Five Memorable Artist-Audience Altercations
Wilco's Jeff Tweedy in a much better mood, March 2008
There may be a very good reason Van Morrison said practically nothing from the stage Saturday night at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. Judging from the plentiful comments here, here and over at the Chronicle's review, it would have been difficult for the grizzled Irish poet/musician/mystic to get a word in edgewise. Sentiment seems to be running about five to one that the 65-year-old Morrison should have said "hello," played more of "the old stuff" - or more old stuff people recognized, anyway - and come out for an encore despite already playing a longer set than most musicians less than half his age. (Phoenix, for example.) But whatever slight, real or perceived, Saturday's audience may be feeling is nothing compared to the following five incidents, all of which also happened in Texas. Rocks Off was at three of them, and the other two have long since rightfully passed into Lone Star rock and roll legend.
Jeff Tweedy Loses It: In April 2005, Wilco hadn't played Houston in a decade when the band finally came through Verizon on its way to Jazzfest, and front man Jeff Tweedy's behavior early on left a lot of people wondering why Wilco had even bothered to book a show here at all. Besides chiding the home folks for letting fans from Austin and Dallas fill up half the sold-out theater, Tweedy didn't take kindly to audience requests: When she wouldn't stop yelling for "The Lonely 1," he told a woman down front to "shut the fuck up," which brought "Reservations" to a screeching halt and literally sucked the air out of the room for a few seconds. Later explaining he was frustrated by monitor difficulties and having a hard time quitting smoking, Tweedy and Wilco eventually redeemed themselves with a ripping encore that included "The Late Greats," "Kingpin" and "I'm a Wheel." "I think we're in the right place," he told another sold-out Verizon crowd three years later.
Greg Dulli Gets Bounced: Unless, perhaps, you were a woman who happened to catch his fancy (as one of Rocks Off's former high-school classmates once did), former Afghan Whigs front man and notorious alt-rock lothario Greg Dulli could hardly be described as warm and cuddly. Still, it was hard not to feel at least a little sympathy for him when an altercation with a bouncer at Austin's Liberty Lunch following a December 1998 show on the Whigs' 1965 tour landed the singer in the hospital with a serious head injury. Depending on who you believe, the bouncer either attacked Dulli completely unprovoked or only after the head Whig came at him with a 2X4. In the ensuing lawsuit that was eventually dropped after Liberty Lunch went out of business in Summer 1999, one of the few things not in dispute was that the band and club staff had been on each other's shit lists since the Whigs showed up for sound check earlier that afternoon. The Whigs never made another album, but Dulli eventually reemerged with the just-as-soulful Twilight Singers and then the Gutter Twins with ex-Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan. The lawsuit, meanwhile, lives on as a case study at the University of Texas' School of Law.
David Yow Doesn't Waste Beer (Maybe): Even Van Morrison has a ways to go before he could be considered as surly as David Yow, founder of abrasive post-punk noisefathers Scratch Acid and the Jesus Lizard. In another incident from the Liberty Lunch files, a fan took Yow and the club to court after claiming he threw an almost-full can of beer that hit her in the face at a July 1996 Jesus Lizard show, causing chronic jaw trouble and headaches. "What I'm doing is entertainment," countered Yow. Although several witnesses testified that they saw Yow throw the can (Rocks Off didn't, but it was really crowded that night), Yow insisted he had better things to do with it. "He said, 'I don't remember, but I don't think I would have wasted a full beer,'" the plaintiff's attorney told Rolling Stone. Perhaps swayed by Yow's mother, who testified that the show "was the most fun I've ever had in my life," a Travis County jury ruled in the singer's favor in February 2001.
Trees Staffer Goes Very Ape on Kurt Cobain: During the twilight period between the release of Nirvana's Nevermind in September 1991 and the coup de grunge when the album knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous out of the Billboard 200 top spot about three months later, the Seattle trio played three club shows in Texas. Pretty much everyone Rocks Off knows who was at either the Austin date - once again, at Liberty Lunch - or the Houston gig at the Vatican says both were among the best shows they've ever seen, before or since. At Dallas' late, lamented Trees, the first night of Nirvana's Texas trifecta didn't go quite as well. Addled by alcohol and antibiotics, and emboldened by the gathering buzz behind Nevermind, a flu-stricken Cobain indulged his Townshendesque fondness for smashing his guitar four songs into the band's set. Only this time he did it into the monitor board, whose owner was working security at the sold-out Deep Ellum venue and didn't appreciate his gear being destroyed at all. Cobain jumped into the audience during "Love Buzz," and although it looked like the bouncer was protecting him, the opposite was true. "He pretended to save me from the vicious crowd, yet he grabbed my hair and punched me in the ribs a few times," author Everett True quotes Cobain in 2007's Nirvana: The Biography. "I swung the butt-end of my guitar into his face. He bled, and proceeded to beat the shit out of me."
The Sex Pistols' Punk Rock Rodeo: When the Sex Pistols pulled into San Antonio honky-tonk Randy's Rodeo in January 1978, they were trailed by an entourage of U.S. and UK journalists (including reporters from Time and Newsweek), FBI agents, state troopers and, Jim Mendiola wrote in the San Antonio Current in 2003, rumors that live sex acts were part of the group's stage show. Although the only sex act in sight was between the two amorous cowboys on lead singer Johnny Rotten's T-shirt, the Pistols had no difficulty riling up the largest crowd of the band's one and only American tour. Rotten greeted the more than 2,000 people - including several of Rocks Off's friends and former colleagues at the Austin Chronicle - who had each paid $3.50 for a ticket by calling them "fucking cowboy faggots"; many said "howdy" right back by showering the band with beer cans and Lone Star longnecks. One especially pissed audience member attempted to storm the stage, only to get knocked upside the head by bassist Sid Vicious' guitar. Nevertheless, Mendiola writes, the band was so happy with the way the Randy's gig turned out that they broke their tour-long media silence after the show. In hindsight, he adds, San Antonio went down as the best show of the Pistols' eight-city tour, which - like the band itself - terminated after their gig at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom about a week later.
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