4 Famous Musicians That Specialize in Onstage Meltdowns
Music history is teeming with live performers who put everything they have into each and every show. Time and again, if you put them in front of a microphone and a crowd of people, you could count on them to deliver something entertaining.
And then there are these people. The four singers on this list, as unspeakably talented as they all may be, have long rap sheets for offenses related to the crime of storming off in a huff when things onstage start going awry. Here are the four least trustworthy live performers in music history.
For years now, Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose has set the standard for live show shenanigans. He doesn't just cancel concerts, he starts riots. I mean that literally. From the moment the band's breakthrough album, Appetite for Destruction, made them famous, when GnR hit the road, literal riots always followed.
As far back as 1988, reports were trickling in of riot-like conditions at two shows in New York. Later that same month, two fans were crushed to death during the band's set at the Monsters of Rock festival in England. I acknowledge that neither of those things are full-on riots, but Axl Rose was still young and just finding his way. By the time the band hit the road again in support of the two-album followup to Appetite for Destruction, 1991's Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, riots became as regular a part of the Guns N' Roses touring repertoire as obnoxiously long ballads.
The first happened at a show in St. Louis. After a man in the audience was spotted taking pictures, Axl Rose angrily demanded from the stage that security confiscate the camera. When they didn't respond as fast as the singer was hoping, he decided to jump into the crowd and handle things his own way, which included tackling the man, taking his camera, and punching several audience and security members before getting pulled back onstage by members of the band's own road crew.
That part didn't last much longer, though. Rose simply picked up his Mr. Microphone and bailed. The Wikipedia page claims it happened at the 15-song point in the set, but it also says that includes guitar and drum solos, which is like saying bathroom breaks count as songs, too.
Anyway, fans apparently felt that they had not received a sufficient amount of rock for their money and promptly started tearing shit up. The incident came to be known as the "Riverport Riot," taking its name from the amphitheater where the chaos broke out.
The name was changed to the "UMB Bank Riot" in 2002 before taking its current name, the "Verizon Wireless Riot," in 2006.
That wouldn't be the end of the band's property-destroying ways. During a stop in Montreal on their co-headlining tour with Guns N' Roses, Metallica frontman James Hetfield nearly set himself on fire by absent-mindedly standing on top of a pyrotechnics display just as it was beginning to shoot heavy metal flames toward the sky.
It's an easy thing to miss if you're not looking for it.
He suffered second- and third-degree burns to his arm, forcing the band to abandon their set early. Good thing GnR was playing last! Right?
Of course not! After a delay that already had the crowd on the verge of explosion, a frustrated Axl Rose left the stage early, blaming the departure on a sore throat. As has become the standard response in this situation, Guns N' Roses fans took to the streets, overturning cars, setting fires, and committing all those other acts of vandalism that we normally only see in Canada after a Stanley Cup win.
As we all know now, the rest of the story goes that Guns N' Roses, at least in their classic incarnation, didn't make it as a band for more than a few years after that, so it stands to reason that this would also mark the end of the "GnRiot" era. Of course, there's nothing reasonable about Axl Rose.
Except those braids!
After a nine-year absence from the road, the screechy singer put together a revamped version of Guns N' Roses and embarked upon a tour in 2002. Showing that they hadn't lost a step as a live act despite replacing several key members, the very first show in Vancouver was canceled before it even started, but not before thousands of fans had lined up at the arena, ready to rock. When they found out Axl was a no-show, they decided to throw rocks instead. And bottles. They also smashed the glass doors of the arena before police moved in to shut down the rebellion.
In recent years, Axl Rose has been more often found in the company of A-listers and billionaires than rowdy rock fans, but that's done nothing to end his band's string of causing riots wherever they go. At a private concert organized by supermodel Ana Beatriz Barros in Sao Paulo, hundreds of lingerie models and wealthy Brazilians decided to give "that whole rioting thing" a try after being informed that a planned GnR show had been canceled, but only after they'd waited around until 3 o'clock in the goddamn morning pounding free drinks.
A lot of things may have changed about Axl Rose and his band over the years, but one thing has always remained the same: Inviting them to your town is a great way to get it burned to the ground.
Fiona Apple is a temperamental lady. It didn't take long for the world to learn that when MTV made the grave mistake of handing her a Video Music Award for Best New Artist at the 1997 VMAs. Instead of just accepting her award with a few thanks and acknowledgments like a normal person might, she instead reminded us that Maya Angelou said something about opportunities once and then launched into one of the most awkward and painful televised rants of all time.
There's really no telling what got Fiona in such a surly mood on a night when her peers were lavishing her with worthless awards, but her career as a breakdown-prone live performer was just getting started. The slinky singer has a habit of taking years to release new material, another tendency she displayed right out of the gate by taking three years to release a follow-up to her wildly successful debut album, Tidal. When she finally came back, she brought the crazy with her.
For starters, the title of her sophomore album, mercifully referred to only as When the Pawn ... by most media outlets, was actually a paragraph that reads as follows:
Remember the title using this handy acronym: WtPHtCHTLaKWHKTtBWHGttFaHWtWTfHEtRTNBtBWYMIYMSWYGSYHYOHaRTDItGoHaIYKWYSTYKWtLaIYFIWMCYKTYR
My favorite part of that title is that, even though it's 90 words long, she still throws a "cuz" in there to save on space. Anything helps, I suppose. At any rate, with a new album came a new opportunity to show the world her chops as a live show flight risk. It happened during a 2000 show at Roseland Ballroom in NYC. Just a few songs into one of the very first shows to promote her new album, Fiona blurted out something about wanting to do well in New York before yelling, "But I can't fucking hear myself!" Things only got worse from there, culminating in Fiona Apple crying and storming off after just 40 minutes onstage.
"Maybe I should just work every 10 years instead."
As stated previously, Fiona isn't the most prolific of artists, so it makes sense that her tour history is also kind of light. She remained relatively quiet for most of the decade following the 2000 Roseland Ballroom meltdown, but she's come screaming back into the spotlight with freakouts at two recent shows. The first incident happened at a fashion event held by Louis Vuitton. When the loosely situated crowd of models and industry professionals shockingly failed to pay adequate attention to Fiona's delicate crooning, she lost her shit. Standing on her piano, the frustrated singer admonished the audience to "Shut the fuck up!" before adding, "Predictable! Predictable fucking fashion!" and stomping off.
"Oh! Look! That one's wearing a swan! Never seen that before!"
It would hardly be fair if Japan got to bask in a little "Loose Cannon Fiona" while the core fans here in the States just have to sit through normal, entertaining concerts. Likely recognizing this, Fiona gave fans at her October 3 show in Portland a special treat. When a meddling do-gooder in the balcony shouted something about wanting Fiona to be healthy again, the singer snapped. She had the heckler escorted from the building, managed to fight her way through one more song, and then promptly fled the stage for good. When I say "for good," I'm referring to just that night, but given Fiona Apple's history of disappearing in the past, don't be surprised if it lasts a bit longer.
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."
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!
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.
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