The Worst Concert Rip-Offs We've Ever Seen
On this day in 1978, the rapidly disintegrating Sex Pistols finally fell apart for good. Conveniently enough, they did it onstage at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom, on the final night of the ill-fated U.S. tour that also lurched its way through San Antonio and Dallas.
That night, Johnny Rotten signed off with the line, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night." So in that spirit, Rocks Off decided to ask our staff the most ripped-off they've ever felt after a concert. Thanks to Pete Vonder Haar for the idea.
Chris Gray: It feels blasphemous to even think about, let alone type, but I think I'm going to have to go with The Rolling Stones on this one. I've seen the Stones three times. The first time, San Antonio in 1994, was a literal Road to Damascus experience. I went in a virginal 19-year-old classical musician, wet behind the ears and almost totally ignorant of the devilish pleasures of rock and roll, and left ready to slam a fifth of Jack and spike up a speedball. More or less.
The second time I wasn't so lucky.
This was 1997 at the Texas Motor Speedway outside Fort Worth. It was an atrocious concert venue. The stage was set up in the infield, just far enough away from the bleachers for the sound to almost completely dissipate before reaching the crowd. But it wasn't all the racetrack's fault, either. The Stones were touring on their biggest dog since Dirty Work, Bridges to Babylon, and they played like it: Listless, out of sorts, and flat. It put me off the band for months, if not years.
I hadn't even fully recovered when the third time rolled around, Austin's Zilker Park in 2006. I just went because I could walk to Zilker from my apartment, and a bunch of friends were going. And, naturally, the Stones were incredible. Better than San Antonio - maybe - but either way, they restored my faith and then some, and I've been a faithful worshipper in the church of Mick & Keef (and Charlie) ever since.
Neph Basedow: Sadly, this one's easy for me. When I saved up months of allowances as a seventeen-year-old to get to Chicago to see the Smashing Pumpkins' Farewell Show at the Metro, I didn't know that just a few years later, Billy Corgan would spin into a deluded mid-life crisis and reunite some impostor version of the band with faux members. Although I wholeheartedly feel the true Pumpkins disbanded that evening in December 2000, I've never felt more cheated years after a show.
My close-second, although it was an amazing show, would have to be last year, when I bought tickets the very-second they went on sale to see what we'd been led to believe would be Pavement's first show since their reunion, in Central Park. I had those tickets for a year in advance, and in the months leading up to the fall show, they slowly announced shows before the CP gig, including headlining slots at summer's Pitchfork and Sasquatch Festivals.
John Seaborn Gray: Actually, I think I'm lucky enough to have never been to a really bad show. At Willie Nelson's picnic in 2003, Billy Bob Thornton's pre-Boxmasters band was miserable, but the rest of the concert was great. You remember, you were there.
Craig Hlavaty: I suppose I felt cheated at the last John Mayer show I covered in March 2010. Not because I was at a John Mayer show, because being a male fan of his is its own reward and I wanted to see him live again. No, I felt cheated because I spent weeks getting a campaign together on Twitter and Facebook to get Mayer to sing "Hlavaty Is A Wonderland" instead of "Your Body Is A Wonderland."
He never did sing my version of "Wonderland" and that was a kick in the balls more painful than the one I felt months before when I related to a few songs on Heartbreak Warfare.
Jef With One F: The only concert I have been truly disappointed in was going to Motley Crue about three years ago. I honestly can't say I was cheated because a friend scored The Wife With One F and me $70 tickets for free. This was the Toyota Center, and the $70 tickets were still high in the rafters, which meant that those "lucky" ones on the floor probably paid in excess of $500.
And for what? The whole theme of the show was a kind of decadent circus involving strippers with track marks so prominent I could see them in the nosebleed seats, and some little people dressed as clowns wandering around the stage cursing God. Tommy Lee brought the lights up so he could film girls taking their shirts off, which I thought was real classy considering how many people are bringing their children to see the over-the-top '80s glam-metal acts that they enjoyed in their youth.
The music was fine, but the whole experience smacked of cheap Vegas, and we left long before it was over. It was about this time I lost my taste for spectacle, Gaga-excluded of course. Too often it's the refuge of little talent in an effort to blind an audience to that fact. In Motley Crue's case, all it did was say, "We're still relevant! Look! Titties!"
If someone's going to drop half their rent on concert tickets, it would be nice if it was for something that couldn't be seen at Super Happy Fun Land for less than $10.
Shea Serrano: I may have mentioned this before, but that doesn't make it any less true: I was sublimely disappointed with Trey Songz' show last year when he came with Jay-Z. Going in, I was pretty amped to see him. His songs are always so catchy on the radio. It could've been so good. But in person, almost everything he did felt flat and supplemental to his hyper-self-indulgence.
I didn't even pay for those tickets, but I was still like, "Goddamnit, this is a total ripoff." Do you understand how magnificient that is? I was actually upset that I had gotten great seats to a Jay-Z concert for free. The badness of his show transcended logic and reason.
Brittanie Shey: I like to see a lot of older, nostalgic acts that are way past their prime, and I learned early on that the best defense is to go in with almost no expectations. As a result, I've had way more instances of being blown away by someone than being disappointed by them.
Twice in the last year, though, I've gone to see bands who seemed to put more emphasis into their stage theatrics than their music - The Flaming Lips and Of Montreal. Which, I know, why go see a concert when you can stay at home and listen to the CD for free. But both times I left feeling dissatisfied.
The only time I've ever really felt "cheated" by a show was when I was somehow hoodwinked into covering Rascal Flatts at the HLSR last year. I can't stand that kind of music anyway, but I don't know if the sound in the press box was fucked up or what because they seriously sounded like one of those shredding videos that still makes me laugh to this day.
And I didn't have to pay for those tickets. In fact, I was paid to cover it and I still felt ripped off. Dudes, when mutton-bustin' is more entertaining than your country schlock show, there's a problem.
Pete Vonder Haar: Guadalcanal Diary (1987)
This was the opening week "freshman festival" or some shit at UT. GD was riding pretty high on the strength of "Litany (Life Goes On)," and the auditorium at the Texas Union was packed in anticipation. That was until lead singer Murray Attaway informed us they would not be "performing any radio-friendly songs tonight." The place emptied like a sieve. My friend and I went to check out the Reivers, and Guadalcanal Diary went on to be the late-'80s version of Dog's Eye View.
Crüe Fest (2008)
I saw Motley Crüe on the Girls, Girls, Girls tour at the Summit in 1987, and the band was relatively sober, tight, and a shitload of fun to watch. Even self-avowed hardcore metalheads like me and my concert companions had a blast, singing along to "Shout at the Devil" and "Too Young To Fall In Love" (and taking a restroom break during "Home Sweet Home").
Fast forward 20 years. Drug use, infighting, and the inevitable march of time had taken a heavy toll. My friend and I got there late, deliberately missing Papa Roach and most of Buckcherry to better "prepare" for the Crüe at a nearby bar.
Wheezing right out of the gate, Vince Neil couldn't even get through the first song ("Kickstart My Heart") without exhorting the crowd to sing every third word; not along with him, but in place of him, apparently so the increasingly pudgy front man could catch his breath. This remained the trend throughout the show, with Neil's vocal range nonexistent and his energy level nil.
Ironically, only Mick Mars and Tommy Lee - who is one of those freaks of nature like my friend Brian, who can abuse his body for decades and suffer no long-lasting ill effects - showed any life. I say "ironically," because Mars suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, which has fused his lower back and forced him to get a hip replacement in 2004.
He would occasionally creak to the front to solo, then hobble back to stage left. He shredded as capably as ever, though. One of the few high points in a show that was more a weary cash grab than a rock concert.