The show must go on – even if your revolving drum kit gets stuck upside down mid-song. Yes, it can be a risky business performing live with elaborate props, ornate backdrops and wardrobe choices all at the mercy of the gigging Gods, anything and everything could go wrong at any given moment during a live show.
It’s a part of live performance that’s exposed many a rock and pop star to their very own Spinal Tap moment – named in this instance after the scene in 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap where Harry Shearer’s Derek gets stuck in a faux-alien pod as the crowd look on.
Here’s a round-up of some of the greatest on-stage malfunctions to have ever graced music history, starting with the two most recent additions to this hall of infamy.
What a way to bow out: the hair-metallers’ final ever show on New Year’s Eve at LA’s Staples Center featured one notably unplanned moment as drummer Tommy Lee’s frankly ridiculous rhythm-rollercoaster broke down before its final descent. Lee, by his own admission “having the best time of his life”, was self-indulgently soloing along to a medley of 2015’s biggest songs – whilst strapped to his orbiting drum riser, naturally – when his vehicle came to an abrupt halt, leaving Pamela Anderson’s ex dangling upside-down above the smartphone-wielding crowd.
“It looks like the rollercoaster is broken,” says Lee, as the band’s roadies scale the railings of the rollercoaster. “Well, fuck the rollercoaster! Come on, guys, help. Come get me. I can’t believe this is happening on the last night. I knew something wasn’t right when I took off.”
To Lee’s credit, he does laugh his way through much of the seven-minute ordeal, and if he’s looking to “one day laugh about it”, then he can: the show was being filmed for a farewell Mötley Crüe DVD.
Britney needs to stop walking under ladders – a recent performance in Las Vegas saw yet another on-stage malfunction, adding to a strong record of performance misfortune (accidental mic strangulation, her outfit bursting open at the back, someone leaking her vocal feed to the internet). Her latest mishap saw the singer become stuck to a tree after her harness – which was supposed to help the star fly through the air during a slowed-down rendition of ‘Toxic’ – failed to detach. As if that wasn’t smooth enough, the poor roadie who came to her aid – after not-at-all-subtly creeping up the tree’s inbuilt set of stairs, mind – was unable to immediately free Britney from her foliage prison, meaning that the gawping punters witnessed (and obviously filmed and then sold to TMZ) a very awkward moment between star and crew member. Take a look at the incident below.
The Rolling Stones
A heartfelt tribute to their recently-departed guitarist Brian Jones at The Stones’ giant Hyde Park gig in 1969 fell quite literally flat when a good chunk of the thousands of butterflies that Mick Jagger had intended to release into the air limply fell out of the box, dead. Don’t forget the air holes next time, Mick.
Stones guitarist Keith Richards also joins the list of misfortune after a near-death experience at a 1965 gig in Sacremento. In a very, very bad and unintended meeting between his guitar strings and an underground microphone, Richards was electrocuted, falling unconscious to the floor. “I woke up in the hospital an hour later. The doctor said [electrocution victims] come around or they don’t.” Luckily for us, Keef survived the incident, and keeps on rockin’ to this day.
The metal icon’s frontman James Hetfield misinterpreted a stage cue during a gig in 1992 and wound up standing right in the middle of a pyrotechnic stage explosion. Ouch. Hetfield suffered severe second and third-degree burns to his left arm, leaving him unable to play guitar for the last two-thirds of the tour. But he’s since had a picture of flames encasing four playing cards tattooed on the afflicted arm, which is a nice story for him to tell at the dinner table.
You’ll no doubt remember Madge’s performance at last year’s Brit Awards for all the wrong reasons, made all the more glaring by the fact that it was being broadcast live on ITV at the time. The offending set piece was a gigantic cape that was intended to be ripped off dramatically (and, of course, seamlessly) by her backing dancers. But someone didn’t unfasten the cape from the singer’s neck, causing an even more dramatic tumble.
The Irish rockers took their Spinal Tap moment quite literally on the opening night of their 1997 Popmart tour in Las Vegas, where they’d planned to emerge from within a 40-foot high lemon. An excess of dry ice meant that, on this fateful occasion, The Edge couldn’t find the foot-pedal to open it, leaving the foursome trapped inside. We’ll leave it to you crack a joke about wishing that Bono had been trapped in there forever.
Bassist Krist Novoselic experienced a moment of regret during the grunge band’s performance at the 1992 Video Music Awards when he lobbed his guitar high into the air mid-song. Ah, the good ol’ bass toss: very cool if you pull it off, but very painful if it goes at all wrong. No prizes for guessing which outcome Krist arrived at with his attempted toss.
An exercise in how to turn a potentially negative experience into a rather positive one occurred during Paramore’s headline set at Reading in 2014. Subject to what’s known in football as ‘floodlight failure’, the three-piece suffered from a major power outage that prevented them from essentially doing anything during one of their biggest shows ever. But, as the festival’s technical team ran around backstage in a frantic search for whoever had stepped on the vital wire, Hayley Williams and co. decided instead to go unplugged.
Asking the crowd of 50,000+ to switch on their mobile phone lights, the band delivered an acoustic rendition of ‘The Only Exception’ whilst sitting on the side of the stage, with Williams’ still-working microphone being the sole source of amplification. A memorable malfunction, but for all the right reasons.