20 of the worst gigs of all time
Sometimes you’re watching a band play live, you look around the venue as thousands of adoring fans lose their minds, the light show is on point, a confetti cannon pops at just the right moment and the euphoria shared between the musicians on stage and the audience feels genuinely special. And then there are other shows, where every conceivable calamity strikes.
All bands have had a gig go disastrously wrong at some stage in their career. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a globe-trotting, big deal festival headliner or you’re on the first rungs of the live music ladder, opening at the local watering hole to the proverbial one man and his dog – sometimes, shit just happens. Bad luck, malfunctioning gear, sketchy promoters, unforgiving crowds and all sorts of nightmares have been the bane of many a band. For every perfectly-timed CO2 cannon blast or impressively-synchronised riff and flash of light, there are countless stories of rock stars falling over, forgetting song lyrics, gear exploding…
You can rehearse to the point of perfection all you like, but that’s no guarantee that everything will be alright on the night. Often these kinds of failures can be chastening experiences, however. Things won’t always work out the way you want, but it’s how you deal with the adversity that defines whether or not you’ve got what it takes to make it to the top.
We’ve rounded up some of the biggest and best names in rock to share their personal tales of live show woe. Enjoy…
Tobias Forge, Ghost
“We [Ghost] opened for Iron Maiden many years ago in an undisclosed European country where fans have a tendency to be a little uncool with support acts. I was in a shitty mood, and the crowd were kind of shit as well. Or at least I felt like they were. So I dropped my persona and I had a tantrum onstage and started yelling at them. We were meant to play one final song, but I decided to finish the set early instead. I was like, ‘Okay then, fuck you very much! Take this show and shove it up your sphincters!’ It felt purposeful to do it, but by the time I got back to the dressing room I was like, ‘Well, that was very unprofessional.’ I’ve learned my lesson now.”
Cristina Scabbia, Lacuna Coil
“I had a complete disaster when I joined Megadeth onstage in Milan to sing on the song À Tout Le Monde. We had a rehearsal together in the afternoon and it was perfect, but during the actual show the sound guy forgot to turn my microphone on. So I basically sang the entire song with no volume, and I could see people in the crowd pointing at me and then pointing to their ears. It was particularly embarrassing because Milan is my hometown, of course. They fired the sound guy afterwards, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It’s between that and the time I fell over at Ozzfest for my worst live experience. Sometimes you just get so into the show that you don’t see where you’re going. The stage was really high, so it was a big fall, but miraculously I didn’t hurt myself. I just climbed back up as if nothing had happened. I think I had adrenalin to thank for getting me through that one.”
Alex Gaskarth, All Time Low
“When All Time Low played the Main Stage at Reading & Leeds for the first time, our laptop broke. I’ve never actually spoken about this publicly before, but I’ve told friends. We weren’t relying on it for a backing track or anything, but Rian’s [Dawson, drums] click track runs through it. When things started going wrong I started playing Dammit by blink-182, and about eight moshpits broke out. We had to start Weightless differently, because that song normally begins with an electronic beat, but we didn’t have it, so we had to start with a guitar riff instead. To this day we still play it that way. It ended up being a really special moment for the band, weirdly.”
Lynn Gunn, PVRIS
“Our first ever headline show in London was a complete train wreck! Our intro track failed because our playback unit was malfunctioning. There was an issue with the power too, and after a couple of songs, Alex’s [Babinksi, guitar/keyboards] amp stopped working properly. I’m not sure why everything went wrong that day. Our playback unit was warped, pitched down and at the wrong tempo – something had seriously gone awry. No-one else in the band could hear it, though, so I had this extreme moment of panic. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Alex’s guitar cut-out later on, so we did a stripped-back acoustic version of Let Them In, but Alex was having trouble playing it because it was a very last-minute thing. Looking back, I think, ‘Good for you, young PVRIS, for taking a risk.’ But if I’m being completely honest, it was a bit of a disaster!”
Ben Barlow, Neck Deep
“Neck Deep have had a lot of bad gigs in our time. We had a Glasgow show on a tour with Hacktivist early on which wasn’t much fun for anyone. There were 15 people in the room, standing in a semicircle while we played. You could tell a couple of them wanted to get involved, but no-one did, so it was horribly awkward. There was a dude drunkenly stumbling around at the front of the stage. I eventually took his pint off him, poured it away in front of his face and told him to piss off. It didn’t make the vibe any better. That was shit!”
Jason Aalon Butler, FEVER 333
“When I was in letlive. we played in Yakima, Washington, at a place called The Jade Room. It was the worst show I’ve ever played in my entire life. Everything went wrong: equipment was breaking, the PA wasn’t working, there was nobody there, and parts of the songs were being forgotten. It was unbelievable. It was Murphy’s Law for shitty nights – anything that could go wrong was going really wrong. It was insane. Afterwards, I was sitting on the curb of a small street and these people in a car drove up and started trying to talk to me about partying and making sexual advances at me. I was so depressed about the show that I thought I was in a fucking nightmare. It was so frustrating. It was like a bad dream or a test from the universe. I really hope that I passed, because it was such an awful night.”
Chris Carrabba, Dashboard Confessional
“I could give you lots of examples of gigs going terribly wrong. I wish I could say this only happened in Dashboard Confessional once, but I’ve shown up to venues for shows only to find that the promoter is nowhere to be found and the club has now closed down, having driven 16 hours to get there. The first couple of times you get angry, then after a while you figure out, ‘Well, the first thing I’ve got to do is find a place to sleep,’ and you get busy taking care of things.”
Myles Kennedy, Alter Bridge
“There was one shitty gig with The Mayfield Four I did back in like ‘99, when we were on tour with Fuel. We were playing in San Francisco, we weren’t firing on all cylinders, and I was trying to up the energy. I was rocking out and I was trying to lose myself in the performance, and the next thing you know I’ve tripped over my pedal board, and I’ve fallen on my ass right in front of the crowd. It was a total buzzkill. And for the next week I couldn’t get out of bed because I injured my lower back. It was one of those super embarrassing moments where nothing seems to be working right, but you’ve just got to grin and bear it. You win some, you lose some, I guess.”
Rou Reynolds, Enter Shikari
“We [Enter Shikari] call this The Gig Of Which We Shall Never Speak. It was at a Hells Angels pub in South London in 2006. So there were massive burly bikers everywhere, a lot of leather, a lot of mullets and a lot of stern, ‘Who are these emo kids in their tight jeans and their hair coming into our pub?’ faces! It was the worst gig. The PA was one speaker about the size of a human head. It was an absolute mess and we were terrible. I think some of us were drunk, too. I don’t think there was a moment that wasn’t heckled, so I think we only played four songs in the end. And there were a lot of altercations between the bikers and hardcore kids. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.”
Bryan Garris, Knocked Loose
“When Knocked Loose started touring it was not always as awesome as it is now. Sometimes the shows were pretty shit. We would often drive for like, eight hours to get to a venue only to discover that there’s no-one there, all the lights are off and the venue doors are locked. There was one time we had a show cancelled like that, so somebody said that we could play in their living room if we wanted to still make our time worthwhile. So we took up their offer and drove through the woods for what felt like hours. We were somewhere in North Carolina, way up in the mountains, but when we got to the house, there were literally only four people inside. They were like, ‘You can still play if you want,’ so we set up anyway and played. They didn’t have a microphone or a PA, though, so it was completely instrumental. The whole time I had to stand there awkwardly while my band performed, and when we were done I asked if anyone wanted to buy a T‑shirt, but everyone was like, ‘No, we’re good,’ so we packed up and went on to the next town.”
William Duvall, Alice In Chains
“My second time on stage ever was with AVOC and we got a gig opening for the Circle Jerks, which at that time, you can’t even imagine what a big deal it was to us. I was like ‚15, this was June 3, 1983. I will never forget the day.
“So the day arrives, I’m at the club for soundcheck, but Ricky doesn’t show up! I call his house, I get his older brother Tony on the phone and he tells me that Ricky’s been grounded! I was like, ‘No! Wait, Tony, you have to explain what a big deal this is! This is the Circle Jerks!’
“So we wait and I’m backstage, sitting in the dressing room and God bless him this fella Greg Psomas was there, he was the drummer in the only other hardcore band, from the northern suburbs of Atlanta. Greg was like the Keith Moon of Atlanta. He was backstage because we all went to any gig that was remotely punk, so he offered to sit in and I was really flattered and honored, but it was also like, ‘Okay, now I gotta do a crash course on the songs!’ It’s literally half an hour before we were supposed go on and so I managed to convey the first two songs to him, hoping to God that he remembers. And then we get the call, the guy comes by the doorway and he’s like, ‘It’s time.’ We were walking all somber, and you kind had to go through the crowd to get to the stage. So it was like it was like, death march. We basically kind of remembered the arrangement, but it was real sloppy. The whole song was bordering on a train wreck and so we stopped. We get through it though, and I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to get to the next song.’ Right then, my amp starts howling bad feedback . But I didn’t know what to do. And… we’re dying. Just then I see Ricky’s brother Tony coming towards the stage with Ricky! Ricky sits down and we try to pick the gig up from where we would have left off, but I was so mortified by everything that was happening. The squealing feedback between every song, I didn’t know how to stop it. I’m trying to just remember my own songs, my heart is beating out of my chest. It was just pure chaos. I was so humiliated.
“But after the gig when we had to do the death march back through the crowd to get to the dressing room, an interesting thing happened. This girl, my age, interestingly, you know, 15 and 14, she comes up to me, she puts my hand in both of her hands and she was just like, ‘That was so good!’ I was like, ‘Okay! Night redeemed!’ She was with her German teacher, Margie. I’m like, wait, ‘What kind of school do you go to where they teach German? And what kind of school do you go to when you call your teacher by the first name?’ But it turned out she would end up becoming one of my best friends. And I ended up transferring to the school that she went to, which changed my life entirely. I got out of the public high school that I was in where I felt tormented every day and I went to this small private school right in Midtown Atlanta. That’s the school I graduated from. So that Circle Jerks gig that was a disaster in many ways, actually turned into this really life changing thing.”
Larissa Stupar, Venom Prison
“In the first year of Venom Prison we headlined an all-dayer in Cheltenham. So we all arrived, and the backline they supplied was awful. There was no bass cab – just a combo amp. Then there was a club night happening at the same time, so there were drunk people everywhere – carrying in the gear was so difficult. We were pissed off from the beginning. And then, we saw that the drum kit there was covered in Confederate flags! It was like a print all over the drums. I didn’t feel comfortable with it, so I covered the whole thing up. I think it must have belonged to another band who played that day, but we didn’t stick around to find out. We packed up and left straightaway after. The show itself was actually pretty fun, but everything around it was just awful.”
Justin Hawkins, The Darkness
“We were playing in Peterborough before our first album came out. It was a fairly big occasion for us because the label came to see us. At the end of Love On The Rocks With No Ice I was standing on a wedge monitor. I tried to steady myself by grabbing on to a ventilation/extractor fan type thing overhead. Unfortunately I then lost my footing and pulled both that and the whole ceiling down. The ceiling came down on to the stage, so we were just laying underneath some rubble. There were cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. I thought it was hilarious.”
Murray Macleod, The Xcerts
“It was our first ever UK tour and I got really, really sick, but everybody was too freaked out to tell the agent we were pulling a show on our very first tour. I didn’t want to let anybody down, but in hindsight that was the stupidest fucking thing because I was ill. I couldn’t speak. We were playing the crypt in Hastings, and I was sweating profusely as I walked up. I was achey and wanting to be sick, and when I tried to open my mouth nothing came out. So then Jordan tried to take lead vocals and his voice kind of broke, so the first note that came out of Jordan’s mouth to try to help me out was this horrible squeaky voice breaking sound. So then he stopped – he was mortified. We played five songs without vocals while the both of us were looking at the ground. Our driver on that tour also fell down a manhole at the venue, and he was waist deep in water. People were running up to us afterwards and complaining, asking if they could get their money back.”
Chris Loporto, Can’t Swim
“Jesus Christ – every single show?! But one time we played in Houston, Texas, and I swear it was like, 150 degrees Fahrenheit. So it was insanely hot and I started to sing the first song and I was completely out of breath, then I lost my voice to the point where I couldn’t even make a whisper. Andrea [Morgan], our old drummer, was drowning in sweat and sticks were flying out of her hands. The gig was with Four Year Strong and Set Your Goals, in the first year or so of Can’t Swim, and to this day it’s definitely the worst show we’ve ever played. I don’t think we were accustomed to playing in different climates yet – and even now it’s not very fun to play when you’re sweating to death, but that just horrible. I remember going onstage and immediately being like, ‘I just want to get off. Can we just finish off this first song and go home?’ It was terrible.”
“I was in college opening for a friend’s band, but their audience and my audience couldn’t have been more different. I was met with complete indifference – people were talking over our set and checking their phones and whatever. Then, during their set, I was backstage waiting to come onstage to perform, and at the very last moment some drunk 19-year-old kid wandered onstage and threw his arm around the guitarist and the singer. He was annoying everybody, but security wasn’t coming for him, so I went onstage and threw him offstage, and we got in a bit of a tussle until security broke the whole thing up. It was like everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I don’t think I ever got to sing that song with my friend’s band, and it was one of the last shows before starting grandson. The show was so bad that it reminded me that I needed to do something entirely different with my career. So in some ways, I’m grateful – if it wasn’t for that show, this might never have happened.”
Vinnie Caruana, The Movielife
“The first show I ever played in the UK was in Newport in Wales. I was a young fish out of water, and it was my first time leaving home, and it was a great show for your first show. So we showed up and there were maybe 100 people at the venue. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is cool! And then somebody took a full beer and then threw it directly at me and it hit me square in the chest. The young, New York kind of guy who didn’t shy away from violence wanted to kill, but at the same time I was scared because I was in this new place. I just remember being terrified that I was going to jump into the crowd and the tour would be over, but I was also just a stranger in a strange land. So whoever threw that beer at me, maybe you did it in the name of punk rock, but maybe you helped put some hair on my chest! The same exact thing happened later in life and I did go and find them…”
Tim Wheeler, Ash
“There was a really bad early Ash gig in Scunthorpe where the guy who was promoting it was a real amateur. I think it was the first ever gig that he was promoting and I remember when we arrived there were a lot of basic things that weren’t there. We wanted some beer so he went out and bought us some of the worst, cheapest stuff he could find. And I think in the contract he was meant to have catering for us, so he took us to this fish and chips place, but he could only afford a couple of bags of chips between us. He was also in the support band and they broke up in the middle of the show! He barely promoted the gig either, so there was hardly anyone there. And after the gig, there was no money to pay the guy who brought the PA, so he gave him his guitarist’s amp. Our tour manager had to threaten the promoter until he actually paid us. To do so he had to go round to his mum’s house in the middle of the night and get the money from her! It reminds me of the joke ‘Who put the cunt in Scunthorpe?’ We think it was him!”
Kirk Windstein, Crowbar
“The first gig I ever played in my life was pretty atrocious. I was about 15, still in high school and our bass player, who I’m still good friends with to this day, got us to play the school fair. It was where everyone in my area went to school, so everyone knew us, but the problem was we only knew two or three songs and a few bits and pieces of others. We didn’t know anything about sound systems, we didn’t know anything about anything. We were terrible, but thankfully nobody booed, they just walked away and waited for it to be over.
“With Crowbar, there have been a couple of gigs where I shouldn’t have drank as much as I did, but it’s been a long time since that happened. I think it used to happen a lot more, with bands drinking before playing, but the difference now is that everything’s caught on a cell phone. The show is often up there before you even get to the dressing room. There was also one show back in around 1994 when we played and had literally three people, three paying audience members. Instead of cancelling the show we decided to make the best of it, so we asked them their names and asked what songs they wanted to hear and it was like we played them a private concert. They loved it, so that one actually went from bad to actually enjoyable.”
Brady Deeprose, Conjurer
“I shat myself at 2000Trees once! Luckily, I didn’t actually shit myself onstage. It was the night before, in the merch tent, mid-conversation with Josie from Big Scary Monsters and I had bright orange shorts on. I remember the whole thing extremely vividly. It wasn’t fun, but it’s something I’m kind of proud of at this point. I’m not sure what else to say, I have a stomach condition. I’m not a mad man who shits himself – it’s all medical and above board. I did very much think I had shat onstage once though, in Nottingham on the Conan tour last year, just as the last riff of Hadal dropped in, I was certain I’d pooped, so I hobbled offstage as soon as we finished, but thank god, it was a false alarm. I’ll be sure to let you know if and when it happens again!”
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