Black Lips, India, 2009
The “issues”: Cultural misunderstandings, angry crowds, nudity, deportation
Indian audiences are generally keen for pretty much any live music they can get their hands on (we once attended an Iron Maiden concert in Bangalore that attracted 40,000 people), but even so, perhaps Black Lips weren’t the best choice to headline the annual Campus Rocks tour. The rest of the bands on tour were local metal bands, and Black Lips’ less than metallic flavors weren’t well-received – they had bottles thrown at them in Pune, and thus in Chennai they decided to make things a little more fun. By getting naked. The result: getting thrown off the tour and having to escape out the window of their hotel before they got arrested. Rock and, indeed, roll.
U2, Europe, 1997
The “issues”: A substandard album, a ridiculous stage show, lashings of irony, that lemon
U2’s Zoo TV tour was fairly extravagant already, and it left the band with a conundrum when it came to touring their new album Pop: should they try for something even more overblown? The answer, ill-advisedly, was yes. So it was that the Popmart tour came with a giant golden arch, a mechanical lemon, a massive LED screen and a 12-foot olive on a cocktail stick. It sounded absurd, but no: it was ironic, y’see. Still, there’s only so much irony that any sane person can endure (and the genuine irony of a tour satirizing consumerism being accompanied by a colossal stage show that meant tickets cost a small fortune wasn’t lost on anyone). The whole thing reached its nadir in Oslo when the band got stuck inside the giant lemon. “All we could do,” the Edge later recalled, “was laugh.”
Fleetwood Mac, America, 1974
The “issues”: Adultery, intra-band hatred, imposters
It’s hard to believe that Fleetwood Mac could ever have been more dysfunctional than they were circa Rumours, when they were snorting most of Colombia’s GDP and shagging each other for good measure, but it’s true. The band’s 1974 US tour was cancelled when Mick Fleetwood found that Bob Weston was sleeping with his wife and fired the guitarist from the band. Or, at least, it should have been cancelled. Instead, manager Clifford Davis claimed that he owned the name “Fleetwood Mac,” and that someone was going to play the dates he’d booked under that name, no matter what. He assembled another Fleetwood Mac and sent them on tour. Honestly. The band’s tour manager, horrified, hid the group’s equipment, and an immense legal shitfight ensued. It’s still hard to believe this actually happened, but it did.
Mötley Crüe, worldwide, 1987
The “issues”: Drugs, groupies, drugs, near-death experiences, drugs, more drugs
The ongoing fiasco that was the Girls, Girls, Girls tour was the apogee of Mötley Crüe’s ongoing attempt to live out every rock ’n’ roll cliché. Amongst other things, it featured Nikki Sixx’s near-fatal overdose, a drug dealer who followed the band around in a car with a license plate that read “DEALER,” the invention of “zombie dust” (a mixture of triazolam and cocaine), Sixx nearly killing an unfortunate Japanese businessman by throwing a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at him, groupies dressed in Nazi outfits, and god only knows what else. Eventually, the band’s management pulled the plug, refusing to allow them to go to Europe for fear that they wouldn’t come back alive.
The Stooges, America, 1974
The “issues”: A motorcycle gang, eggs – and yes, drugs
If Mötley Crüe were bad, the Stooges were probably worse. They’d been well out of control for quite a while by the time the tour to promote Raw Power rolled around. They’d been dropped by their record company because the album wasn’t selling; Iggy, Scott Asheton, and James Williamson were hardcore junkies; and Ron Asheton wasn’t exactly rocking a healthy lifestyle either. The tour lurched from disaster to disaster, with Williamson being briefly fired and ever more narcotics being consumed, before the band disintegrated over two nights in Detroit in early 1974. The first night featured Iggy being pelted with eggs and beer bottles, and eventually being beaten up, by members of a local motorcycle gang. Afterward, the gang called a Detroit radio station and threatened to kill the band if they played again that night. What did the band do? Play, of course. It was their last show until their 2003 reunion gigs, and is captured for posterity on the shambolic bootleg Metallic KO.
The Drones, Europe, 2007
The “issues”: Muggings, stolen equipment, the tour manager, illness, penury, angst
If you’re not familiar with most excellent Australian band The Drones, they’re well worth investigating – in singer Gareth Liddiard, they have one of the finest lyricists and most intense performers you’ll ever see, and in guitarist Dan Luscombe, they have the man responsible for one of the greatest tour diaries of recent times. In mid-2007, the band set out across Europe in a cramped campervan. Two months and 48 shows later, the van blew up on the side of a German highway, bringing the tour to a premature conclusion. What happened in between makes for a story that’s simultaneously hilarious and excruciating, a story that’s related via Luscombe’s blog, which is still online. Best bit: getting mugged after a £50 taxi ride to the wrong hotel, and having the muggers complain at getting paid in Euros instead of “real money.”
Van Der Graaf Generator, Italy, 1975
The “issues”: Robbery, abduction, right-wing lunatics
There have been plenty of instances of bands getting their gear stolen over the years – but held to ransom? The British psych pioneers were apparently big in Italy, and toured there extensively in 1975. However, the tour was ill-starred from the start – a bunch of right-wing thugs stormed the stage in Padova, “brandishing lumps of wood… and trying to do all the damage they could.” Then, in Rome, the band’s van, which contained all their gear, was stolen – and shortly after, the band were issued with a £10,000 ransom demand. The ensuing attempts to get it back proved unsuccessful – the local police proved at best unhelpful and at worst suspiciously obstructive.
Milli Vanilli, America, 1989
The “issues”: A malfunctioning tape machine
Everything was swell for Milli Vanilli in the late ’80s – hit singles, a best-selling album, the works. And then came the fateful day that changed everything. The band were playing a “live” performance at MTV, when the tape machine playing the backing track to which they were lip-synching jammed. Oops. It was the beginning of a precipitous and ultimately tragic decline.
Creed, America, 2002
The “issues”: A messiah complex, a terrible band, prescription painkillers
It’s hard to believe it now, but Creed’s risible brand of sub-Pearl Jam earnest grunge and enthusiastic Christianity was massive in the late ‘90s and early ’00s. Even at their peak, their lyrical declarations of faith seemed to fit awkwardly with Scott Stapp’s troubled past, and by 2002, the whole thing was starting to unravel, with Stapp addicted to painkillers and the band in the midst of a ridiculously overblown tour that involved fireworks, pillars of flame, and plentiful Christ poses. The whole sorry business came to an end in Illinois, where Stapp was allegedly so sozzled that he couldn’t sing at all, and eventually passed out on stage. Fans demanding a refund were given short shrift, with Stapp claiming that he chose to lie down during the performance as a “symbolic, personal gesture.”
Spinal Tap, America, 1982
The “issues”: Exploding drummers, Jeanine, Stonehenge
OK, so this didn’t actually happen. But by God, it was funny.