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Musical Moments Suspended In Time
April 10, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

The recent post about Joshua Bell was merely the tip of the Unannounced Performance iceberg, a phenomenon I've often marveled at. The Beatles famously did it in 1969 on a roof. Mos Def got arrested for it last year. REM reformed in 2005 at a wedding, something the Police did at Sting's 1992 nuptials. Sometime after midnight in Union Square NYC on Nov. 5, 2005, Arcade Fire blew a few lucky fans' minds. Bruce Springsteen jammed with a street musician in 1988. In 2000, Weezer took to the stage under the name Goat Punishment and U2 used to sneak onstage disguised as The Dalton Brothers. In 2005 it was rumored they'd played a Beatlesque rooftop gig in NYC, but you can't believe everything you hear. I could go on all night with tales of secret gigs and surprise busking sessions, but I'm sure you've got plenty of rare musical moments to share in the comments.
posted by ktoad (56 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tracy Chapman: underground music is pure performance.
posted by phaedon at 5:17 PM on April 10, 2007


I once sang karaoke but didn't use my "mr_crash_davis" moniker.

There are no tapes.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:17 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Robert Pollard as Townshend Research (warning: youtube, grainy and ultra lo-fi)

(Yes, that Townshend)
posted by dhammond at 5:21 PM on April 10, 2007


You must mean: recent posts
posted by AwkwardPause at 5:24 PM on April 10, 2007


Further proof that Springsteen should be sainted (I don't care if he's not dead).
posted by Roman Graves at 5:29 PM on April 10, 2007


Wasn't U2's show at Justin Herman Plaza (as seen in "Rattle & Hum) in San Francisco a free, impromptu show?
posted by padraigin at 5:33 PM on April 10, 2007


(Yes, that Townshend)

Oh. i thought you meant the internationally famous musician who wrote some of the greatest songs of his generation and played some of the greatest live shows of all time, and pretty much originated the idea of punk rock 15 years early.

But apparently you mean the guy who was crucified in the godawful British tabloids and the minds of the ignorant on utter bullshit charges that were dropped by the police because they were the crap in the first place.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:37 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow, that fake U2 prank is way over-documented.
posted by davebush at 5:41 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


And let's not forget one of the absolutely greatest surpirse performances--Improv Everywhere's unannounced rooftop performance as U2.
posted by donovan at 5:44 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


But apparently you mean the guy who was crucified in the godawful British tabloids

Not to dismiss The Who (I love 'em), but I think it's pretty clear what the "Research" in the band name is referring to. Now let's end this derail, shall we?
posted by dhammond at 5:46 PM on April 10, 2007


Amazingly, Arcade Fire looks just as boring at Union Square as they were at the Vic and Irving Plaza when I had seen them previously. Good to know.

Honestly, this is fucking fantastic idea for a post, it really is, but other than the Springsteen footage, this post needs A LOT more cowbell.

And I cringe as I say that, because it's the most overused expression of the last 10 years, but it completely applies in this case.
posted by psmealey at 5:47 PM on April 10, 2007


Aw crap, didn't see that link in the OP.
posted by donovan at 5:50 PM on April 10, 2007


This is an excellent FPP and I encourage everyone to favorite it.
posted by delmoi at 6:01 PM on April 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


You first, delmoi.
posted by psmealey at 6:03 PM on April 10, 2007


I remember when I was living in Banff, a small town in Canada. One of the local bars/restaurants, Wild Bill's, would often have local or touring bands play. No one really major, the biggest acts playing when I was there were the smaller acts from the Vans Warped Tour. There was however a massive rumour going round for a while that one night, Red Hot Chili Peppers had turned up and played a set to a small audience. I doubt it was true, but it was as awesome rumour all the same, if only for the amount of people who would repeat it to friends, acquaintances etc. Much as I am now.
posted by djgh at 6:11 PM on April 10, 2007


A couple years ago, Metallica showed up at some club in San Francisco with their producer on bass and introduced themselves as "Bob's Band" before playing a bunch of Ramones covers and some of their own stuff.
Then, in true Metallica fashion, they wrote a press release and put it on their website.
posted by Partial Law at 6:11 PM on April 10, 2007


REM also used to play as Bingo Hand Job, a name which I am rather fond of.
posted by lemuria at 6:14 PM on April 10, 2007


We've already talked about Neil Young doing it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:19 PM on April 10, 2007


I *almost* did this, rooftop and all. I didn't care about getting arrested, but I did care about getting evicted from my apt, so I backed down.

And that's why I'll never be famous. (Probably happier that way...)
posted by LordSludge at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2007


I remember when I was living in Banff, a small town in Canada. One of the local bars/restaurants, Wild Bill's, would often have local or touring bands play

When I worked in Whistler in the early 90's, night managing the Timberline Lodge (oddly enough the name of the bar was Buffalo Bill's), the manager back then (who was known as much for his access to recreational pharmaceuticals as his many friends in the industry) would have bands who were doing stadium or large-club gigs in Vancouver come up and play the place all the time. Since I closed down the front desk of the Lodge at 3am or so usually, and was friends with the folks at Bill's, I spent many a great night hanging with famous musician types in the back room while ostensibly 'working' the graveyard shift. Ah, the good old days.

My favorite 'secret' gig (ahoy extremely obscure late 80's Vancouver rock history) was one night when Slow played this semi-private basement place under the name "Pork and Punishment". That night was shambolic rock and roll mayhem at its purest, even though the guys were all too fucked up to actually play anything resembling songs. The music sucked, but what a night it was.

Man, I loved Slow. Best damn 'underground' Vancouver band of the '80s, even though they only released one EP.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2007


Sun Ra Arkestra at the Central Park Bandshell, on an autumn afternoon some years ago. There they were, going through a whole set. There nobody was, listening to them. I sat myself down and eventually four other people were listening, but that was it. We had them all to ourselves. They even did their whole "space is the place" conga line thing.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2007


The Rolling Stones routinely play a few bar gigs to warm up for their mega-tours. And I believe "Honky Tonk Women" pretty much invented rock and roll cowbell.
posted by TedW at 6:51 PM on April 10, 2007


Beck played a taqueria in the Mission, much to the chagrin of the roving mariachis who normally show up to play for tips.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:04 PM on April 10, 2007


When these big names perform anonymously, it's almost as if they are going back to square one of their careers. The biggest risks are to their egos-- if nobody notices their "talent".

On the other hand, there is the potential benefit of honest reactions from whoever does hear them and for just plain fun- going back to a time in their lives when they were just people.
posted by notmtwain at 7:09 PM on April 10, 2007


A lot of those images on the IE link were taken by yours truly. Damn, that was a fun day.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:21 PM on April 10, 2007


Let's not forget the Rolling Stones playing "Brown Sugar" [YouTube] on the back of flatbed truck in New York in 1975.
posted by marxchivist at 7:54 PM on April 10, 2007


Jeff Buckley went on his "phantom solo tour" of caf├ęs in the Northeast in December 1996, appearing under a series of aliases: The Crackrobats, Possessed by Elves, Father Demo, Smackrobiotic, The Halfspeeds, Crit-Club, Topless America, Martha & the Nicotines, and A Puppet Show Named Julio.[85] By way of justification, Buckley posted a note on the Internet stating that he missed the anonymity of playing in cafes and local bars:

There was a time in my life not too long ago when I could show up in a cafe and simply do what I do, make music, learn from performing my music, explore what it means to me, i.e., have fun while I irritate and/or entertain an audience who don't know me or what I am about. In this situation I have that precious and irreplaceable luxury of failure, of risk, of surrender. I worked very hard to get this kind of thing together, this work forum. I loved it and then I missed it when it disappeared. All I am doing is reclaiming it.

posted by dhartung at 8:31 PM on April 10, 2007


I'll never forget that night in 1988 that President Bush the First and the late racebaiting Satanista campaign manager Lee Atwater pulled out the axes and lit up the stage at a black-tie fundraiser. How white they were! How white we all were then.

/reverie
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:39 PM on April 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


My favorite 'secret' gig (ahoy extremely obscure late 80's Vancouver rock history) was one night when Slow played this semi-private basement place under the name "Pork and Punishment". That night was shambolic rock and roll mayhem at its purest, even though the guys were all too fucked up to actually play anything resembling songs

Heh. I remember that.

I remember the night in 1986 that Green River opened for Slow at the Town Pump, too. I thought Green River sucked hugely, and they were largely hated by the rest of the (mostly punk) crowd as well for their heavy metal affectations. Later on, of course, they changed their name to Pearl Jam.

Hmm, this rocking chair is comfy. And my lawn's looking nice and tidy.
posted by jokeefe at 8:43 PM on April 10, 2007


"Formerly the Warlocks"
posted by docgonzo at 8:47 PM on April 10, 2007


I always liked the video made by Michael Moore of Rage Against The Machine playing on Wall St.

Hop up, start jamming, get arrested, and they close off access in case the spectacle represents a threat.

It was so predictable, and yet so satisfying to watch everyone play their part. Loved it.
posted by dglynn at 9:15 PM on April 10, 2007


Heh. I remember that.

Get outta town! I wonder if we ever met in real life, or at least know some of the same people.

I remember Mother Love Bone at Graceland. Somehow, god knows how -- I think it's because one of them was sleeping with Ziggy from Slow -- my gang of really close female friends ended up doing an airband thing opening for them. Weird, surreal.

I remember Mother Love Bone sucking, and that prick Andrew Wood stole my half-empty bottle of Schnapps. Of course, he OD'd not too much later, so he got his, I guess, and the most excellent Temple of The Dog tribute album thingy made it all worthwhile, sorta.

Man, if I could remember more of that decade, I'd have some tales to tell.

[/Vancouver Old Rock Guy Derail]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:15 PM on April 10, 2007


Portishead

If only I were there. Beth!
posted by rider at 10:01 PM on April 10, 2007


This is small, and probably pretty unknown, but the World/Inferno Friendship Society played a spontaneous show for a pre-teen girls camp. There are some silent videos.
posted by Brainy at 10:27 PM on April 10, 2007


This is a really fun post, and I love all the add-ons in the comments too. Thanks all.
posted by serazin at 10:46 PM on April 10, 2007


Portishead

Iloveyousomuch
posted by dirigibleman at 10:56 PM on April 10, 2007


I remember when a four block area of Philadelphia was practically shut down by crowds trying to get to a tiny venue that Beck was supposed to play at secretly.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:07 AM on April 11, 2007


Long time ago I had a ticket for a Peter Tosh show at a small club in LA. The Stones were in town, and a rumor started that they were going to play with Tosh. It was a mob scene outside the club, and I was offered $200 for the ticket I paid $6 for. (Heh. Six bucks. Yep, loooong time ago.) Of course I refused, and saw... Peter Tosh. Not even as good a show as the night before.
posted by Killick at 3:23 AM on April 11, 2007


Green River.... Later on, of course, they changed their name to Pearl Jam.

Not really. Stone and Jeff went on to form Pearl Jam, Mark Arm went to form Mudhoney with Steve Turner and Bruce went to join Ron and Kevin in Love Battery.

Green River didn't suck, btw. I loved them (particularly the anthemic ode to the joys of the blowjob, "Swallow my Pride"). They were as punk as anyone back then. If grunge really existed as a musical genre, it was in Green River's (and Skin Yard's) music, so they get credit for that. Nothing that came later was really grunge (Nirvana was pop punk, Mudhoney was garage punk, Soundgarden was stripped down metal and Pearl Jam was arean rock), but I digress.

In in the early 90s, I lived just two blocks away from the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. The Croc wasn't the biggest club in town, nor was it the best, but it definitely drew the biggest acts at that point. I think largely because it was owned by a woman who was dating Peter Buck (he eventually married her, and is a part owner now).

At any rate, a good friend of mine used to tend bar there, so I frequently got late phone calls and all access passes when something really interesting was happening. As a result, I saw an impromptu three song set by Nirvana, a full private set by R.E.M. (then on a stadium tour), a mini set by Pearl Jam, and surprise appearances by Robyn Hitchcock, Jonathan Richman and Nick Cave. Heady times, for sure.

Otherwise, in the busking category... when I was in high school, I did have the opportunity to see Stanley Jordan performing on a street corner in Greenwich Village before he got his big break, and saw countless, excellent street musicians in Paris from 1987-1988, most of whom never got discovered.
posted by psmealey at 4:27 AM on April 11, 2007


Mary Lou Lord and Hothouse Flowers1 started out busking.
1 Irish for "Counting Crows."
posted by kirkaracha at 6:28 AM on April 11, 2007


I don't know who they were, or what they were singing about, but my favorite has to be all the Japanese street musicians, especially the punkers, who manage to run amps off generators in the middle of some of the busiest intersections in the world.
posted by sookypops at 6:34 AM on April 11, 2007


I love the way that those Japanese kids also have a web of cell-phone toting scouts looking ahead for the next available corner in the event that they get shut down. It's awesome to run in a mob of people following a punk outfit around Tokyo for three or four different "shows."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:11 AM on April 11, 2007


Arcade Fire covering "Boys Don't Cry" in NYC's Union Square late night (youtube).
posted by liam at 9:52 AM on April 11, 2007


Or rather.
posted by liam at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2007


Arcade Fire covering "Boys Don't Cry" in NYC's Union Square late night

Were they drunk or something? I know they are good musicians (seen 'em), but that was not very good, like they could all use a lot more time with the metronome.
posted by psmealey at 10:13 AM on April 11, 2007


Were they drunk or something?

Possibly. It was about 2am.
posted by liam at 10:28 AM on April 11, 2007


Also, I don't think that when AF take it to the people, immaculate musicianship is their main concern.
posted by liam at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2007


Locally, the best set like this was when a band called Cobra played a set in the empty lot across the street from the grocery store. In true Milwaukee Underground Music style, it ended with the police showing up.
posted by drezdn at 10:59 AM on April 11, 2007


Nine Inch Nails - at a small club, The Edge, on 12/6/95 with opening act, Helmet.

This show had no promotion by the club or in newspapers or any other advertisements. You just had to know. My estimate is that less than 1500 people showed up.

Trent hired strippers to dance on stage during the song "Closer" with black duct tape X's over their nipples. They also played the remix version of Piggy from "Further Down The Spiral" live.

A show to remember, for sure.
posted by Zampa at 11:04 AM on April 11, 2007


kirkaracha -- saw Mary Lou Lord many times busking in Park Street in the early 90s. Didn't know her name until she moved to Seattle and signed with KRS (?memory) and I saw her publicity.

on reflection that was a lot of trouble for her, I should have just asked her.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2007


Green River.... Later on, of course, they changed their name to Pearl Jam.

Not really. Stone and Jeff went on to form Pearl Jam, Mark Arm went to form Mudhoney with Steve Turner and Bruce went to join Ron and Kevin in Love Battery.

Green River didn't suck, btw. I loved them (particularly the anthemic ode to the joys of the blowjob, "Swallow my Pride"). They were as punk as anyone back then.


psmealy: Yes, I know, more or less. I was just relying on shorthand, kind of, not wanting to get into the details, some of which I didn't pay attention to at the time.

The show in Vancouver in '86 was full of Canadian punks, many of them highly politicized (we'd just had five people from the community sentenced to terms ranging from six to twenty years for bombing a BC Hydro substation and a Litton Sytems Plant-- they made parts for cruise missiles). Green River, with their trappings-- long scarves ala Aerosmith, lead singer egomania, non-ironic songs about blowjobs, a name which seemed to celebrate the as yet uncaught serial killer-- didn't go down well with that crowd. At one point, someone unplugged them, and there was a pause while they fiddled with the power and got going again. They had a bunch of friends from Seattle there in front of the stage loving every minute and cheering them on, which was a good thing, as most of the Vancouver folk were holding back and waiting for Slow to come on. I remember that night very well: I was about six months pregnant and drinking orange juice, and just watching the whole thing from the balcony seats. It was just a matter of two different scenes colliding, really. I liked and bought Pearl Jam's first record, for what it's worth.

stavros: I got to know Tom from Slow when he moved into the Gore Street house with Justine after DOA went on tour for the summer. I'm a few years older than you, but the scene wasn't that big: I bet we do know some people in common.

Sorry for continuing Vancouver Old Punk derail....
posted by jokeefe at 12:11 PM on April 11, 2007


with their trappings-- long scarves ala Aerosmith, lead singer egomania, non-ironic songs about blowjobs, a name which seemed to celebrate the as yet uncaught serial killer

I maintain that all of it was ironic, jokeefe. Although I didn't know Mark back then, I came to know him pretty well later on, and I'm sure that all of that stuff was meant in parody. At any rate, it probably all looked to much like the thing it was parodying for a lot of people to get it, but no matter, they didn't last long.

Great story however, thanks for posting that here.
posted by psmealey at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2007


I maintain that all of it was ironic, jokeefe. Although I didn't know Mark back then, I came to know him pretty well later on, and I'm sure that all of that stuff was meant in parody

I believe you. Didn't get it at the time, though, but so it goes. Cheers.
posted by jokeefe at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2007


Rigged and done repeatedly; but I enjoyed going to an Eels gig a couple of years ago, watching the encore, and seeing the venue emptying out (and the gear & microphones being packed up). Around half an hour later the band & Mr. E all screamed back out on stage, barefooted and in pyjamas. The itsy bitsy group of people left all had a hand-holding-sing-a-long with them... it was a lot of fun.
posted by teststrip at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2007


I got to know Tom from Slow when he moved into the Gore Street house with Justine after DOA went on tour for the summer.

jokeefe (if you see this): I really like some of the stuff he and Christian did with Copyright -- he had such a great, huge voice for such a wee fella -- but lost track of the whole scene when I left Canada. Are the guys from Slow still making music, do you know? (I think I heard that Ziggy died...)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:11 PM on April 12, 2007


stavros: Yes, Tom's voice, that deep growl from inside what seemed just a boy's body... I haven't heard about Ziggy, but I did hear something about (at least one or two) of the guys from Slow playing in some form recently. Let me check around and I'll get back to you. :)
posted by jokeefe at 1:52 PM on April 15, 2007


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