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8 Memorable Performances at Record Stores 

If this list doesn't inspire you to keep tabs on your local events calendar, we don't know what will
The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2022. (Credit: SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2022. (Credit: SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)

For some, the ultimate concert experience happens in a record store. 

I still remember the time I skipped school 24 years ago to see the Smashing Pumpkins at the now-defunct Spec’s Music in South Beach. Being just a few feet away from Billy and the band as they played everything from “Today” and “Disarm” to tracks off the then-new Machina/The Machines of God meant everything to me.

“The fans that attend these events truly will never forget them,” says Lolo Reskin, owner of Sweat Records in Miami. Reskin has hosted a number of big-name acts at her shop over the years and knows what an impact these shows have on fans.

“We still have people coming up to us, saying, ‘Hey, I was at the event with Ian MacKaye here 19 years ago!’” she says. “It makes a mark that to us feels a bit deeper than being in a much larger crowd at a show.”

And it’s not just the fans who love them.

“For artists, they often comment that it’s cool that they can look out and really see their fans. [It] feels intimate,” says Kara Lane, Amoeba Music Marketing & Events Director in Hollywood.

If you’ve never caught a show at a record store, read these stories and see if you’re not inspired to keep tabs on the events calendar at your local shop. You never know who will be there.

Red Hot Chili Peppers at Amoeba Hollywood – April 2022

When the pandemic hit, Amoeba was in the midst of switching their Hollywood location to a storefront just a few blocks down. Instead, the shop closed for a year, and it would be another year before they’d get to host an in-store performance.

“This was our first live show in the new store,” shares Lane. “Having this iconic Los Angeles band christen the new stage here was extra special, and we had over 500 fans out for their noon performance.” 

With John Frusciante on acoustic guitar and the rest of the band in perfect form, they went on to perform a short set including “Black Summer,” “By the Way,” “These Are the Ways,” and an excellent cover of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown.”

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang at Sweat Records in Miami – May 2011 

Reskin recalls the day Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s label, Drag City, called her record store out of the blue regarding his FREE FLORIDA tour.

“[They said], ‘Hey, would you wanna host a free show with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy?’ We nearly fainted,” she says. “It was so welcome as [Florida is] frequently passed over, even though we have several cities with huge music audiences.”

The in-store at Sweat Records was their encore stop after performances across the state. 

“One of the best parts was that a then barely-known Angel Olsen was in his band, and she truly stood out. Their harmonies were incredible,” says Reskin. “I just remember everyone being dead silent so they could hear every syllable. 

They Might Be Giants at Electric Fetus in Minneapolis – April 2015

When Dawn Novak, marketing manager at Electric Fetus, reached out to They Might Be Giants for an in-store performance for Record Store Day 2015, she had no idea how big the show would become. 

“[They] drew the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” says Novak, estimating that the shop had anywhere from 800 to 1,000 fans packed in.

“It was unexpected and unsafe and totally caught us off guard,” she says. “We did our best to get the band from the stage to the area where they were signing, but it wasn’t easy.”

That said, it became one of the more memorable shows for Minneapolis’ TMBG fans. The band played an eight-song set, starting with “Doctor Worm” and ending with the crowd-pleasing “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).”

Pearl Jam at Easy Street in West Seattle – April 2005

Owner Matt Vaughan shares that this legendary surprise show all started when he bumped into old friend and Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready shopping at Easy Street’s old Queen Anne location. After telling him about a music convention he was planning to host for the Coalition of Independent Music Sellers, McCready showed interest in stopping by.

“[Mike] goes on to say that he would’ve never become the music fan that he became and that Pearl Jam may not have gotten off the ground had it not been for record shops supporting them early on,” says Vaughn, who didn’t miss the chance to suggest the band come by and play at the event. After a few conversations with the band and manager Kelly Curtis, everyone was on board. 

“A magical night,” says Vaughn. “The live recording Pearl Jam Live at Easy Street was released exclusively to indie retailers only the following year. It has gone on to become our single best-selling release of all time.”

Billie Eilish at Amoeba Hollywood – July 2022

Lane also recalls the time Billie Eilish surprised her fans with a live acoustic mini-set to celebrate the one year anniversary of the release of her Happier Than Ever album. 

“We announced the day-of-event at 6 a.m. and had over 500 fans (our capacity) by 8 a.m.,” she says. 

Lane says the announcements were all made via social media, with Billie re-posting them to hers. Billie and brother Finneas kicked off the intimate set with “Billie Bossa Nova,” with excited fans all singing right along with her. “TV” (a track not on the album) was next, and while her set was only meant to include three songs, Billie asked the audience which one they might want next. After shooting down requests for “Everybody Dies” and calling it too much of a “downer,” the singer added “Getting Older” to the set before closing out with “Happier Than Ever.” 

Steve Earle at Twist & Shout in Denver – Various

Patrick Brown, owner of Twist & Shout Records, shares that while the shop has hosted dozens if not hundreds of in-store performances, one performer who stands out for him is Steve Earle, whom he says has played at least six or seven times since the early 2000s to a packed house.

Among the notable songs he’s performed at Twist & Shout are “Valentine’s Day,” “Copperhead Road,” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” but Brown says the fans come not just for the tunes, but because they know they’ll get to engage with him and he’ll genuinely listen. He recalls one show when Earle’s tour manager insisted that they keep him on schedule, stressing to Earle that his time on stage was limited.

“When I did so, I was told that Steve got upset because it felt like we were trying to rush people out,” says Brown. “I think he ultimately stayed longer than usual to sign autographs and chat with the line of fans as a consequence. It’s that kind of touch that has won him his huge fan base.”

Travis at Alewife Newbury Comics in Boston – June 2001

Henry Beguiristain, singer of the band Aloud, recalls the time he saw Travis at the now-defunct Alewife location of Newbury Comics. 

“Hearing those songs so bare, seeing them joke around with us and tell stories is as close to magic as anything,” says Beguiristain. “Whenever I listen to them these days, it always brings that afternoon to mind.” He says while he adores “the spectacle and volume of ‘proper’ shows, situations like in-stores cut to the heart of the matter.” 

The band played a short set, including tracks like “Sing” and “Why Does it Always Rain On Me?” for their fans.

“There’s a sense of shared purpose. It’s intimate, it’s communal, low-key—and then afterward there’s a chance to have a conversation. People always make a thing about kicking down the walls between the audience and the artist with live shows, but you really feel it at an in-store,” says Beguiristain. “Plus you get to walk out with records afterward, which is always a bonus.”

Lana del Rey at Easy Street Records in Seattle – March 2012

When Lana del Rey’s 2012 performance on SNL garnered her some less-than-stellar press, a rep reached out to Vaughn asking if he’d be open to having Lana play at his store. A few months later, the singer appeared at Easy Street for a crowd of fans packing the house and lining the block outside. 

She started her set with “Born to Die” then transitioned to “Blue Jeans,” and by the end of the show, had the audience clapping long after she walked off stage. Vaughn says he went backstage, suggesting that level of applause meant the audience was hoping for one more. According to Vaughn, Lana considered performing her cover of “Heart-Shaped Box,” sharing with him that it was her favorite song. 

Ultimately though, he says she instead requested they simply blast Nirvana into the store while she went out to meet the crowd, sign autographs, and take photos—something fans were sure to treasure even more in the long run.