4 Famous Musicians That Specialize in Onstage Meltdowns

#2. Ryan Adams


Ryan Adams, alt-country songwriting machine and reigning Mr. Mandy Moore, was a huge fan of the legendary Minneapolis band the Replacements. He probably calls them "The Mats" and everything. Real high level stuff. So he must have been mighty bummed when, a few days before playing a gig at the place where Purple Rain was filmed (locals call it First Avenue), an interview made the rounds in which Replacements lead singer Paul Westerberg said Ryan Adams "needs to have his teeth kicked in."

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
It's an inherent risk of wearing shit like this.

That might seem funny, but imagine dreaming little baby rock dreams your entire life only to grow up and read that your music hero wants you gummed. That's apt to put anyone in a cranky mood, and sure enough, when Ryan Adams took the stage that night, things almost immediately seemed ... off. The normally chuckle-worthy singer barely spoke for the first hour of the set. When he finally did, it was only to do one of three things: complain about Paul Westerberg wanting to kick his teeth in, complain about the shitty reviews his opening act received in the local press, or complain about the sound of the guitar amps. It was the latter of those three issues that finally made the fussy troubadour flee the stage. This was not your average onstage meltdown, though.

See, instead of calling it a night at that obvious stopping point, Ryan Adams returned to the stage with an acoustic guitar in tow, and he stayed there a long fucking time. The final song count was a whopping 28, which makes for a long night even under normal circumstances.

Make your "Summer of '69" jokes here, hacks.

When you add in even more chatter about Paul Westerberg and a really sad monologue about wanting to go home for Christmas, everyone but the most die-hard fans of Ryan Adams or train wrecks stayed for it all. I left almost as soon as the acoustic guitars came out.

Hey! I didn't mention that part! I was actually in the audience for Ryan Adams' first Prince City meltdown. It was the first time I'd seen him play with a live band, so I was understandably disappointed when he cut that part of the show short. Luckily, I'd have another chance to catch him in full band mode when he played the State Theater in Minneapolis a few years later in 2007.

Something about Ryan Adams and soul-crushing boredom must not mix, because his return trip to Minnesota didn't go a whole lot better. Once again, the show was plagued with sound problems. After just 70 minutes, the cranky songbird announced he was playing one final song and then bolted. His exit was so swift that many in attendance refused to believe the show was over until the house lights came up and everyone started booing. It wasn't as "eventful" as his previous Minnesota meltdown, but it made headlines anyway.


Because I love Ryan Adams like a play cousin, I never gave up on the dream of seeing him survive an entire show with a live band. I did, finally, in 2008. And I only had to drive to Canada to see it happen!

#1. Kurt Cobain

Frank Micelotta/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kurt Cobain was basically the Robin Hood of bad concert behavior. Don't get me wrong -- he was no slouch in the canceled shows department. It's just that he always did his best live-show-destroying work on television. Take the band's first performance on the British music show Top of the Pops, for example. There's been a longstanding tradition on that show of asking bands to perform over a prerecorded track. Kurt Cobain was less than thrilled with the idea. Here's what happened.

If you're unable to watch the video, Cobain sings the lyrics to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in a ridiculously deep goth voice while he and the rest of the band don't even pretend to be playing their instruments.

Shouldn't someone be driving that thing?

Apparently British television shows were Kurt Cobain's Minneapolis, as evidenced by another notorious performance, this time on The Jonathan Ross Show, whatever the hell that is, amiright America?!?!?!

I'm right. Anyway, the plan was for Kurt and company to show up and play the just sort of rocking single "Lithium." You hear Ross say as much when he introduces the band. For whatever reason, the band had other ideas. Instead of the relative quiet of "Lithium," viewers were treated to a crazed rendition of the obscure Nevermind album track "Territorial Pissings" ...

... followed by some of that good old-fashioned set destroying we all eventually came to expect and love from the Who.

So no encore then?

Even when he was being relatively well behaved, Kurt Cobain could still be a television producer's worst nightmare. Case in point, the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. The band was once again expected to play "Lithium," but at the last minute asked if they could play "Rape Me" instead. This presented a couple of problems for MTV. For one thing, that song hadn't even been released yet, which isn't the kind of surprise an MTV audience usually goes for. Also, it's a song called "Rape Me." Always a touchy subject during prime time viewing hours.

The band eventually acquiesced, playing "Lithium" as requested, but not before scaring the bejeezus out of every censor in the house by playing the first few bars of "Rape Me" to start the performance:

Things were relatively by the book from there on, save for a few instances of replacing lyrics with unsavory words like "turd" and "retarded." Of course, the obligatory stage destruction followed, but in a refreshing twist, most of the damage was to bass player Krist Novoselic's face, the result of an ill-fated attempt to throw his bass in the air and catch it.

One out of two ain't bad!

Of course, Kurt Cobain's most memorable and beloved live show chicanery didn't happen during a performance. That honor goes to his 1991 interview on MTV's Headbangers Ball, where he made host Riki Rachtman adorably uncomfortable, simply by wearing a dress.

When asked about his choice of attire, Cobain, surprisingly, gave a completely reasonable response.

"Well, it's a ball, so I thought I'd wear a gown."

It was the first and only time Kurt Cobain would ever appear on the show. Go figure.

Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

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