A Selection of the Most Insanely Long Live Performances in Music

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You may have heard that The National, bless them, will be at P.S. 1 in New York this weekend, performing the same song — “Sorrow,” from their album High Violet — for six hours straight, as part of a collaboration with artist Ragnar Kjartansson. According to the gallery, the show “continues [Kjartansson’s] explorations into the potential of repetitive performance to produce sculptural presence within sound.” That’s all very well, but where does this fit into the hierarchy of insanely long shows? Read on to find out.

Bradford Cox

Last year the enduringly awesome Bradford Cox responded to a smartass in the audience requesting “My Sharona” by… playing “My Sharona.” For an hour. Non-stop. Admittedly, it’s not quite The National — but then again, y’know, they’re not doing “My Sharona,” nor are they doing the same song for six hours to spite their fans. (At least we assume they’re not.) Now, on to the truly endless performances.

Bruce Springsteen

Fans of the Boss went into raptures when he played his longest ever show at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki last year. It was the final show on the European leg of his Wrecking Ball tour, and he went all out in celebration, playing 33 songs over four hours and six minutes. You’d certainly feel you got your money’s worth if you were there, but even though it’s an epic performance, it pales in comparison to the rest of the stuff on this list. Read on…

Manowar

World records held by Manowar include: a) loudest heavy metal show ever; b) longest heavy metal show ever; and c) most homoerotic band ever. Thankfully, for the sake of their fans’ long-term health, they didn’t set the first two simultaneously; Manowar clinched the former record by being measured at 129.5 dB in Hannover in 1994 (the equivalent to standing 30 meters from a four-engine jet, apparently), while the latter was the result of playing for five hours and one minute in Bulgaria in 2008. The final record, obviously, is theirs to keep.

Can

Can habitually played epic shows — their longest documented performance lasted over six hours, and rumors abound that they once played for 15 hours straight. The drugs were better in the 1970s, mind.

Phish

Frankly, the thought of seeing Phish for seven-and-a-half minutes is terrifying enough, let alone SEVEN-AND-A-HALF HOURS. (Fun fact: for the show in question, the band had portable restrooms on stage.)

Gonzales

In any case, even that epic performance doesn’t come anywhere near Gonzales’ world record for Longest Solo Artist Performance — he played for 27 hours, three minutes, and 40 seconds. The answer to the question of how a solo performer handles bathroom breaks, sadly, has not been documented for posterity.

The Flaming Lips

Have the Flaming Lips tried to set a world record for the silliest number of shows in a single day? Why, of course they have! To be precise, Wayne Coyne and his merry men played eight cities in 24 hours last June. Quoth Coyne: “To be published alongside the man who ate 22 pounds of his own boogers, beside the woman with the longest toenails or perhaps even to be published beside an individual who has had maybe 1000 cockroaches stuffed into their ears… that, to me, would be one of life’s absurd joys.”

Smokin’ Joe Mekhael

Your correspondent is from Australia and had never heard of previously unheralded Sydney DJ Smokin’ Joe Mekhael, so it’s safe to say the rest of the world was probably also unfamiliar with his charms before he claimed the title of the world’s longest DJ set in late 2011. Mekhael DJed for a brain-bending 132 hours, although the worst of it is that he found out once he got off the decks that a certain Rene Brunner had apparently already surpassed that mark in an unverified world record attempt several months earlier. Life’s a bitch.

John Cage

Anyway, now the serious stuff. No one is ever going to hear John Cage’s As Slow As Possible in full, mainly because the damn thing lasts for 639 years. It’s based on a score for organ called ASLSP 1985, and the performance at St. Buchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany, involves the piece being played, yes, as slowly as possible — it started with 17 months of silence and is currently up to its 12th chord change, 12 years in.

Longplayer

Even As Slow As Possible pales in comparison to Jem Finer’s composition Longplayer, though — it started on January 1, 2000 and is due to play until the end of 2999, when it will restart from the beginning (assuming that humanity doesn’t wipe itself out at some point in the interim). The piece is based on a sample of Tibetan gongs, which are fed through an algorithm that provides sufficient variation for the thing to last a millennium without ever repeating itself. If you want to hear the result, Longplayer is livestreaming here. FOREVER.