In this episodic feature we talk to some of our favorite artists about their worst moments on stage. From ardent crowds to no crowds, last minute illnesses, hangovers, explosions and moody sound guys – we asked Toby Driver, N. Imperial and Johan about their crowning moments of tragedy on the live circuit.
Toby Driver of Kayo Dot, maudlin of the Well and Tartar Lamb:
I’ve participated in quite a few absolutely horrible shows throughout the years, but I think the one that takes the cake is maudlin of the Well at ProgWest 2002. ProgWest was an attempt by a group of prog-rock fans out in California to create another fest for the genre, and only lasted two years before folding. I noticed that you guys have a little bit of this set for download on your blog, which I believe is (fortunately) a very-edited version of the actual concert (which also included probably 6 or 7 more songs).
The ProgWest organizers contacted me and asked if we wanted to participate in their festival. I told them that MOTW hadn’t played together in over a year at this point; Sam, our drummer, was living in San Diego, California, and the rest of us in Boston, Massachusetts, so we were pretty much defunct for all intents and purposes. It sounded exciting though, and all of us decided that we’d try to do it. I told the organizers, though, that the #1 stipulation for us doing the fest was that they provide us with a rehearsal space for one full day before the fest so that we could all get together and rehearse our set (having not played together for over a year). They agreed, said no problem, all would be taken care of. They also asked us to provide them with a list of the backline we needed. They said to be as specific as possible. So we were! All we had to do was show up a day early, and the organizers would take us to the rehearsal space, fully stocked with our requested backline.
We were pretty young and inexperienced, so we very stupidly agreed to take no pay for the show and also to pay for our own flights. Just for the experience and exposure. What the hell.
Just a few days before we were to fly out to California, our guitarist, Josh, got extremely sick. Like hospital-worthy. But he put off going to the hospital so he could do the fest (he ended up going to the hospital IMMEDIATELY after the fest). At the same time, Nick, our bassist, accidentally put his right hand through a glass pane, severing a tendon in his wrist and rendering him unable to use his right hand entirely. He came along to the fest anyway as well.
We showed up at the fest a day early as planned, and, to make a long story short, the organizers had NO rehearsal space for us. They told us, whoops, we just couldn’t get it together in time. They said that we could, as an alternative, rehearse onstage as the crew was setting up the lights and PA. But there was no gear there… so we had to wait around all day until about midnight, when a truck showed up with the gear, lights, and PA. The festival organizers actually made us unload the huge tractor-trailer truck, and bring everything inside before we could start rehearsing. It took about an hour and a half to unload everything and get the electricity turned on. Then, just as we were about to start rehearsing, the organizers told us that the venue had to be closed in an hour, so we better hurry up rehearsing! So, we got about an hour’s worth of rehearsal in for a 90-minute set.
The next day, we were slated to perform. The festival organizers had one of their friends acting as a guitar-tech offstage, so he could tune our alternate guitars for us in between songs to minimize tuning time onstage. ‘Awesome,’ we thought. We wrote down our tunings for him. But the guy was a complete crackhead, and ended up putting all the guitars in all the very very far-off wrong tunings. So he’d hand us our guitars between each song, and they’d be SO wrong, we’d have to figure out what was wrong and then retune them all ourselves – the average tuning time between songs was 4-5 minutes! His excuse later was that he didn’t have a chromatic tuner – only one that did E A D G B E. Great idea at a prog rock fest!
Also, Josh was here almost dying on stage, and Nick was playing all his parts with ONLY his left hand – tapping everything!!
One more thing to mention – remember how they had asked us to be as specific as possible with our backline requests? Well, I don’t know why, because they just gave us whatever gear they felt like. For amps, it didn’t matter SO much, but they gave Terran the wrong keyboard, so all the sounds that we had been planning to use, which we had used on the albums, were just not there. And Terran had to figure out, on the fly, during the set, alternate choices for sounds. It was a disaster.
So, to sum up, we had to play this show with virtually no rehearsal for more than a year, a sick guitarist, an injured bassist, an idiot saboteur guitar tech, and the wrong gear. And worst of all, the bad vibes from feeling like we had been royally ass-raped by the festival organizers.
Later, we got home, and read some bad reviews by the festival loyalists who of course thought it was one of the worst shows they had ever seen, and who of course had no idea what was going on behind the scenes there. Thankfully, ProgWest doesn’t exist anymore, which makes the world just a little bit of a safer place for young bands.
N. Imperial of Krieg:
I’ve spent a lot of time fucking things up for the various bands I’ve been involved with so trying to nail down the worst moment in the series of catastrophes is rather difficult. I have two that I can share, oddly both involve the gentlemen from Black Witchery being in attendance and neither are ones that they let me live down.
In 2001 Krieg had only performed twice. We were asked to open a fest that was to showcase the reunion show of Profanatica. My drummer at the time was a local guy and a bit of an embarrassment, a fucking twat if you will. My guitarist at the time somehow convinced me that he could program his drum machine for the show and that we’d sound great. His drum machine… DRUM MACHINE. I somehow went along with this and we fired the human drummer. We didn’t get the luxury of a sound check so I had no idea that four minutes into the set the drum machine would overheat, start to smoke, and break. We did two songs, 7 minutes long. There is a bootleg of this floating around. When your presence is that you recorded “Rise of the Imperial Hordes” and blew up a fucking drum machine then you have a long fight ahead of you.
The second story occurred last year at the Samhain fest in South Carolina. Black Witchery also played; I think these fucking guys are a bad luck charm. I had been having a really rough go with life and two days before the fest I was told that my drummer could not make it. Thanks to the Church of the Black Goat I found a replacement that was on a bus from Oaklahoma and learned the songs via his phone. We had no way to rehearse and my lineup was culled from across the nation. I drove to Virginia the night before to stay with a few friends who were also going. I guess the dam broke because I got blackout drunk and ended up sleeping in a girls laundry pile before settling on her bathroom floor. I’m a poor houseguest. Wake up the next day with the worse hangover I’ve ever had and still 6 hours of driving ahead of me. Got to the venue as we were set to go on. My guitarist and good Judeo Christian friend LD had been drinking for I guess a week straight and had purchased a pawn shop guitar for the show. We were sloppy and chaotic as fuck, with me holding on for dear life to a cigarette and a beer. LD smashed his guitar at the end, which angered some of the more serious attendees. A few days later “The Isolationist” was released. Not a single copy has sold in North Carolina I imagine.
Johan, the bearded hustler and bassist of Terzij de Horde:
Our most horrible show was when we were still called Liar Liar Cross On Fire, and now I think about it, it could have been the last show under that moniker. Should have been anyways.
Friends of ours, Pantherland, asked us to play with them in their hometown Wormerveer. It’s a small, SMALL village pretty close to Amsterdam, which can hardly be reached by public transportation. Luckily, we found out the day before that a fairly big punk band was playing a squat in Amsterdam.
And indeed, upon arriving at the venue (a youth center for the local scouts) after being shouted at by some local youths drinking coffee outside a supermarket, we found the place to be nicely dismal and depopulated. Upon arriving, we heard that there was no bass cabinet as promised, but that the owner of the venue was prepared to get his if the organizer paid money. Nice.
We started one hour later because we wanted to wait for people to show up, but when the first band started, the only people watching them were the other two bands plus some inebriated friends that had tagged along. Later on in their set, two goth girl-scouts walked in to sit in a corner and surreptitiously smoke weed. They did have a good time. We brought something to drink with us and were scolded, ’cause we had been given three coupons each, which SHOULD BE ENOUGH! Joost apparently responded by grabbing a bottle of wine.
Naturally the sound was awful, but we were used to playing loud to compensate for that, so whatever. Yet the giggles of stoned scouts, there were four now, pierced through the fuzz of suppressed guitars because the soundman wouldn’t let us play louder than 90 dB. Luckily, when we played our epic “The Kraken”, which consists of a simple bass line and a wall of reverbed guitar-noise, the latter broke down, so for over five minutes you heard a Victorian poem being recited over a feebly plucked bass.
I tried giving a heartfelt speech on the rights of men, but looking into the room, staring at a couple of fairly drunk friends, one of whom was sieg-heiling us constantly by creeping up on people and stretching his right hand under other people’s armpits, that attempt gloriously failed too.
After the show, the owner came up to me and said we were the best band he had seen playing there in a couple of years. I barely suppressed a snigger. That says it all, really.