The worst gigs of all time

Everyone has their memories of great concerts. But what about those that the artists would prefer we forget? Pierre Perrone refuses to let them die

Out of tune:
The Stone Roses, Reading Festival, 25 August 1996

Fusing dance and psychedelia, The Stone Roses’ eponymous 1989 debut defined the baggy and indie generations. Their Spike Island concert in May 1990 was a high watermark moment but the group became embroiled in a lengthy legal battle with the Silvertone label before signing to Geffen. Second Coming, their much-delayed Zeppelinesque second album, released in 1994, couldn’t possibly live up to expectations.

Drummer Reni left the following year and was replaced by Robbie Maddix. However, the departure of guitarist and songwriter John Squire, whose spiralling riffs were as intrinsic to theRoses as Ian Brown’s vocals and swaggering stage presence, proved more problematic. What Noel Gallagher called “the hardest job in theworld” eventually went to Aziz Ibrahim, who had played with Simply Red, The Christians and AOR proggers Asia. The Roses were headlining the final night and started the looping riff of “I Wanna Be Adored” but, as soon as Brown opened his mouth, it was obvious he couldn’t hit a note. The singer swaggered on, shaking his tambourine, but remained totally off-key. The audience was staring in utter disbelief. Long-time followers wept. “I Am The Resurrection” felt like a wake. The NewMusical Express, Melody Maker and Select reviewed the debacle in every excruciating detail. “More like the eternal crucifixion,” wrote Johnny Cigarettes in the NME. Ibrahim stuck with Brown for Unfinished Monkey Business, the first of the frontman’s five solo albums, and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield joined Primal Scream. Squire formed the short-lived Seahorses and subsequently decided to concentrate on his art career.

A concept too far: David Bowie Glass Spider Tour Wembley Stadium, July 19 & 20 1987

Hemay have been rock’s ultimate chameleon, the androgynous star who pioneered rock theatre with The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and DiamondDogs in theSeventies but the Glass Spider extravaganza was a very Eighties concept and conceit. Choreographed by Toni Basil of “Mickey” fame and ostensibly structured around Never Let Me Down, the album following the chart-topping mainstream biggies Let’sDance and Tonight, the production involved a huge spider-like canopy, half a dozen dancers, and a poodle-haired Peter Frampton on guitar. At one point, Bowie came down from the rafters in a futuristic white chair and literally phoned in his vocals. Later, he sang London Bridge Is Falling Downin the middle of Fame.Hemight have just got away with this kind of artyfarty, multi-media presentation in an arena but it didn’t cut the mustard as a stadium attraction. In 1989, Bowie tried anonymity with rock band Tin Machine. Thefollowing year, he reprised most of his hits in the Sound + Vision tour. Bowie now admits the whole episode was “my nadir.”

Karaoke central: Songs and Visions Wembley Stadium, 16 August 1997

Putting on a multi-star extravaganza is asking for trouble, especially if you’re expecting the singers to try and cover 40 years of popular music. The brainchild of Tony Hollingsworth, who produced the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute at the same venue in 1988, the jukebox format could have been a winner but became karaoke central. Mary JBlige, k.d. lang, Chaka Khan, Robert Palmer, Seal, Rod Stewart and Steve Winwood performed their signature songs and covered Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Motown, Led Zeppelin and U2 hits from every year between 1956 and 1996, yet there was little on-stage chemistry and the atmosphere was as flat as the Carlsberg provided by the event’s sponsor. Palmer and Stewart indulged in a bout of one-upmanship as they duetted on “Some Guys Have All The Luck” and Khan and lang murdered The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”. Too many of the vocalists were squinting at the lyrics on the TV monitors buried front stage when they should have been engaging the audience and projecting to the back of the stadium.

Will she, won’t she?: Amy Winehouse, Birmingham National Indoor Arena, 14 November 2007

Much has been written about the succession of car crashes the singer’s career has turned into. In March 2007, Winehouse honoured a commitment to record a TV concert for the BBC One Sessions series at London’s Porchester Hall but the next day, she went AWOL, forcing the cancellation of two gigs at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Things went from bad to worse, with no-shows, drink and drug binges, and the arrest of her husband Blake Fielder-Civil on charges of perverting the course of justice two months ago. So, even if she had the best-selling album of 2007, it probably wasn’t the best idea to try and send Winehouse out on tour in that frame of mind. The beehived star didn’t bother to soundcheck and was an hour late for the opening night at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena. Despite playing the same set as usual, she gave a shambolic performance, staggering around the stage and slurring her way through “Back To Black” and “Rehab”. When irate fans started booing and jeering, she threatened them with: “Wait ’til my husband gets out of incarceration. And I mean that.” She dropped the mike several times and eventually walked out halfway through a version of The Zutons’ “Valerie”. Hundreds demanded their money back. Amazingly, her tour continued until Brighton on the 26 November 2007 but the rest of the dates were pulled.

Limping on: The Clash, Edinburgh Playhouse, 3 March 1984

This was not the legendary punk group which caused riots and made headlines everywhere it went, but the Out of Control UK tour. The Clash Mark Two still featured firebrand Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon, with new recruits Pete Howard – drums, in lieu of Terry Chimes, who had himself replaced Topper Headon – as well as Vince White and Nick Sheppard on guitar, instead of Mick Jones, who had left to form Big Audio Dynamite the previous year. Strummer was sporting his ill-advised De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver mohawk. Yet, despite opening with “London Calling” and “Safe European Home”, and playing most of their best-known material – “Tommy Gun”, “White Man In Hammersmith Palais”, covers of “Police And Thieves”, “I Fought The Law” and “Brand New Cadillac” – they seemed like a group going through the motions. To further rub salt into the wounds, Sheppard, a former member of punk also-rans The Cortinas, took lead vocals on “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?”, the Combat Rock single originally sung and written by Jones. They ended with “London’s Burning” and “White Riot” but it was a bravado attempt at recreating past glories, not the visceral rush of their heyday. The new track they debuted, “Dictator”, was included on Cut The Crap, the universally-reviled final Clash album issued in 1985, and mostly recorded by Strummer with manager Bernie Rhodes. Jones and Strummer made their peace and appeared together for a benefit show at Acton Town Hall in November 2002. Strummer died five weeks later.

The Who go tape loopy: Trentham Gardens, Stoke-On-Trent, 28 October 1973/Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, 29 October 1973/Odeon, Newcastle 5 November 1973

The band who recorded Live At Leeds, the greatest concert album of all time, are hardly known for having off nights. Yet the opening night of the Quadrophenia tour found them battling the technology which didn’t quite match Pete Townshend’s visionary talent. They’d used backing tapes before, most notably on “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, but their new opus involved a quadraphonic sound system delivering storm and sea noises and synthesizer and orchestral loops throughout. The Who didn’t rehearse enough and there were too many guitar changes for any momentum to develop. Thankfully, Keith Altham, the group’s experienced publicist, had wisely arranged for journalists to review the second, rather than the first concert of the tour. By then, some of the glitches had been ironed out and several Quadrophenia songs dropped. Two shows in Manchester went well but the curse of Quadrophenia struck again in Newcastle during “5.15” when the tape came in slow. An irate Townshend gave engineer Bob Pridden a proper dressing-down on-stage before smashing the mixing desk. After a break of 20 minutes, The Who returned for a medley of oldies. A few weeks later, after swallowing tranquillizers, drummer Keith Moon collapsed on-stage in San Francisco, and was replaced by fan Scott Halpin. The Who didn’t perform Quadrophenia in its entirety again until a charity event for the Prince’s Trust in Hyde Park in 1996.

The longest wait: The first half of the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, London, The 02, 10 December 2007

The event held to honour the founder of Atlantic Records who signed Led Zeppelin in 1968, and died at the end of 2006, started not with a bang but with a whimper. In fact, the first half became an endurance test for most of the 18,000 fans who had travelled from 50 different countries to see Led Zep play a major concert for the first time in over 20 years. Hearts sank when promoter Harvey Goldsmith first introduced a supergroup comprising keyboard-wizard Keith Emerson, Bad Company drummer Simon Kirke, and two members of Yes – bassist Chris Squire and percussionist Alan White – who set the cause of progressive rock back decades with an ill-advised medley of “Fanfare For The Common Man” and various bits of Yessongs.Charisma bypass Bill Wyman was no great shakes either, even if his Rhythm Kings at least put Ertegun’s contribution in context with a rollicking version of Ray Charles’ “Mess Around”, written by Ertegun and sung by the blue-eyed soul Scot Paolo Nutini (pictured above).Free frontman Paul Rodgers barnstormed his way through “All Right Now” and Foreigner played their 1984 AOR chart-topper “IWant To Know What Love Is”, with just one founder member, guitarist Mick Jones. Such an awful supporting cast was never going to upstage the headliners.

Support band upstages headliners: The Police Gateshead International Stadium 30/31 July 1982

Four albums into their career, The Police were just about the biggest group in the world. What could possibly go wrong on Sting’s prodigal son-like return to his native Newcastle, two years on from the trio’s last concerts at the City Hall? It was your typical summer day in the North east. It rained continuously but Lords Of The New Church, The Gang Of Four and The Beat kept the audience entertained enough throughout the afternoon. By the time U2 came on and launched into “Gloria” and “I Threw A Brick Through A Window” from their second album October, their fans were out in force waving banners. As The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr played a set still mostly drawn from their sterling Boy debut, Bono seized the moment. He grabbed a flag and began climbing the wet scaffolding. At one point, the audience held its collective breath when he nearly fell off. The group played a three-song encore and Bono pulled a girl up on-stage, a move reprised many more times. How could Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers follow this? They romped through their hits, rooted to the spot and to the stage, trying to shelter from the teeming rain. The Police had been well and truly upstaged. For Sting, it had been the strangest sort of homecoming.

Mud, glorious mud!: Woodstock ’94 Saugerties, New York, 12, 13, 14 August 1994

Three More Days of Peace and Music, sponsored by Pepsi, marked the 25th anniversary of the festival which defined the hippie era. Held only 10 miles from where the original Woodstock had taken place, the bill comprised a sprinkling of 1969 veterans – Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Santana – and far too many Generation X acts – Green Day, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails – with a tattooed following looking for an excuse to turn nasty. Trying to ban all booze and asking the 350,000 ticket-holders to swap their cash for Woodstock dollars, the only currency recognized on site, was like a red rag to a bull. A downpour on the second day became the catalyst for things to get out of hand. The audience flung so much mud at each other and at the musicians that Trent Reznor and co bit the bullet and came on-stage already caked in mud. Unbelievably, the following year, Polygram released a documentary and a live CD commemorating what became known as Mudstock.

The curse of the supergroup: Bad Company + Baker Gurvitz Army Orange Festival, 15, 16, 17 Aug 1975

Scene of this musical crime was a festival held in the grandiose Théatre Antique d’Orange in the South of France. The first day saw the European debut of Bad Company, the supergroup formed by vocalist Paul Rodgers (pictured left) and drummer Simon Kirke. Sadly, the British musicians picked a fight with waiters at a bar in Avignon and Rodgers got badly cut on the spike of a parasol. He made the gig like a trouper but his performance was well below par. The next day, Baker Gurvitz Army, another supergroup comprising brothers Adrian and Paul Gurvitz of The Gun on guitar and bass, and Ginger Baker of Cream on drums, insisted on headlining. Going on after Dr Feelgood, who stole the show with their high energy, back to basics R&B, proved their undoing. Baker Gurvitz Army bored everyone senseless with interminable solos, with Baker the worst offender.

Where’s my Blackberry?: The Fugees, Oslo Spektrum, 4 December 2005

Once rap’s biggest crossover act with The Score, their second album which came out in 1996, sold 18 million copies and contained the worldwide hits “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready Or Not”, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel decided to reunite. They barely seemed on speaking terms backstage or on-stage. In fact, they’d already cancelled two dates and this was technically the first night of their comeback tour. The merchandising had not even arrived. This disjointed concert was really a succession of solo performances with one new track – “Take It Easy”, the only material they had recorded for a comeback album which never materialized – and little interplay between the three principals but plenty of attempts at whipping into a frenzy the far from capacity crowd. In a bid to endear himself to the locals, Wyclef climbed on the shoulders of a bodyguard and went into the audience. Not to be outdone, Pras went crowd-surfing too, after performing “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)”, and dropped his brand new Blackberry into the throng. He spent the rest of the gig begging for his Blackberry back but was not successful. The Fugees limped around Europe and played one last show in LA in February 2006.

Viva La Diva!: Elton John Madison Square Garden 20 & 21 October 2000

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Tape Reginald Dwight and guests at the venue he’d appeared at more times than any other performer of the rock era and release the live album in record time. Acolytes and associates Kiki Dee and Billy Joel were present and correct and the soundcheck was a hoot. Elton played a blinding version of The Beatles’ “Come Together” and debuted “American Triangle” – his best song in years. By the time of the first show, Elton’s mood had darkened, with the audience’sresponse to cameo appearances by Anastacia (pictured right) and Ronan Keating decidedly underwhelming. Elton got the hump and announced his retirement. The second night, he apologized profusely. He spent the next day holed up in a New York recording studio “fixing” the live album with producer Phil Ramone. Erroneously called One Night Only, it remains one of the singer’s worst-sellers.

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