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 ...
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!"
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.
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.
Kings of Leon was having a concert in St. Louis, Missouri, when, during the third song (a phrase which here means "the third time they played 'Use Somebody' that night"), a flock of pigeons swooped in and shit all over them, because apparently God only answers the most hilarious of prayers.
The birds had been steadily crapping on the show all evening, having previously rained deuces on the two opening acts before assaulting the Kings of Leon themselves, and yet everyone involved chose to ignore what the universe was clearly trying to tell them. The band soldiered through the first two songs, apparently accustomed to singing "Sex on Fire" with runny dumps streaking down their cheeks, but by the time they'd reached the third number on their set list, one of the free-falling sky dooks had landed directly in bassist Jared Followill's mouth.
In most shows, shit just pours out of his mouth, so this was kind of an improvement.
This was somehow the last straw, and the band stormed off the stage in disgust and refused to continue.
As a footnote, we should point out that Alice Cooper had an even stranger story during one of his shows. His trademark boa constrictor (a phrase typically reserved for professional wrestlers and G.I. Joe villains), evidently concerned with leaving a lasting impression on any Rolling Stone reviewers in attendance, squeezed out several huge mounds of snake boom on the stage to ensure that the evening was an affair to remember.
Luckily, several clowns were on hand to rush onstage and clean up the poop (and we mean literal face-painted circus clowns, because Alice Cooper is a maniac). However, the stench was so overwhelming that the clowns started to throw up all over the place, turning their cleaning efforts into one of the labors of Hercules and effectively distracting everyone from the music, which admittedly is the entire purpose of an Alice Cooper concert.
The difference between this and the Kings of Leon incident is that no one felt the need to stop the show, and in fact if Cooper could have trained the snake to do that every time, he almost certainly would have.
"Yeah, I know he just ate. Feed him again. Something from McDonald's, preferably."
In 1992, the recently reunited ska band Madness held a concert during the Madstock festival in Finsbury Park, London, presumably on a bet with event planners to see if anyone would show up. Around 45,000 people were in attendance, which is a stunning figure for a band that no one under 30 has ever heard of, and the crowd got good and crazy jumping up and down to the frenetic sounds of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' old British uncles. Because truly, there is nothing more exciting than watching a man in a purple suit and a Panama hat jog in place.
After the performance, reports began to come in of tower blocks across Finsbury Park swaying back and forth as the ground beneath them shook, apparently with the force of nearly 50,000 ska fans jumping in unison. This is sort of like standing Jenga on a waterbed while a remedial reading class hops across it, braying incoherently at a DVD sing-along. The force was enough to move peoples' furniture, as well as make them seriously re-evaluate the advantages of living in tall buildings.
Or living close enough to be physically affected by a Madness concert.
As it turns out, the earthquake (which registered an astonishing 4.5 on the Richter scale) was only sort of caused by Madness.
You see, while the crowd's unified jumping certainly had an effect (there are only two ways to dance to ska music, and there simply wasn't enough room for anyone to skank), it was amplified by an underground lake located directly beneath Finsbury Park. The churning boogie fever of 45,000 people created huge waves in the subterranean lake, sort of like those tide pools (here meaning "Band-Aid repositories") that you see in water parks.
"Christ, it smells like horn music and feet."
The rocking of the waves caused the ground above to move as well, scaring the hell out of everyone in Finsbury Park not currently distracted by a band of middle-aged men wearing sunglasses on a cloudy afternoon. So, technically, Madness caused a mini-tsunami that led to a mini-earthquake, which is still an achievement, considering that those things typically occur in the opposite order.
It may be hard to believe, but at one point in their career, Green Day didn't get drunk and cry during Top 40 pop concerts.
Case in point: When Green Day played the Woodstock '94 festival, part of a misguided attempt in the 1990s to recapture 1960s youth culture (which continued on through a relaunch of the Volkswagen Beetle, Oasis trying like hell to be the Beatles and two Austin Powers movies). This particular Woodstock (yes, the distinction is necessary, because there were two Woodstocks in the '90s) was dubbed "Mudstock" due to the fact that it rained during the entire festival, turning the grounds into one giant mud pit.
You could plant corn on the audience.
By the time Green Day took the stage for their set, the crowd looked like the bizarre community sex scene from The Matrix Reloaded if flying whales had shit all over it. Everyone was cold, wet and disgusting, and in all likelihood were ready to just go home. Deciding that restless, hung-over 20-somethings would appreciate irony above all else, Green Day launched into "Welcome to Paradise," daring the crowd to try and understand what the hell Billie Joe Armstrong was saying.
One audience member, who perhaps wasn't in the mood to be teased by three millionaires who had just been helicoptered in, threw a handful of mud at the stage. Armstrong, displaying the restraint he is now famous for, responded by shouting "Come on, you assholes, throw some more!"
Hurled clumps of mud quickly covered the stage and all the equipment, and the show completely dissolved like a celebrity intervention as the cameras kept rolling. Armstrong began throwing the mud back into the crowd, posturing and saying random things into the microphone to try and keep them riled up. Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool just continued dutifully playing their instruments, having doubtless grown accustomed to Armstrong eschewing his guitar and trademark congested vocals to do whatever ridiculous bullshit crept up into his mind.
Threatening to stop didn't help. Draw your own conclusions.
Eventually, people began to break through security and climb up on stage, which the band welcomed at first, before ultimately deciding to walk out. For some reason, this only made people more determined to meet Green Day, and they rushed the stage en masse. In the ensuing melee, Dirnt was mistakenly tackled into a bank of monitors by security and had several of his teeth knocked out of his skull (Armstrong presumably ran back on stage to throw them into the crowd). In need of emergency dental surgery for their bass player, the band was airlifted out of Woodstock, which to be fair was probably how they were going to leave anyway.
For more things that didn't go quite according to plan, check out The 5 Biggest Disasters in the History of Marketing Ideas and 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 5 Greatest Accomplishments by Men With Stupid Names.
Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.