Five Bands That Rarely (or Never) Played Live

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

One assumes that playing in a band means playing live shows.

Indeed, one of the most grueling aspects of being in a band is the grind of going from gig to gig, whether that’s on a tour bus or your own mini fan purchased with money scraped together from album sales.

But some bands, whether out of convenience or because they were just too famous, were not regulars on the road. Some bands decided to forego that aspect of band life.

Which groups did this, you ask? Well, that’s what we’ll dive into here below. So, without further ado, let’s do just that, shall we?

1. The Beatles

Originally, the Mop Tops played live all the time. As many fans of the group know, their early days involved touring Germany and playing live as often as possible. This later brought them to America, where they played live on late-night shows and toured all over. But the band soon became too famous, caused too many to faint, and even caused riots at their shows. So, the Beatles hung up their live gigs and focused on studio work and reinventing themselves, musically. Their last tour came in August 1966. After that, the best we got was a rooftop show.

2. Nirvana

Similar to the Beatles, Nirvana was just too famous. The band could hardly tour, as a result. Not to mention the band’s lead singer and celebrity icon, Kurt Cobain, was struggling off and on again with drug addictions. So while the group played mere handfuls of live festival shows and rare tours, their fame came more from album sales, MTV music videos, and word of mouth. Early on, also like the Beatles, they played everywhere. But fame cut their live performance schedules short and Cobain’s untimely death cut it even shorter. People forget, given the largess of the group, but they were only active for a handful of years anyway.

3. Steely Dan

One of the most famous rock bands of their era, Steely Dan was the songwriting project of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The two were backed by expert studio musicians. The band toured some in the 1970s but more than that, they focused on studio work and writing music. The band later broke up but resumed playing together in the 1990s. They began touring again, most recently in 2013. But for the large majority, the band hardly ever hit the road.

4. The Traveling Wilburys

It can be hard to tour when you’re a supergroup comprised of legends. And that’s exactly what The Traveling Wilburys were. The band, which consisted of immeasurable names like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison, couldn’t find it in their busy lives to get on the road at all (despite their name). And when Orbison passed away, it was impossible to get them all together, by definition. Without his voice, the group decided not to keep going. Such is the life of a supergroup, after all.

5. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

Of course, when you’re a band made of puppets—er, Muppets—getting on the road is tough. But this infamous group from Jim Henson’s brain was not one for the road. Perhaps that’s because they’d require puppeteers and the felt-made puppets don’t actually play their instruments as much as mime them with a soundtrack over-dubbed. However, it would have been great to see them at Woodstock, right? Alas!

(Photo: Courtesy of Apple Corps Ltd.)

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