Live music is a fickle beast. Any number of things can go wrong at any given moment, particularly for bands that tour the country (or the world) with dozens of elaborate set pieces, choreographed routines, live animals or a lunatic drummer. For every Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, there is at least one Milli Vanilli at Lake Compounce, Ashlee Simpson on Saturday Night Live or Britney Spears doing a catatonic shamble-dance at the MTV Video Music Awards. And sometimes, these disasters are far more entertaining ...
#6. U2 Gets Trapped Inside a Giant Lemon
This event went down in history as one of the most beautiful real-world re-creations of This Is Spinal Tap mankind has ever seen: the time U2 got trapped inside a giant prop lemon.
In order to promote the release of their 1997 album, Pop, U2 embarked on their PopMart tour, mistakenly believing that the two things people simply couldn't get enough of were U2 and Kmart. The band wanted to find a marketable conceptual hook for the tour, and the logical solution was to make use of wacky props, videos and costumes, making some kind of statement about commercialism in music or something.
"Commercialism is wrong!" -Pepsi
Anyway, one of these props was a giant hollow lemon meant to contain the band members as they rolled out onstage for their first encore. The lemon was chosen for two reasons: the first being a reference to the U2 song "Lemon," and the second being fuck you, thanks for all the money.
But you can't fault the unintentional result, which was magical: On more than one occasion, the lemon malfunctioned, leaving U2 helplessly trapped inside.
Thousands of people then just watched in stunned, awkward silence, because after two hours of cowboy suits and an inexplicable karaoke sing-along with the Edge, it was unclear whether clawing frantically at the walls of a giant piece of fruit was part of the show. In Norway, the band was able to climb out of the back of the lemon, but in Japan, they were sealed inside, presumably stuck listening to Bono's prerecorded voice reading passages from his own autobiography, as is customary in every vehicle he occupies.
When asked about it later in an interview, Bono said, "It was a beautiful thing, traveling in that lemon." This is perhaps less indicative of the crowd's response to the lemon and more related to the fact that the lemon was covered in mirrors.
"Shit, kill the spotlights -- the first two rows just caught on fire!"
#5. ZZ Top Unleashes a Plague of Rattlesnakes
For the tour accompanying the release of their fifth album, Tejas, ZZ Top decided to decorate the stage with an onslaught of Texas-related paraphernalia, evidently concerned that people wouldn't pick up on the subtly nuanced symbolism of the album's name, or the fact that the stage itself was built in the shape of Texas. But instead of maybe hanging some flags or banners like rational troll-bearded adults, they opted instead to fill each performance with live animals, including vultures, buffaloes and a bunch of rattlesnakes, a list of set decorations they presumably found in the encyclopedia under "best possible things to keep near drunken truck drivers and pyrotechnics."
Amazingly, the stage didn't immediately explode, and the band was able to play for several nights without incident while the animals just sort of stood around, struggling to understand what foul circumstance had befallen them.
Look at 'em, just grazing all over the stage.
Finally, one of the buffaloes decided that if he had to listen to "Sharp Dressed Man" one more goddamned time, he was going to kill everything that ever lived, and ZZ Top, too preoccupied with scanning the arena for the least fat denim-vested woman to impregnate, ignorantly played "Sharp Dressed Man." The buffalo lost his mind and started thrashing all over the stage like an anaphylactic Meat Loaf getting stabbed with an EpiPen in the middle of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Forgoing the small disaster that would have resulted from crushing the band's amplifiers, the buffalo decided to elevate the threat level to "fucked beyond all hope" and smashed open the rattlesnake tanks.
Being born and raised in Texas (as they had taken several delightfully irresponsible steps to remind everyone), one might assume that ZZ Top had some idea of how to get a bunch of pissed-off rattlesnakes under control, presumably involving either a shotgun or flaming whiskey bottles, both of which were likely in ready supply. This was not the case.
Drummer Frank Beard (ironically, the only band member without the billowing facial hair of a roadhouse Gandalf) sagely suggested playing something soothing to try to calm the snakes, until, in a long overdue moment of clarity, they realized that this was a terrible idea that could never possibly work. So, the band heroically ran offstage, leaving the roadies to figure out how to corral a rampaging buffalo and a torrent of furious rattlesnakes without getting superkilled so completely that they turned to dust and disappeared from photographs.
#4. The Who Blows Up a Television Show
We've previously discussed the Who drummer Keith Moon's propensity for not giving one fantastic fuck about anything, ever. Related to that roguish charm, he had a habit of loading his drum set with explosives and detonating them at the end of each show to coincide with Pete Townshend smashing his guitars, provided Moon was still conscious and hadn't slumped over his snare drum into a narcotic dreamscape (the odds were variable).
Meanwhile, John Entwistle barely even knew he was there.
So, when The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour invited the Who to perform live on national television, Moon figured he'd stuff his bass drums twice as full as he normally did, because there was no greater exposure for a band back in 1967 than being on live TV, and explosions are awesome.
After a more or less typical rendition of "My Generation" in which Moon and Townshend were the only ones remotely interesting to watch, while Roger Daltrey twirled around like a gypsy and Entwistle vacantly plucked his bass while staring eerily into the middle distance, Townshend began smashing all his equipment. Moon, taking his cue, pressed the switch to set off the explosives. You can probably guess what happened next, but it's way more fun to watch it:
Moon's bass drum detonates like Tommy Lee Jones at the end of Blown Away. Townshend instantly disappears in a cloud of smoke, Daltrey gets flung into the camera, Moon dives off the stage like he's escaping a mine cart explosion and Entwistle barely reacts. After the smoke clears, they all wander back together to assess the damage like neighbors gathering in the front yard to watch a DUI stop. The drum kit looked like a plane crash, Townshend's hair was singed, Moon had a piece of shrapnel embedded in his arm and the Who was never invited onto a variety show ever again.
Otherwise it went pretty well, though.