You have to laugh. And count the money.
August 5, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty sure I've never read an article with Jethro Tull and the Jonas Brothers in it before.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:36 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stand-up comedy. Two in the audience. One so shit-faced drunk he couldn't raise his head. The other didn't seem to understand English. That was my second worst experience on stage.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:39 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

One night we played in a recently-converted strip-club, a great barn of a place. One patron turned up, stole the waitress' leather jacket and left. That was our only audient. The previous night we had played a concert in front of 100,000 people broadcast live to 8 million homes.

That wasn't the worst gig. The worst gigs are too depressing to make good stories.
posted by Jode at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2011

That was my second worst experience on stage.

And the first? You can't leave it hang like that.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2011

The Bubba Sparxxx story is hilarious. "I won't even wipe my ass!"

Personally, I was at this Ween show earlier this year. I'm sure those guys have had their share of trainwreck shows but AFAIK this was the first time they all stormed off-stage. Except poor Gene, who was so wasted he played another 2 or 3 songs solo on an out-of-tune guitar before looking behind him and realizing he was on his own.
posted by mannequito at 1:41 PM on August 5, 2011

The worst gigs are too depressing to make good stories.

There was no one there, no one cared. The end.
posted by fuq at 1:42 PM on August 5, 2011

I once saw this guy accidentally unplug his set while dancing. He had a drum machine, a laptop and a mic and he just accidentally hit the switch. We had to wait for the PC to boot back up before he could start playing again. Took it in good stride, though.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My college band once got hired to play in the 'Young Miss' section of the department store Parisien. They didn't make any space for us, so we plugged in and played amidst the clothes racks.

Strange to be playing a ska tune while a thirteen-year old girl shops for underwear with her mother.
posted by NationalKato at 1:55 PM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Second show ever, hit the wrong chord and it took me 15 seconds to fix it. Watching people pour out of that room--like being stabbed.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Poor Talking Heads.

I don't know what David's side of the story was, but... No-one deserved an end like that. Not the band, not the other bands, not the audience, not posterity.

Poor us.
posted by Capt. Renault at 2:00 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

There was no one there, no one cared. The end.
You forgot We didn't get paid.
posted by Jode at 2:01 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I remember a video interview I saw on youtube where Beck said he was doing a concert and was mad at the people in the first two rows for not getting up, so he started yelling at them to get up, but they would not get up no matter how much he yelled. He said that as an artist, it's depressing when the entire room is standing but the people right in eye view won't get up.

Then, a bit after the show, his drummer said he found out that those people in the first two row were handicapped and could not get up. Beck considers this one of the worst things he's done in his life, if I recall the clip correctly.

Unfortunately, I can't find it because some bloated windbag comes up when I search for Beck on youtube.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:03 PM on August 5, 2011 [15 favorites]

Oh, man...playing to a bar that was totally empty except for the bartender and one guy so focused on his pool game he probably didn't even notice we were there...playing insipid pop tunes to utterly indifferent mall shoppers - with the canned Musak STILL GOING the whole time (I was a for-hire musician, so had no say in the repertoire or venue choice)...*starting* our set at 2am on an outdoor stage, in winter in the NC mountains, with most of the concert-goers either quite wasted, actually passed out, gone to their warm sleeping bags, or left entirely; temp was in the 20's with snow spitting down and I was so cold that I had trouble making my fingers work right...being hired for a gig at a family-style "Italian" eatery by a megalomaniacal guitarist with no sense of rhythm or tempo, and the drummer apparently decided to bail without letting anyone know...trying to play quiet duo (upright bass and guitar) jazz at a bar that was so noisy we couldn't even hear ourselves, and of course being completely ignored by the frat boys there for the cheap beer and chicks (yeah, they were cheap too)...getting kicked out of a gig halfway through because the lead guitarist repeatedly refused to take his amp off "11"....

You forgot We didn't get paid.

Yeah, lots of that too. Good times.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was at the Jethro Tull 1976 Shea concert. I had a fantastic time. Sorry you didn't, Ian.
posted by Splunge at 2:24 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My band did a show in El Paso for 4 people, only one of whom was actually a paying customer.There was the nice girl who booked the show and whose house we were staying at, her 12 year old cousin, the bartender and one person who had read about it on the then-new Web. I was outside talking to the person who found out about us on the web when the 12 year old accidentally sprayed everyone in the room with the mace he'd found in his cousin's purse. We eventually talked the bartender into letting him come back in (or our host and booker would have had to go home with him) and played an awesome set. For 4 people.
posted by smartyboots at 2:24 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never heard that about Beck, but Dee Snider has told this exact story about his Twisted Sister days. It would be odd if this also happened to Beck as well.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:24 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could be misremembering it. Which would explain the difficulty in finding the video.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:30 PM on August 5, 2011

This article was amended on 5 August 2011 to remove the last item in the list.

Oh, that makes me so very curious.
posted by robself at 2:33 PM on August 5, 2011 [9 favorites]

I made some beats for a backpacker hip hop group in the mid/late 90s and we had a show at a bar in Ottawa that had just opened. It was an expansion of a veritable institution for live shows in the city, but the location was a gay bar just a few weeks prior to this set that used to play a lot of Madonna and disco music. The only people that showed were middle aged dudes that didn't get the memo about the change in ownership, and they didn't really enjoy it. It was a bit awkward.
posted by Hoopo at 2:34 PM on August 5, 2011

I have a tie:

One was being onstage doing improv in a loose setting, with a room half-full of hard-core improvisers and half-full of drunks who came to see the show, in my first shot onstage with one of the best performers at the place. Doing improvisational musical styles, which I love, just love, and am good at. And halfway through the song, someone yells out a new song style so loudly that even the piano player stopped reflexively, and the really experienced guy (who was relatively weak in the musical improv area) looked at me with panic. Neither of us managed to break the silence, and we just stared at each other with a dead-silent audience, until another improviser ran across the stage and started something else up.

What made it worse was that it was the last time I ever did improv, by pure coincidence, but I hate having ended on that note.

The other one was being in the back room of a bar to play a string bass for a friend's impromptu band; we'd rehearsed perhaps three times, but I thought we sounded good, and as I hadn't played this particular instrument prior to the three rehearsals, I was excited. A girl I'd invited to stop by the show -- which I thought was going to be in the front room, thanks friend! -- came in the back, saw the empty back room, saw me playing, turned around, and stayed in the front room for the duration of the set...then left just before I could end the set and say "hi".

And again, what made it worse was that I had just left the job we'd met at -- which is why I had considered asking her to come see the show as an option -- so I never saw her again. Which is, again, a bad note to end it on.

What these things have in common is the lack of closure, I suppose -- worse things have happened to me on stage, but I recovered or could laugh about it with the people involved afterwards.
posted by davejay at 2:37 PM on August 5, 2011

The Talking Heads and Bauhaus stories are really sad to the 16-year-old who still lives in me. I remember seeing Peter Murphy in the early 90s and Love and Rockets were in the LA area at the same time. Murphy was on the local alternative radio station (KROQ) and he called those guys out, said they should come to the show and they would blow everyone away with a Bauhaus reunion... needless to say it didn't happen. Until later in the decade when Love and Rockets weren't selling any records... strangely.
posted by Huck500 at 2:37 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

"But it makes no difference to me, whether there are four or 400,000."

Except four is the worst.
posted by ChuqD at 2:44 PM on August 5, 2011

Oh, I thought I was the only one always mixing up Dee Snider and Beck.
posted by neuromodulator at 2:45 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I made some beats for a backpacker hip hop group in the mid/late 90s and we had a show at a bar in Ottawa...

Well there's your problem. Not the gay bar, imo.
posted by sunshinesky at 2:47 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I got this story from Robyn Hitchcock:
The last official Soft Boys gig was at the Golden Lion in February '81. We played a fairly short set. Well, we never had very big audiences, and that night the audience was an Australian guy. He came up afterwards and said, "That was short." "Yeah," I said, "did you like it?" "Well, nah, not particularly, but at least it wasn't very long." And that summed up the Soft Boys' career, really.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:48 PM on August 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Damn, ... I just ... really David Byrne?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 2:48 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well there's your problem.

Are you sneering at hip-hop or Ottawa?
posted by neuromodulator at 2:49 PM on August 5, 2011

This would have to be Pink Floyd's worst gig. And it's also where Roger Waters got the inspiration for their worst album.

(I don't count The Final Cut)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:50 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well there's your problem. Not the gay bar, imo.

LOL yeah, but there was a small underground hip hop scene in Ottawa back then though. There were actually a couple of good albums that came out of it; Fonetiks were pretty good and a bunch of guys from Alpha Flight moved there from Halifax I think. Obviously it wasn't as big as Montreal or Toronto, and holding at the short-lived Zaphod's 2 was probably not a good plan.
posted by Hoopo at 2:52 PM on August 5, 2011

"• This article was amended on 5 August 2011 to remove the last item in the list."

nooooooooooooooooo what was it?!
posted by KathrynT at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd rather be peed on than being hit hard in the larynx by a baseball, sheesh.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2011

Oh, the suggestion was Ottawa was a poor place for indie hip-hop? Okay, "sneering" was uncharitable on my part. Apologies.
posted by neuromodulator at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stones fan's worst gig.
posted by punkfloyd at 2:53 PM on August 5, 2011

Searching google for "Jeff Tweedy was at the till next to me.", and voila!

The Loves
Cardiff University, 2004
On 14 February 2004, the Loves organised an all-day festival in Cardiff, which they dubbed the Valentine's Day Mascara, not guessing that the band would be massacred by its own romantic machinations come the end of the night. The problem was this: the keyboard player, who was the girlfriend of the frontman, was having an affair with the bassist; the bassist's ex-girlfriend, also a singer in the band, knew their secret but withheld it. Supposedly, the frontman discovered all this on the day of the festival itself. If that's the case, he found out early enough to contact the drummer and plan his revenge. The Loves arrived on stage staggeringly late, simmering with recriminations. To the bewilderment of everyone but the drummer, the frontman announced that the Loves were no more, and that they were going to perform the Who's Tommy in its entirety instead. Needless to say, it sounded abysmal. Maddy Costa
posted by Ardiril at 3:17 PM on August 5, 2011 [13 favorites]

^ "• This article was amended on 5 August 2011 to remove the last item in the list."
posted by Ardiril at 3:17 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bravo Ardiril!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:26 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seems to me we did this sort of thing not long ago. I still get a chuckle out of mannequito's well-dressed escape.

The Loves arrived on stage staggeringly late, simmering with recriminations.

Yeah, intra-band romances bode poorly. I was in a quite good traditional band once that fell apart because of a triangle involving two guitar players and a fiddler. And every time I hear The Mamas and The Papas' I Saw Her Again Last Night, I shake my head at the mess: Denny singing a song about his affair with Michelle in a song co-written with Michelle's husband John, while Cass nurtures her unrequited crush on Denny. And all four sing on the song, all knowing what is going on.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:29 PM on August 5, 2011

ALMOST the worst gig ever... playing a bar next to a hotel, the hotel hosting a wedding, bride is Air Force, groom Marines, both officers. Large numbers of Marine and AF officers in dress uniform milling around, the guys sort of break out for the bar where I'm playing with my band, basic country/rock bar band stuff. So we see all these guys and on break we work up a polka version of The Marine Hymn ("From the Halls of Montezuma," etc.) out back, come back on, count the sucker off fast, and launch into it thinking it's a great gag, laughing and messing around with (it makes an awesome fast polka).

Every single Marine in the place, all of them big tough guys and all of the drinking and having fun, stands bolt upright and throws a hardcore salute, staring daggers at us and we're WTF? The AF guys, who are outnumbered, fall out of their seats laughing but one comes to the stage and signals us to stop fast.

We stop and quickly launch some Allman Brothers thing or something, and everything goes back to normal.

Next break we learn that whenever that song is played Marine officers are required to stand at attention and salute, and NEVER DO THAT AGAIN at a wedding full of drunk Marine officers, got it.
posted by spitbull at 3:36 PM on August 5, 2011 [32 favorites]

My first dj gig was at a club that used to have awesome raves every weekend, but had seen better days by that point. Some local gang members had shaken down the bar owner to get jobs as security and took over the drug dealing at the club several months before, largely by basically mugging all the regular drug dealers and the people buying from them (who were mostly suburban kids from out of town). People kept throwing parties there anyway, because it was the only place that would book rave music in DC. By the time I played there, the crowd on a Friday night had dwindled down from an average of 1500 people by peak time to around 200 people on a good night, and the vibe was complete shit -- dark and edgy.

I was just learning how to beatmatch still and had never played on anything but in my bedroom on computer speakers hooked up to two belt driven turntables. This was my first time mixing on a club sound system with technic 1200s. Thankfully, there were only about 20 people there when I was mixing, and it was way early in the night.

One turntable only had a single channel working, the other had a needle that was caked up with fuzz, and I was too inexperienced to realize that was why the needle kept skipping out of the groove while I was trying to mix. The headphone jack didn't work, so I had to mix using only the monitors. And, I should probably say, I didn't really know how to beatmatch. It was the longest hour of my life, even though everyone at the club that early was a friend of mine, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

What made it worse, was that despite the fact that I had warned the girl I was dating at the time not to try to buy anything there, she bought something from a friend of hers and immediately got robbed by security before I went on. Then after I asked her not to do anything stupid, she got more money out of the ATM and bought drugs from security while I was DJing. Which of course turned out to be fake.

So, worst gig of my life musically, and also ended in me dumping my girlfriend.

Although playing Otakon last year where I badly misjudged what 'the kids' would be into and didn't bring any dubstep, and had nerds yelling "PLAY DUBSTEP NOW" during my entire set was a pretty close second.
posted by empath at 3:49 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

That's funny you remembered that comment ricochet biscuit. When I first read this post, I was trying to think of my worst gig and the best I could come up with was one time in Berlin, NY's eve, playing out on the sidewalk in front of the club. The promoter had promised to supply a drumset and all he offered was a few mismatched pieces with broken skins, so I wound up playing with those and some buckets and pans from the kitchen.

But anyways, I knew knew knew that I had a much better story from somewhere further back but wasn't able to pull up the memories. Mefi to the rescue again!
posted by mannequito at 3:50 PM on August 5, 2011

Stones fan's worst gig .

I'm going to go ahead and say that no, that wasn't a Stones fan's worst gig. Altamont was a Stones fan's worst gig, and the band's too.
posted by The World Famous at 4:05 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

3. Younger brother's high school band. Their big opener: LZ's Rock and Roll. Due to the drummer's ideosyncratic (and cheap) drum set up, the crash cymbal could not sustain the introductory onslaught without falling over. Hilarity ensues. Fourth try is successful because big brother, roadying for the evening, held the errant tripod steady with his big foot. Later in the evening, they were initiated into the 'tripped over the cable and unplugged the guitar amp in the middle of a song' league. Also: no microphones.

2. A bout of influenza peaking at the exact musical climax of the evening. Fever, chills, sweats, cramps, hallucinations. . . and laryngitis. The tape indicates that my lead vocals were actually performed by Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, but I don't remember anyone singing, much less myself.

1. Arrive at venue with PA, ahead of the rest of the band. Hauling in the PA. Big guy calves away from the bar like an iceberg off a glacier, says, "There's no band booked for tonight. . . "

0. Not actually the worst gig, but maybe the oddest. Booked into a 'swinger's club'. Main house, lots of dayglo velour furniture. Nice addition with a bar at one end and a stage at the other. Lots of little cabins out back. Lots of middle aged white people file in. We start to do our thing. At some point one of these nice ladies shouts something at the band.

The leader/singer hears: "... play Tequila Sunrise. . . "

I hear: "if you play Tequila Sunrise I'll take off my pants!

He says, "sure, we can do that. . . " (It's not my gig, what am I going to say?)

Nice thing about this gig was, by around 11:30, our audience had drifted off in pairs and we were alone. Took the money, packed and left. Early night for a bar band.
posted by Herodios at 4:19 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Either the night I fell off the stage in mid-act cause I forgot you shouldn't have brandy and pain medication or the time Lucky Cheng's put on a whole other, loud show right outside our theatre after promising the room was sound proof, we had to give everyone a refund an an apology.

The only upside was I decided not to tell them hoe fucking shitty their wiring was when I was up there setting up light and then somebody called the fire dept about dangerous wiring.

That unheated warehouse in the dead of winter wasn't fun wither but at least the show happened.
posted by The Whelk at 4:22 PM on August 5, 2011

Oh and an art opening with three people, where the lights got turned off 30 min into it.
posted by The Whelk at 4:23 PM on August 5, 2011

And the one whereon one had rehearsed and shorting out the sound system more than once and oh god so many.
posted by The Whelk at 4:24 PM on August 5, 2011

A famous 'bad gig' I'd like to have seen anyway: when King Crimson were accident booked into a room expecting King Curtis.
posted by Herodios at 4:25 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Er no one had rehearsed.
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on August 5, 2011

Played in Providence, RI, in the middle of winter at this place that was basically a barn (it's a well-known bar, but is huge) and the guy behind the bar refused to turn on the heat.

On top of that, the opening band were two dudes who played pop metal to a backing drum track. They worked in "sanitation services" as they told us several times and dedicated songs to folks like Ernest Hemingway.

I felt like I was in the movie Light of Day (as Joan Jett, not Michael J. Fox).
posted by sleepy pete at 4:28 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I saw a band at a local supermarket's anniversary celebration. I was the only one listening for 10 or so songs. I was impressed that they put on a show while I was there and even after I left to an empty sidewalk.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:29 PM on August 5, 2011

For those who asked, my first worst experience on stage. I made an accidental Spoonerism out of the end of the second line: I have a niche. I want a bigger niche.
And then I froze.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:57 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh man. Taco Land in San Antonio, Texas. Where to start?

David Allan Coe's "My Girlfriend Ran Off With A Nigger" playing on the jukebox to greet us as we loaded in.

The white locals "befriending" the sole chicano member of our group and roping him in to taking shots of tequila with them ("Don't be a pussy!") and the rest of us being too scared to do anything about it.

Scary racist talk amongst them all afternoon, and we had nowhere to go.

The bass player and me getting wasted on Shiner Bock because the whole scene was so depressing already. Apparently you can get wasted on Shiner Bock if you try hard enough.

Nobody showing up to the gig other than the hostile racist locals. Of course.

Sound was terrible. Of course.

I got pissed at the singer/keyboard player and turned down his keyboard in the middle of a song and started yelling.

The guitarist and the violinist also got in a screaming match during the same song.

Bass player started goading the locals with sexy talk, threw his bass at the ceiling, and then kicked it across the floor.

Things calmed down, and I spent the rest of the set taking photos from the stage of the locals flipping us off.

After we packed up and got in the van, the bass player threw up on the guitarist's jacket.

Oh, but we found a half-eaten danish in the motel room later that night. Score!
posted by queensissy at 5:33 PM on August 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

well, my worst "gig" was playing guitar near fisherman's wharf in 50 degree weather for 3 hours and getting 36 cents and a toke for my trouble

it was apparent that busking was not a good career choice for me - also my hands got awfully damn cold - not as bad as frostbite in a michigan winter, but close
posted by pyramid termite at 5:44 PM on August 5, 2011

I think I've never had a really awful gig, thankfully -- I just hope we play the songs without messing up too much, and even if only 2 people are there and they liked it, great, it's a change from playing in the basement!

My first time playing music in NYC, it was on a Friday Night and we were booked as the midnight act, after five other bands. The club was on Houston, and we actually got there early (even after going the wrong way on the Deegan at rush hour). I was nervous and excited, as bandmates handed out the DIY flyers to passers-by. How many people would BE there? Wow, NYC! People poured in and out of the place. I got a slice of pizza next door -- yum! NYC Pizza! WOW, NYC!!

I noticed the audience turned over each time a band changed. Finally, it gets to our turn. People flood out of the bar. Nobody floods in. We, a band of five people, are playing for three people (four if you count the bartender), one of which is the singer's girlfriend. The other two guys were normal-looking dudes, completely plastered, very encouraging and good-natured, telling us that they thought we were pretty good. But totally wasted.

I thought it was funny, mostly, but also kinda deflated, since I'd thought at LEAST ten drunks would be there. I mean, it's NYC, how many zillion people live there? But no, we only held onto two.

Fun gig, though!!
posted by not_on_display at 6:06 PM on August 5, 2011

We were the opening act at a terrible little bar in Mt. Pleasant in the dead of winter with the stage door open to the blizzard outside and an unruly crowd of Central Michigan University students throwing things at us and screaming that we sucked if we didn't play any Husker Du covers. We were not a cover band.

But, being a Husker Du fan, I shouted at the drummer on the last song that we should play it in Husker Du style. He was apparently not a Husker Du fan and had no idea what I meant (and maybe I didn't, either). And the monitors didn't work. So he just played it about three times too fast and I hit the fuzz pedal and we hit the ground running. It was working out alright until he decided it needed to go faster. So a 3-minute post-punk song turned into about a minute of verse/chorus/verse/chorus and then 7 minutes of ever-faster fuzzy three-chord hardcore where our singer had no idea what to do and the other three of us couldn't begin to keep up with the pace but kept increasing it anyway.

Then, after the song just sort of fell apart and petered out, we had to pack up our gear while being assaulted by an angry crowd who threw whatever they could find at us until we could get our gear back out into the snowy parking lot and into the cars for the long drive home.

The headlining band never called us back after that.

Then there was the time we played at St. Andrew's Hall during the Detroit Grand Prix when the racecourse went right in front of the venue and they left the front doors wide open so the sound of the cars completely drowned out the sound of the band. But that was super awesome and I didn't even care that I couldn't hear myself no matter how loud I turned up the amps.

Thinking about those and other Michigan and Detroit gigs makes me think of Family Band by The Tragically Hip:

We'll load out through the snow
Through small groups of people smoking
Hey! Get that kick drum loaded!
Into the backseat folded down!
We'll go virtually unnoticed
What's gripping the city ain't hitting the town

posted by The World Famous at 6:12 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man. So, this one time I was in Denton, TX playing an acoustic set. I'm about three songs in and after some quiet song I rip into the opening telegraph riff from (the Vanilla Fudge version of) "You Keep Me Hangin' On," and BOTH of my dogs wanted to go outside so I had to stop and walk all the way to the kitchen to let them out. Took all the wind out of the show.
posted by cmoj at 6:16 PM on August 5, 2011

Beat this: Bill Hick's worst gig ever.
posted by jet_manifesto at 6:54 PM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

We call my old improv comedy group's worst gig The Charo Incident.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:16 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Afroblanco: "And it's also where Roger Waters got the inspiration for their worst album."

Don't start.
posted by Bonzai at 7:17 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Too many surreal gigs over the last three decades to pick the worst, but here's an oldie from way back:

Picture a huge dining hall at a fancy hotel, packed to the rafters with over 400 men and women dressed in their finest formal wear, and a 100-piece world-class boychoir with a newly commissioned holiday choral program to present after dinner.

The scene is set with fancy food, holiday beverages, wreaths & candles, and armies of waiters, parents, special guests, choir benefactors, hotel bigwigs and other well-to-do folks there at the hotel for the big holiday show & dinner feast. Tickets were $75 dollars a head and up, and this was back in the late 1970s.

The choir is seated at the long table in the middle of the room for dinner before the concert, and hot spiced cider (a rare treat) is brought around for the kids. The adults at the other tables get actual wassail, a hot, mulled punch with lots of brandy and sherry.

Well, the other tables were supposed to get the wassail, anyway.

Turns out the waitstaff lost track of which drinks were supposed to go to which table, and now one hundred tween-aged kids (minus those who didn't like the "funny" taste of their spiced cider) are tipsy and bilious, with stomachs full of rich food and hot wassail. And now it's time to go stand on risers to sing an hour-long holiday program while wearing hot sweaters and wool slacks under a full rack of stage lights.

I had a bad feeling as soon the concert began.

It didn't take long to find out why.

One by one, after a couple of songs, the choirboys began fainting in place, or burying their faces into their music folders to vomit, or jumping off the risers and trying to make it across the room and out to the foyer where the bathrooms are. Some just hunched over and retch in misery right there in front of everyone.

The first one or two were met with sympathic parents at the side of the stage and politely ignored by the rest of the audience over as the show continued. But as more and more kids started going down, the atmosphere began to get very tense as the entire room suddenly realized what must have happened.

Soon, the situation reached critical mass. The stereotypical chain reaction of vomiting followed, as those boys who hadn't yet lost control of their stomachs were pushed over the edge by the sounds and smells and sights of their neighbors.

I'd love to tell you more about the utter chaos that erupted in that Grand Hall that evening, and about the panicked aftermath of damage control and blame among the audience, choirmaster, hotel staff and parents, but I was too busy leaping down the foyer stairs towards the men's room.

Didn't make it.
posted by Aquaman at 7:29 PM on August 5, 2011 [38 favorites]

I wish to god we had footage of that, Aquaman.
posted by neuromodulator at 7:50 PM on August 5, 2011

I think we do.....
posted by mannequito at 7:54 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

My own war stories of outnumbering the audience and the various scuzzinesses of the venues and/or patrons are probably par for the course for most bands, and I've probably blocked out the worst memories, though I do remember two things from my Boston/east coast touring days, the first being at the Rathskeller (universally known as the Rat) in Kenmore Square, where everybody in Boston plays at some point. Outside the backdoor which leads to the parking lot is a large dumpster, i.e., rodent high-rise.

One evening just before we were to go on, a large grey namesake of the club emerged from a hole somewhere in the band room and ran right over Janice's (our bassist/singer) foot and on out the slightly ajar door. (No idea where it went from there.) She's not the shrieking type, but that has to affect your composure...

Guess it wouldn't have been the Rat without the actual thing.

The other was playing the Khyber Pass on Chestnut St. in Philly (owned by a surly Afghani), with a postage stamp stage, and lights that were tied into the same mains as the onstage power. (This was before I got wise about Juice Goose or Furman voltage regulators,) Whenever the light guy brought up more than a couple of the spots, the voltage would dip way down and my synths would reset to a hexidecimal readout mode (once in the middle of a solo) and I'd set a new world record time of reboot and patch select...

But my experiences pale in entertainment value comparison to these two from a couple of UK friends, one in Liverpool and the other in Norway:

1) Well, since some time has elapsed I suppose we can tell the whole truth about this one.

We were playing the Liverpool cabaret circuit of working mens' clubs (and more depressing places) in the late seventies.

One club had quite a small stage and to do the first half of the act we had to move the bingo machine off the stage, down some stairs, into the dressing room. And of course put it back on stage for the bingo in the interval.

A quick explanation of Bingo / Lotto. You have a card with 15 numbers on it uniquely selected from the set 1 to 90. A caller shouts out a number from 1 - 90 and if it is on your card, you cross it off. If you are the first person to cross off all your numbers, you win! Now the evolution of devices to generate random numbers had progressed in the seventies from the original 90 stones in a bag to a magnificent perspex glass cabinet with ninety numbered ping pong balls in it that are blasted around by a powerful blower, occasionally offering a random ball to the caller.

Step forward one drummer, being the strongest guy in the band, he lifted the bingo machine up in the air but failed to correctly negotiate the stairs to the dressing room.

It was a fair old crash and it took us about fifteen minutes to hastily repair the bingo machine and restore all its balls to the perspex cage.

So we did the first set without incident and went off to the snooker room to watch football.

Now we had only been in there about ten minutes and WWIII kicks off in the concert room. Rubbernecking to find out what the commotion was all we could see absolute pandemonium, with most of the audience on their knees under tables etc.

After sussing it wasn't "duck and cover" time we asked the concert secretary what was up.

He answered in his best Liverpudlian accent; "Some friggin' jokers nicked the front panel off the friggin' bingo machine, when we turned it on the balls went everywhere, it was like a friggin' snowstorm, we still haven't found number 6."

"It wasn't youse, wassit?"

We all replied "No" but of course, we lied

2) Not a best/worse gig but a good yarn:-

Back a couple of years ago playing bass for a couple of guitarists at a pub opening (in Fredrikstad I fink?), the audience had been at the viking style piss up and were starting to get a bit too silly - even for me.

For some reason up here, people that have the need to dance seem to think that they MUST do it right in front of the band, be there space or not - OK when you have a full stage with rails and security but notso when you're perched on the floor in the corner without protection from out of control drunks. I lost my beloved spanish Esteve guitar because of the way these fucking idiots dance (there's another story).

This day was no different - except I was safely at the back playing bass - laughing.

The guitarist (sitting down) who was at the front was getting severely pissed at one particular moron who was really givin' it large with the elbows and knocking the mic stand - which is a total bastard when you sing with your eyes closed - and it doesn't help your teeth none neither! - 'Moron' was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and addressed in a growly belfast accent, the conversation went as follows.....

"If you knock my mic stand once more - I'll rip your fucking head off. Do we understand each other?"

"Errr ja, ja" replied Moron, who quickly staggered off and made himself vanish and all returned to normal.

A few songs and a little time had slipped by and Moron decided that his place was back at the front, forgetting his warning from earlier, and being completely incapable of controlling his elbow action - thud went the mic!

I can vaguely remember what happened next as my view was blocked by tears - I'd not laughed so hard in ages - nearly wet my undies.

What happened was, the guitarist had leaned forward on his high stool and tapped Moron on the shoulder beckoning his attention. Moron turned round and QUACK!! recieved a firm square right boot straight in the gonads. Not a beat was missed by us, the guitarist showed total professionalism in the fact that he'd managed sing, play and kick some geezer in the nuts all at once.

If you hadn't seen it, you wouldn't have known that it had happened!

we didn't see Moron anymore after that.

posted by Philofacts at 11:32 PM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

We were playing a three-story artspace/loft in downtown Memphis. About a month earlier, we had played a three-band gig there that remains to this day one of the best shows of my life. This gig was a wrestling themed party. There was a bunch of matresses laid out on one side of the room, opposite the stage, and the idea was that people would fake wrestle between bands. It was all in good fun. So some people wrestled, it was funny, the first band played, and then we were up next. Three of us went upstairs with the host to "get ready" for the set. The fourth, our guitarist, stayed downstairs and challenged women to wrestling matches. You can see where this is going.

We're upstairs passing the joint when someone comes up the stairs and yells "You guys gotta come down here!" We sauntered down the stairs to see the guitarist prone on the mattresses getting the living shit kicked out of him by an obviously coked up asshole. This was not what we were expecting to see at all, although in hindsight it seems inevitable. I just stared, mouth agape, while the aggressor finished his beat down and was forcibly escorted out of the party by a big guy who had appointed himself bouncer. The guitarist spent the night in the hospital. We didn't play.

Later, I learned that the aggressor had been thrown out of the pizza restaurant the the guitarist managed for being a dick, and was out for revenge. A friend at the party later said to me "We were waiting for one of you to yell 'Get him!' and we would have jumped that guy." Today, the guitarist is not friends with anyone who used to be in the band, and even though a lot of other bad shit went down, I can't shake the feeling that if I had had the presence of mind to yell 'Get him!' maybe things would have turned out different.

So that's the time I regret NOT starting a brawl.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:33 AM on August 6, 2011

Worst (and best) gig: our "going away" show. Band breaking up thereafter. Played our hearts out. Sounded good. But then it started to rain. And the place flooded. We were stomping around in puddles with guitars and amps getting wet. Not good. Then, the bass player sucked down a nitrous balloon and passed out mid song, falling into the drums and mains. It was a good way to go out, but the headaches lasted a week.
posted by readyfreddy at 7:49 AM on August 6, 2011

I've been pretty lucky so far not to have any really bad shows, sure we've played to nobody a few times but that comes with the territory. By far the funniest show we ever did was about three years ago. Our singer is a pretty serious drinker, but she generally does a good job of pacing herself before a show. This night we all wanted to get there early because a friend of ours was in the opening band - they were supposed to go on about 9, and we were set for 11, with another band in between. The club decided to add another band to the bill before our friend's, but they didn't want to play with nobody there so they kept delaying. By the time we went on it was about 12:30 or so.

Meanwhile, a couple guys at the bar were buying our singer shots and telling her they'd heard her band was really great - this was the first time we'd played that club, but the soundman was a fan and he'd been spreading the word. When she got on stage she could barely stand, much less sing. She tried really hard, but not a single recognizable word came out of her mouth. The rest of us were laughing so hard we could barely play. Every once in a while she would look over at me with a blank face, I'd sing the next line, and she would go "arrrrrrgghhh" into the mic. Needless to say, we never got booked at that club again.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:58 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Played a jazz brunch with a trio in a room that the owner had conveniently also rented out for a Hasidic wedding. They asked us to play a hora, to which the leader said "no, we're hired to play jazz!" We started playing "How High the Moon", they started singing and dancing a nice jewish hora song 10 feet from us. It was an interesting few minutes.
posted by keys at 2:34 PM on August 6, 2011

Back in the mid-to-late 1990s in Glasgow, I DJed, for four fucking hours, to a room that was capable of holding about 1500 people. With never more than eight people in it. This was supposed to be the first proper, residents-only week of a night that we had launched a week before, with guest DJs – Jon Carter and Cut La Roc, if I remember right – who had managed to pull in a capacity crowd and send the place mental, to the extent that, when I took over from Carter towards the end of the night, people were extending their hands from the dancefloor and thrusting them out towards me, on the decks. I thought, fucking brilliant. I am now some sort of superstar DJ. The next week, when – despite the extensive flyering and postering, despite the adverts on the student radio station – less people than the average football team turned up, it was fucking crushing. You get quite a fantastic echo in a 1500-capacity room when there's basically nobody in it, but you have the sound system cranked up.

And then there's the time (2002? 2003? shit, I can't remember) when me, and my friend and DJ-ing partner at the time (a fellow MeFite), were invited to play at some über-trendy electroclash/mash-up/hipster nonsense club in London. It was all going well – relatively speaking; there were lots of people in sub Aladdin Sane get ups – until one of the other DJs in the same room we were on in had a massive hissy fit. She had done a lot of acid by that point, and started scolding the both of us about our music choices, personal qualities, taste in pretty much everything, etc., in a staggeringly agressive manner, whilst still evidently tripping her tits off. Not that I was much better, by that point; the several pills I'd consumed had kicked in, and I didn't really give a shit, even when – whilst carrying my records to a taxi after the end of the night – I went arse-over-tit and my flight case of records went flying, whilst I hit the pavement, blood all over my knees.
posted by Len at 3:02 PM on August 6, 2011

This was supposed to be the first proper, residents-only week of a night that we had launched a week before, with guest DJs – Jon Carter and Cut La Roc, if I remember right – who had managed to pull in a capacity crowd and send the place mental, to the extent that, when I took over from Carter towards the end of the night, people were extending their hands from the dancefloor and thrusting them out towards me, on the decks. I thought, fucking brilliant. I am now some sort of superstar DJ. The next week, when – despite the extensive flyering and postering, despite the adverts on the student radio station – less people than the average football team turned up, it was fucking crushing. You get quite a fantastic echo in a 1500-capacity room when there's basically nobody in it, but you have the sound system cranked up.

Yep. I went from opening for Tiesto back to playing gigs with a dozen people showing up if I was lucky and it was pretty crushing :/ I once opened for Eddie Halliwell a week after Oakenfold played to the same club and it was like 200 people in a 3000 capacity room.

But at the same time I had a gig where it was just me and a few friends playing at a suburban bar and it happened to be one of those weeks where nothing else was going on and we had a line out the door and it was one of my best gigs ever.

Club kids are fucking fickle. I never knew when I was going to play to an empty room or to a room full of cracked out ravers on drugs or when it was going to be like an aggressive college crowd that wanted hip hop instead of 'gay techno'.

I considered any gig a success as long as I got some people that I didn't know personally dancing. The only time gigs got really depressing was when there were equipment problems or when I had people actively heckling me (which happened a lot when you tried to play rave music in a non rave club)
posted by empath at 3:34 PM on August 6, 2011

Two of my worst gigs were SXSW showcases -- high stakes utter failures. In my wild youth, I had a band with my pretty crazy girlfriend the singer, who the night before the opening day of the tradeshow, and our showcase gig at the Ritz decided to take acid and stay up all night. I couldn't get out of work, so she was the one designated to take the one hard pass we had, and hit the show floor, and do the hobnobbing thing, only she was absolutely in no shape to do so. No sleep and an acid hangover wasn't going to deter her though, so off she went, probably fortified with a modicum of Peruvian Marching Powder.

About three that afternoon, not long before we were supposed to meet up to pack gear and load in to the gig, I got a call from a friend who was also at the trade show, to inform me that she had kinda gone off her rocker in the lobby, and when confronted by security, had run out into 11th street, stopping traffic, where she fell down and passed out cold on the double yellow stripes. I was informed that she was at that moment, on her way via ambulance to the nearby hospital.

When I arrived at the emergency room, I could hear her screaming as soon as the automatic doors parted, which made for easy navigation to her gurney, to which she had been handcuffed. An empty vial had been found in her pocket, but there wasn't enough substance to press charges over, and the policeman tending to her looked just beaten down. She'd prety much been screaming for an hour.

I don't know what I said, or what I was even thinking, but I somehow convinced them to release her into my recognizance in just barely enough time to drive straight to the gig, with her in her torn-up shirt, and a rather large road rash wound on her chin. The whole thing was surreal - I think I was kind of short-circuited by stress at that point - but somehow, we all determined the show must go on. I had soft-pedaled the sitcho to the rest of the band, who were all justifiably appalled at her appearance and demeanor, as soon as we got to the gig. We played terribly, she sang worse, forgot words, stumbled, laughed, and generally bombed.

The next day, the other 4 members of the band basically told us if she didn't go into treatment and sober up right then, they were quitting en masse, and she told them all to get screwed, so of course they did. I didn't blame them at all. I should have cancelled the thing and left her at the hospital. The stress to perform at any price ended up costing me, and her. (She's now almost 20 years sober, and lives on a nice piece of land in the hill country, so things turn out in the long run, dear reader.)

The next year, we had reformed with a new crew, she was doing better with the substances, and we were sounding fucking great. We had a really good session under our belt, label interest, and a decent local following, and we were prepped and ready. The day of the showcase, we got to the Cannibal Club, and it was jam-packed, and there was buzz. Electric. We had this really awesome dual-drummer thing going on, with one playing an acoustic trap kit, and one playing a set of electronic pads, and it was thick. It grooved. We had something new and massive.

It was our moment... until the keyboard player/e-percussionist's midi controller shit the bed as he was setting up. No samples to the drum pads, so strike them. Half of the keyboard patches unavailable via module, so strike them. Our 4 strongest songs had to be scratched off the set list, and we were finally told to "start now or don't play" after a tense 30-minute delay. The songs we did play sounded wrong, and it was obvious they sounded wrong to us. The packed crowd slowly trickled out as we played. Greatest wasted opportunity of my musical life -- thank you, Roland.

But the most horrible gig ever was just a few years ago when my cover band was playing a birthday party that ground to a screeching halt after the first set when someone's five-year-old kid drowned in the swimming pool, as at least 10 adults sat around the edge, feet in the water, drinking beer.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:34 PM on August 6, 2011

Stonestock Relentless: "Damn, ... I just ... really David Byrne?"

Capt. Renault: "I don't know what David's side of the story was, but... No-one deserved an end like that. Not the band, not the other bands, not the audience, not posterity."

I say this as a fan: their history seems complicated and I'm not sure we can trust Tina Weymouth to give an unbiased account of David Byrne's misdeeds, though I've seen the essentials of that story summarized elsewhere as well. But do note that that last gig was in 1984, the same year "Stop Making Sense" came out. The Talking Heads went on to record three more albums before they broke up. That gig was not the absolute end.
posted by Songdog at 6:49 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

empath: But at the same time I had a gig where it was just me and a few friends playing at a suburban bar and it happened to be one of those weeks where nothing else was going on and we had a line out the door and it was one of my best gigs ever.

Yeah, I'm with you on that. All my favourite gigs have been small affairs: bars, or basement sweatboxes with ceilings so low that the crowd can touch them with their fingertips. You get a special atmosphere in somewhere much smaller, with a crowd willing to follow wherever the tunes take them.

Songdog: I say this as a fan: their history seems complicated and I'm not sure we can trust Tina Weymouth to give an unbiased account of David Byrne's misdeeds

That's putting it mildly. Read David Bowman's This Must Be The Place for the full picture, but Weymouth's weirdly antagonistic obsessive love/hate relationship with Byrne goes back to the band's founding; there's stories of her spending entire gigs standing stock still, with her eyes trained on the back of Byrne's head like lasers. And a friend of mine interviewed her a few years back – she spent more than half of the time they had together ranting, unprompted, about how much of a total bastard David Byrne was/is.
posted by Len at 1:16 AM on August 7, 2011

Yeah, as much as I love Tina Weymouth's touch on the bass, she's completely full of shit when she is interviewed.
posted by Locobot at 8:11 AM on August 7, 2011

An old friend says to me: "Do you remember that gig we did way back at *art gallery*?
me: "Maybe, which one?"
him: "The one where you opened for us, but almost no one showed up. Between sets you took us out to our van and gave us those weird drugs. When we tried to play again it felt like my arms were clouds and *guitarist* was staring at me and we were trying to follow our cues but we suddenly couldn't talk any more. We could only focus on what we were doing, and we eventually had to lie down and improvise."
me: "No, I don't remember being there. I can see why though."
posted by Theta States at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2011

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