping only in 2020 when stadium shows were halted due to the pandemic. Last month, he resumed his famed residency at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
18. ZZ Top
Return Date: July 16, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Feb. 14, 2020
ZZ Top returned to the road in July, eager to celebrate their legacy on a 50th anniversary tour. A few weeks later, Dusty Hill passed away at age 72, but the founding bassist insisted that the band carry on without him. "As Dusty said upon his departure, 'Let the show go on!'" Billy Gibbons would later reveal. "And ... with respect, we'll do well to get beyond this and honor his wishes."
19. Lynyrd Skynyrd
Return Date: June 4, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: March 8, 2020
Lynyrd Skynyrd embarked on what was to be their farewell tour in 2020. When the pandemic canceled their plans, however, the band changed their minds. “Once something is taken away from you — music and touring, in our case — you truly realize how important it is and such a part of your life," singer Johnny Van Zant told the AP. "Music is a great healer, and that’s what we all turn to when things are good or bad." Skynyrd returned to the road in June for their Big Wheels Keep On Turnin' Tour.
20. The Monkees
Return Date: Sept. 10, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: June 18, 2019
The remaining Monkees still occasionally toured together, even after the death of Davy Jones in 2012. The shows finally stopped in 2021, however, as said they goodbye to fans with a fall farewell tour dotted with deep cuts, hits and everything in between.
21. David Byrne
Return Date: Sept. 17, 2021
Last Pre-Pandemic Performance: Feb. 29, 2020
There was a great sense of relief when former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne relaunched the quasi-concert Broadway production American Utopia, after so long away. “At the time, it was just this kind of cloud that descended,” he told the New York Post, but the return to live performances reenergized him: “I can feel that the juices are starting to flow again.”