"What is the worst show you've ever played?"
For several years, I've been asking touring musicians that question. Now after dozens -- possibly hundreds -- of interviews with national headliners and local standouts, I've compiled some of their more memorable responses.
So in honor of Friday the 13th, it's only fitting to unleash these stories on a day when bad luck reigns supreme. The following is a collection of tales in which things didn't quite work out for artists -- be it equipment malfunctions, unsuitable bookings, awkward misunderstandings, threats of violence or acts of God.
- "As for the worst show, it's hard to top the day our van broke down, we got caught with illegal plates and no insurance, had to hitch a ride with a meth dealer who was 'making her rounds,' got to the festival and had two knuckleheads throwing our own beer cans at our head and all hell breaking loose in the crowd. Front to back, that day blew." -- Andy Morton, Danger Bob
- "One time in Chicago I was kicking (heroin) really hard. So as opposed to just giving up, I faked a heart attack. I faked a heart attack and then I faked that it was a fake. The truth of the matter is that I couldn't really stand up that well. It might have been dramatic, but it couldn't have sounded very good. Honestly, in the day, you could get away with a lot of the drama thing." -- Perry Farrell, Jane's Addiction
- "That would be the Malaysian show. It started four hours late, so we went on at four in the morning. And it was in this stadium that holds 100,000 people. But it was raining so there were only about 2,000 people there. Before us there was Sugar Ray and Jethro Tull -- just the weirdest group of bands ever. It was a two-day festival. Anyway, someone wakes me up at 3:30 a.m. and says, 'You're going on in a half hour.' So I get down there, I'm in the middle of the second song -- which is 'Satch Boogie' -- and the army comes on stage with machine guns. They threaten to put us in jail unless we stop immediately. So I put down my guitar, picked up my backpack and left the stadium. I have no idea why they needed me to stop, but I didn't argue." -- Joe Satriani
- "We opened for Pearl Jam. We opened for Weezer. We also opened for Tool, which was a huge mistake we made over and over again -- three times. They were too hardcore. The audience was very angry at us for being us ... They didn't want a joke. You don't go to Tool to laugh. You go to be angry and vent ... I can't remember what they were throwing, but we definitely got pelted."
-- Jack Black, Tenacious D
- "One thing that comes to mind is the show The Blake Babies did in Clemson, S.C. We had all cut our hair in a video, then we all shaved our heads just to even it out. We played down in Clemson, and the crowd was giving us so much hell. It was packed with frat guys and drunk people. They were so obnoxious and rude, yelling 'dykes' at us. It was just constant antagonism. But there's something invigorating about fighting against injustice. I think I dumped a beer on some guy's head." -- Juliana Hatfield
- "I played a gig one time in Kansas City where we couldn't get in the doors, and we had to put the gear in through a window, then carry it up three flights of stairs to an attic loft thing and play over the crowd. They kept telling us to turn it up the whole time. I can't remember why they wouldn't let us through the doors, but it was something that just pissed me off. Man, I was fit to be tied. They hadn't finished this place, and it was going to be some artsy-fartsy little theater. We had to move wood off the little platform, and there was all this sawdust up there. It was a nightmare gig." -- Lee McBee
- "One of the most memorable ones we played was up in Wisconsin called Nudestock. It was a nudist colony. Foreigner was on the bill and Alan Parsons. But you expect up in Wisconsin there'd be all these beautiful blond women. But the reality is never what you imagine. You get there and it looks like you walked into a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and suddenly everybody was naked. And you're standing there playing and there's some guy with a baseball hat and tennis shoes standing in front of you, wiggling around and playing air guitar with his pecker. It bothers you." -- Rich Williams, Kansas
- "We did a radio show on the first tour called 'Snoasis,' which was in Upstate New York at a ski lodge in front of 20,000 kids. It was this outdoor festival and all the kids were in parkas ... It was absolutely freezing out. So we went on, and we couldn't keep the guitar strings in tune. I was wearing a parka and gloves -- so you can't really play drums. Shirley (Manson) had a complete face mask. It could have been anybody singing. You wouldn't even know it was her until you heard her voice. It sounded so bad that after two or three songs the kids were getting impatient. Finally, we just played a couple punk covers and bailed. Then the kids started throwing snowballs. It was an absolute disaster."
-- Butch Vig, Garbage
- "It was on a Sunday night in Salt Lake City, Utah. Friday and Saturday nights had been spent playing L.A. and Vegas. Not only did we play those cities, we took full advantage of the excess both cities offered. We pulled into Salt Lake on Sunday, sleep deprived and very hung-over ... Everything came apart during the show. Speakers blew, guitars went out of tune. Our enthusiasm was gone by the end of the third song ... Towards the end of the set, however, most of the crowd had come to life even though we were barely hanging on. Prior to the last song, Dave (Williams) had the audience fired up. "Give it up for heavy metal!" he screamed. The crowd roared back! "Give it up for alcohol!" The crowd roared louder! Dave had them right where he wanted them. With his final anthem, he cried, "Give it up for Satan!" Not a peep from the crowd. It was one of those classic moments when you hear crickets chirp. We played the last song and walked off the stage in silence. -- Stevie Benton, Drowning Pool
- "The Get Up Kids played at Brownie's in New York. It was our very first tour. We roll up and there's like 35 people there. They were all there to see us. But some band from New Zealand was there and they actually closed the show. Nobody stuck around to see them, but they had a guarantee so they got ALL the door money. Brownie's paid us only $20. We're like, 'We came all the way to New York and you're going to pay us $20?' So we went into the basement and found out where all the beer was and we stole a bunch of beer. So we basically got paid in beer for that show." -- Matt Pryor, The Get Up Kids
- "I once was hired to play on a jazz festival in Palermo, Italy. The trio that I had at that time was Charlie Hayden and Billy Higgins. First of all, we got to the gig and they said, 'We'll take you to the venue.' So we started driving through Palermo and I noticed that we were getting closer and closer to what appeared to be the largest soccer stadium on the island of Sicily. I was like, 'No.' Sure enough, that's where we were playing. Then we get there and I notice that the stage is in the direct center of the soccer field. It's 150 yards from the stands. I'm thinking they're going to let people come out on the grass and they'll all be standing around the thing. And we get out there and there were barriers around the stage ... So the nearest person is like half a football field away in this stadium that seated about 70,000 people -- and there were about 20,000 people there. And the PA they had was basically like the kind you'd have at a wedding. So we did our best, but that was a pretty rough night. It was just surreal and wrong." -- Pat Metheny
- "Our last show in New York was sold out for like two weeks, and we were all excited. Then we realized that only 500 tickets went to the public and the other 900 tickets were ticket buys for record labels. So they all stood there like cardboard cutouts. I told them if they didn't start dancing I'd beat them up. They still didn't move." -- Brett Anderson, The Donnas
- "It was a long time ago, the first tour in fact in 1974. We were playing at a university in Baltimore. It was just before the show and we came out to sort of peak around to look at the audience before the doors opened and they came in. And we saw that the girls were dressed in little white socks and long skirts and all the guys had greaser hairdos. It turned out to be one of these '50s sock hop things. We went on and were wearing satin pants and big high boots. And we started with 'Finding My Way' from the first record. They just sort of stood there and stared at us. Then by the second song they started to rumble. By the fourth song it was 'BOOOOO.' Get out of here! Get off!' So of course we turned everything up a little bit and continued to play. Then finally the promoter said, 'Thanks guys. You're done.' But they were nasty. They were really pissed off. I'm sure if we would have kept going they would have thrown their greasy combs at us."
-- Alex Lifeson, Rush