Iconic Bands, Terrible Performances


Every musician has dropped their fair share of sub-par sets. In their defence, when playing via a semi-functional sound system to a hostile audience after 12 hours on the road, mustering just about any performance is admirable. But when it comes to rock’s legends, it’s a different story. Whether it’s illness, feuding bandmates, acts of god or sheer hubris, sometimes a performance just doesn’t cut it. Here are seven times rock’s best and brightest disappointed.


Led Zeppelin
John F. Kennedy Stadium, Live Aid
13 July 1985

Performed before a crowd of 100,000 and broadcast to over a billion, Live Aid was a pivotal moment for the careers of groups like Queen and U2. But with a disgruntled John Paul Jones only arriving earlier in the day the group, who hadn’t appeared live since the death of John Bonham in 1980, gave themselves only an hour to rehearse. Page’s slapdash fretwork along with Plant’s croaky vocals and forgotten lyrics are only exacerbated by Phil Collins’ improvisatory percussion. Given the hysteria surrounding the Led Zeppelin reunion, a little more forethought could have seen Zeppelin steal the show. When one of the all-time greats is outdone by the guys who wrote the theme to The Breakfast Club, you have to wonder.



Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger and Paul Shaffer
The Waldorf-Astoria, 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
January 20, 1988

To commemorate The Beatles’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Fab Four were honoured with a truly shambolic rendition of 1963 single ‘I Saw Her Standing There’. As just about every musician present hopped on stage, it’s hard to play the blame game. With Paul McCartney conspicuously absent, whom else but Billy Joel should take up the former Beatle’s vocals? And what could perfectly capture the magic of a Beatles original than Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman fame) on keytar? Throwing quality control out the window, it seems like there were just too many cooks in this kitchen.



Marc Bolan and David Bowie
Manchester, Marc (TV Series)
7 September 1977

The final episode of Marc Bolan’s TV show was captured only nine days before his tragic death. Earlier in the show Bolan’s long-time friend and rival David Bowie performed ‘Heroes’, but the true gem was yet to come. Closing the show the pair was set to premier co-authored song ‘Standing Next to You’. Given that Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust owed much to Bolan’s earlier musical success as T.Rex, a rare duet would have served as the perfect coda to the glam rock era. Unfortunately, before things really got going Bolan tripped on a mic cable and tumbled offstage. If only they’d given it another take.



Pauley Pavilion, The MTV Video Music Awards
9 September 1992

Nirvana never had the greatest relationship with MTV, but with the breakthrough of Nevermind the Seattle three-piece held all the cards. Despite the obvious frustration due to not being allowed to play ‘Rape Me’, the set itself isn’t that bad. Unfortunately, things are cut short when bassist Krist Novoselic, peeved by amp troubles, fails to pull off an impromptu bass toss. Granted he suffered some mild concussion, the band’s subsequent tantrum would have left many veteran performers shaking their heads.



Amy Winehouse
Belgrade, Tuborg Festival
18 June 2011

With the runaway success of 2006’s Back to Black, Amy Winehouse’s career should have been riding a high. But the following years were a dreadful time for the talented yet troubled songstress. Dispensing with a sound check, the drug addled Winehouse arrived an hour late and managed to do little more than stagger around the stage slurring her jumbled lyrics. Many within the 20,000 strong crowd were less than pleased. Met with widespread booing, Winehouse stormed off stage 30 minutes into the set. Serbian locals labelled it the worst gig to ever take place in the city. A little over a month later the singer was dead.



Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury festival
June 25 2004

At the height of Brit pop, Oasis were taking the world by storm. Headlining Glastonbury in 1995 the swaggering Gallaghers were at a creative and commercial peak. By 2004 the sparks had stopped flying. Internal tensions and exhaustion had overtaken the band. Lowlights include Noel dedicating ‘Stop Crying Your Heart Out to England to a defeated football team. While technically proficient the unremarkable performance failed to capture the imagination of newer generation of fans and was widely derided in the press. Ultimately the 70 minute set served as little more than a reminder that the Oasis had run its course.



The Rolling Stones
Altamont Speedway, Altamont Free Concert
6 December 1969

Looking to hold their own personal Woodstock, the events of The Rolling Stones’ Altamont Free Concert will forever be remembered as one of rock music’s darkest moments. The vicious and possibly racially motivated murder of Meredith Hunter on December 6 1969 was widely thought to be the event that brought the 60s to a close and darkly foreshadowed the turbulent decade to come. The Stones’ decision to hire Hells Angels as security may have cut costs, but the drunken bikers brutally assaulted many patrons. By the time Mick Jagger took the stage the situation had almost deteriorated into a riot. Despite Jagger’s repeated requests to ‘cool it,’ there was little that could quell the violence.



Red Hot Chili Peppers
Saturday Night Live
22 February 1992

Although there are some truly terrible performances in this list, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s trainwreck on Saturday Night Live holds one incredibly unique characteristic; intentional sabotage. Cue the gasps! Legend has it that former guitarist John Frusciante had begun to hate the band’s newfound popularity after their massive album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and particularly hit track ‘Under The Bridge’. When it came to performing the song on SNL, Frusciante’s hatred seemed to hit its breaking point. Watch poor singer Anthony Kiedis struggle to hold the song together and make it through Frusciante’s random guitar work and screaming vocals.



Honourable Mention

Spinal Tap
Unknown, Spinal Tap 1982 US Tour
Sometime during 1982

Whether it’s spontaneously combusting drummers, tasteless album covers or semi-inflated devil props, things never seem to go well for Spinal Tap. Seeking to inject some energy into the group’s disastrous 1982 tour, guitarist Nigel Tufnel convinced the band to incorporate a life size replica of Stonehenge into their live act. Sadly, confusion between feet and inches led to a minuscule replica of the famed rock formation being deployed instead.

Reason it didn’t make the cut: Not a real band


About Riley Fitzgerald

Riley Fitzgerald is a Brisbane-based writer and wine drinker generally found shuffling around DIY gigs or music festivals. He collects synths and music books. Favourite labels include Ghostly Int., Warp, Flying Nun, 4AD, Future Classic, & Bedrooms Suck. Follow him on Twitter @Rileynf

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