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The 25 Best Rock Posters of All Time

Like vinyl records, hair metal and Ricky Martin, the world of rock art - album covers, posters and the like -- just doesn't score as much attention as it once did. These days, the few non-video visuals that remain part of the music experience usually get shrunk down to fit on an iPod screen, if they show up at all. One holdout that's not only still alive, but thriving, however, is the custom designed concert poster. So many shows, so little time? Here's a look at the 25 coolest posters in rock history. And yes, it's undeniable: San Francisco figures prominently.


May 3, 2006

The Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, MO
Artist: Hammerpress

This Kansas City-based outfit's tricky typography and innovative-yet-reverent designs - a little Hatch Show Print, a little rum-fueled nuttiness - have graced posters for everyone from David Sedaris to Gillian Welch to Yo La Tengo to the New Pornographers.


June 6, 1972,

Winterland, San Francisco
Artist: David Singer

One big image, right up front, celebrating the Stones' big single at the time, "Tumbling Dice." These days, Stones merchandise without the tongue logo on it is rare indeed.


May 26-28, 2006

Sasquatch Music Festival, The Gorge
George, Washington
Artist: Emek

Harper's natural earth tones get washed out in an image that plays up the loud, agitated side of his music much more than the cool, chill one.


Oct. 15, 2003, Snowdome, Toronto
Artist: Joe Whyte

There's no shortage of Radiohead-related art out there on the Web (some of it is much funnier than you might expect), but for clean class it's hard to top this simple, impossible to ignore image from 2003.


Summer 1998
Artist: Ward Sutton

Like something straight out of Mad magazine, Ward Sutton's poster for the 1998 Family Values Tour, which featured bands like Limp Bizkit and Incubus, is filled with elaborate sight gags. Tapping into the intentional irony of the tour's name, this poster family's values include a kid sniffing glue and a mom in a "Kiss the Cook" bustier serving up creepy crawlies. Look closer and you see that the baby is drinking a 40 and tattooed little sis has both a joint and a gun. Sutton has been creating cool, visually dense comics-inspired posters for the likes of Pearl Jam, Phish, Radiohead, and Beck since his early 90s days in Seattle.


April 24, 1969
Fillmore West, San Francisco
Artists: Randy Tuten, Peter Pynchon

By the time Led Zeppelin got around to headlining four nights at the Fillmore and Winterland, artist Tuten had grown weary of seeing, well, zeppelins used in the service of representing the band. So he did the only thing that seemed logical: he took an avocado and put eyes on it. The
now-familiar image has made its way onto everything from
T-shirts to magnets to onesies for babies.


Oct. 7, 2006

Santa Barbara Bowl, Santa Barbara, California
Artist: Emek

Designing posters since the early 90s, Emek's become a modern poster standard-bearer. For this 2006 Paul Simon piece, Emek's earthy, deceptively simple image matches Simon's sensibilities well. If anyone has a voice that sounds as though it's gliding down from the trees, it's Simon


August 29, 2004

Snow King Amphitheater
Jackson Hole, WY
Artist: Jefferson Wood

A "Wanted" poster isn't the most innovative idea in the world, but there's something about Petty's detached, slightly evil expression that makes it impossible to turn away from. Also, there are the guns. All told, it's an apt image for a gig in the old west territory of wide-open Wyoming.

It also doesn't hurt that that one of the most popular poster artists of this century executed it. Combined with it's rarity, it is one of the most sought after posters of the modern era. One fetching $1,740 at a recent online auction.


July 28, 1962

The Apollo, New York
Artist: Globe Posters

It's James Brown in visual form. The dramatic crop on the Godfather's looming mug, the hyperspace effect behind him, the "Guaranteed Sell Out" warning on the bottom and the awesome announcement that it's a "Show For The Entire Family" make it so. All aboard the night train.


June 17, 1969

Fillmore West, San Francisco
Artist: David Singer

The art deco lettering here was a big deal; it marked Singer's shift from free-form, highly illegible typography to something more readable by humans, though, of course, not any less psychedelic. Extra points for the classical sculpture motif.


April 21, 1967

Waterloo, Iowa
Artist: Dennis Loren

This Cash poster follows the Hatch Show Print form, but there aren't many places you can see Johnny Cash described as "fabulous," and the young Man in Black's expression here strikes a nice balance between disinterested and pissed.


Sept. 13-14, 2005

Henry Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles
Artist: B&F (Italy)

The Decemberists are known for their erudite, English-major-pleasing wordplay, so the lonely big-top kid idea, rendered in muted colors, is a satisfying fit.


February 28, 1959

Town Hall, New York City
Artist: Dennis Loren

A vaguely upright-ish black shape is all that actually signifies the piano here, but it doesn't matter; you can see the effortless cool behind Monk's eyes without actually seeing his eyes. Besides, with a name like Thelonious Monk, the letters do all the talking.


September 15, 2005

Bell Center, Montreal, Quebec
Artist: Ames Bros

Pearl Jam just released a book collection of posters, "Pearl Jam vs. Ames Bros: Thirteen Years of Tour Posters," which commemorates the band's long affiliation with Ames and
artist Brad Klausen. All are rewarding, and each has a gift of walking the line between dark and tragic and oddly comic, in a slightly sinister sort of way, such as this example. Note the machine gun on the little boy's t-shirt. Ames Bros Pearl Jam posters, which are all limited editions, regularly fetch upwards of 10-20 times their original $5-20 purchase price.


May 13-14, 1966

Fillmore, San Francisco
Artist: Wes Wilson

This is likely the first music poster where the artist made use of vibrating colors (the ones that are hard to read). For this reason, this may be the first psychedelic poster of the lot.


May 9-10, 1977

Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA
Artist: Randy Tuten If there is any context in which you can go wrong with a flying inflatable pig, let us know. Stark and striking, this poster is like a bizarro-world version of a 1970s airline poster. Fly Floyd.


Dec. 31, 1991

Cow Palace, San Francisco
Artist: Harry Rossit

Not a bad way to spend a New Year's Eve and a grunge snapshot if there ever was one, this gig took place before John Frusciante left the Peppers and Kurt Cobain left the building, and back when Pearl Jam could still reasonably be scheduled as a third-on-the-bill act.


May 10, 1968

Fillmore East, New York
Artist: Fantasy Unlimited

Oranges and purples and a crazy Magic Eye-type effect on Jimi's hair, this is the psychedelic rock poster art at its most disorienting.


Aug. 23, 1966

Shea Stadium, New York

Some posters have it all: historic band, historic show, rarity. This jumble-lettered gem, with its prominent love for Sid Bernstein, is only one of six known to have survived. It sold recently for $132, 737 at an online auction.

6: U2

April 3, 2001

Reunion Arena, Dalllas, TX
Artist: Bob Masse

1960s poster boy Masse spent many a year on such elongated, floral and highly colorful works, but this U2 poster stands out for the relative clarity of the subject material - the girl in the green really pops. From the man who made many ornate, quasi 19th century psychedelic posters, his design for this poster contrasts well with the very modern rock of U2.


Aug. 10-11, 1956

Jacksonville, Fla.
Artist: Hatch Show Print

The Hatch Show Print Shop, founded in the 1870s by a pair of brothers in Nashville, literally invented the letterpressed, block capital poster form you think of when you think of old event signage. Many examples appear in the 2001 book, "Hatch Show Print: The History of a Great American Poster Shop." In addition to being a Hatch classic, this poster commemorates a mid-50s show that a Florida judge warned would get Presley arrested if he didn't tone it down. In response, Elvis's soft protest was that he only wiggled his little finger. The poster remains pretty safe for all ages.


April 27-29, 2007

Empire Polo Field, Indio, CA
Artist: Emek

Emek bills himself as the "Thinking Man's Poster Artist," a title that's certainly not lacking in confidence. The fact that he's proudly influenced, as he writes in his bio, "by 60s culture and counterculture" is clear in the crash of psychedelic / industrial visuals in this ambitious, vivid undertaking for the Coachella festival.


January 24-26, 1969

Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco
Artist: Rick Griffin

The Dead tendencies of Griffin, who also designed the 1969 Led Zep poster that made this list, got a full workout in this piece. It's got all the Dead mainstays: the skull, the lettering and the strange root structure on the plants. Vintage Dead.


July 22, 1995

Metro, Chicago
Artist: Frank Kozik

Austin, Texas native Frank Kozik started out in the early 80s creating fliers for local bands. Since then, he has developed an eye-grabbing, vibrant comics and pop art influenced illustration style - equal parts Frank Miller (cf. Sin City) and Roy Lichtenstein. This 1995 poster for a Chicago club punk bill headlined Pennywise re-imagines the "Nancy" comic strip character Sluggo as a flared-nostriled, anarchy-tattooed, Black Flag-logo-wearing mosher. By the time he created this piece, Kozik had become probably the most sought after modern music poster artist.


February 1-4, 1968

Fillmore/Winterland, San Francisco
Artist: Rick Griffin

This piece, created by master-of-the-form Rick Griffin, is considered to be the pinnacle of the psychedelic-era rock poster. Iconic in all senses of the word, the flat - which commemorated the Experience's debut at the pair of classic San Francisco venues -- invokes the Fillmore image and has rightly become a highly coveted collectible.

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