Q Magazine

'Literally Sonic Chaos': The 12 Most Disastrous Live Performances Ever

As Coachella holds its breath for a repeat performance of Grimes' car-crash DJ set, we look at a dirty dozen times a live show descended into farce... or worse.

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'It's alright lads, I don't think anyone noticed...'

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Grimes, Coachella (2024)

Source: mega

Think back to the most dramatic technical snafu you’ve ever experienced. A cable outage during your World Cup party? A PowerPoint meltdown in front of your CEO? A goofy Zoom filter that you can’t manage to turn off during a company-wide conference call? Now, imagine that happening while you’re onstage in front of thousands of amped-up festivalgoers, with thousands more watching via livestream. That’s basically what happened to Grimes during her Coachella set last weekend, with the electronic music provocateur reduced to screaming in quasi-feral fury as she struggled to wrangle some misfiring tracks into sync, at one point yelling: “I’m not good enough at math for this s--t!” Memes and supercuts of her debacle began to crop up almost immediately afterward, and Grimes issued a public apology, explaining that she’d “outsourced” some of her festival prep to assistants. (This sort of buck-passing drew a fresh round of condemnation, with many pointing out that a performer who is paid thousands for an hourlong set could probably stand to oversee such preparations herself.) In any case, Grimes will be back for a second shot this coming Saturday. -- Andrew Barker

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Stone Roses, Reading Festival (1996)

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When the Stone Roses burst into the national psyche with their self-titled debut LP in 1989, it felt like a blast of pure musical sunshine. A generation of kids donned flares and Reni hats (so named after the band’s drummer) and tuned in and turned on to a bright, optimistic rebirth of jangle pop/rock/dance that reached its zenith with the Roses’ 1990 Spike Island gig. By the time their headlining set at Reading in 1996 came around, things were very different, however. Second album The Second Coming had taken an age to arrive, and when it did many fans were turned off by its darker, Led-Zep vibe. Reni quit in 1995 and guitarist John Squire followed in April 1996… leaving singer Ian Brown and bassist Mani to play Reading with what were essentially a bunch of hired hands. The result was a disaster, with Brown’s voice especially painfully out of tune. So profound was the sense of disappointment that many fans left the gig in tears, with the NME describing the show’s climax “I Am the Resurrection” as “more like the eternal crucifixion”. The writing was on the wall, and the Roses dissolved less than two months later. -- Dominic Utton

Ashlee Simpson, Saturday Night Live (2004)

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Source: Dana Edelson / NBC-Universal

When it comes to pop music performances on television, there’s a long and proud history... Well, perhaps not a proud history, but certainly the concept of artists lip-synching to prerecorded music is one that had been going on for many decades prior to 2004, but in the majority of those instances, the lip-synching was something that had been planned ahead of time. This definitely wasn’t something that usually happened on Saturday Night Live, however, and for what it’s worth, it apparently wasn’t something that Ashlee Simpson usually did. As she revealed in a 2024 interview, she woke up on the morning of the show and couldn’t speak – “I saw the voice doctor...and I had two [vocal chord] nodules beating against each other” – and was encouraged by her label to perform with pre-recorded vocals. It worked flawlessly for the first song, but when the vocals didn’t play properly for the second song – instead, the vocals for the first song played again! – she froze up, then did an embarrassed little shuffle and evacuated the stage, forcing the producers to abruptly cut to commercial. When she popped up again during the goodnights, she promptly threw her band under the bus, claiming that they’d played the wrong song. (They hadn’t.) Although Simpson has soldiered on successfully, even scoring a second No. 1 album in the wake of the glitch, her SNL performance fiasco still remains a pop culture punchline for the ages. -- Will Harris

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The Who, Woodstock (1969)

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By all accounts, including the 1970 documentary Woodstock, the Who had a spectacular, awe-inspiring set on August 16, 1969. That is, if you weren’t the Who. And when we say August 16, we mean 5:00 am August 17. Why the discrepancy? As Roger Daltrey told The New York Times in 2019, “By the time we went onstage, we’d been standing in the mud for hours…it was boring. Hours and hours of that is boring.” Daltrey has long held the belief it was the band’s worst gig ever (also due to the fact he and Pete Townshend drank coffee spiked with LSD). Townshend concurred. “Well, it changed me, I hated it.” And did we mention the "Abbie Hoffman incident?" When Hoffman clambered onstage to grab a mic and protest the imprisonment of John Sinclair, the tripped-out guitarist spun around, yelled: "F--k off! F--k off my f--king stage!", hit him with his guitar and sent him off stage again. At the end of their set, Townshend tossed his banged-up Gibson SG guitar into the crowd, which was later retrieved by the Who’s roadies. -- Amy Hughes

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Corey Feldman, The Today Show (2017)

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This performance, a train wreck in the making, was so bad that Feldman and one of his "Angels" Courtney Anne Mitchell went on Facebook Live to respond to the harsh criticism he received when it was broadcast on The Today Show. Ostensibly there to promote his album Angelic 2 the Core, his rendition of “Go 4 It” was, to be generous, weird. In a black hooded ensemble with an all-female backing band that couldn’t hold a candle to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love,” Feldman’s opening dance sequence that someone described as a “f—king cat burglar” right to the end deserves no further comment. Feldman took the backlash pretty hard, explaining: “We just wanted to tell everybody that, like, it’s been really painful. We love our fans and we just wanted to give them the best show that we could. But… these things that are said about us are awful.” And as someone concluded elsewhere, “Corey is a perfect example of just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” -- A.H.

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Guns N’ Roses, Montreal (1992)

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Montreal experienced a shocking episode of civil unrest after a co-headlining Guns N’ Roses/Metallica arena show went disastrously south in 1992. James Hetfield was badly burned by a malfunctioning pyrotechnics display a few songs into Metallica’s opening set and had to be rushed to the hospital. His bandmates apologized to the crowd and promised to return to Montreal, which they did six months later. Fans then had to wait more than two hours for Guns N' Roses to take the stage. When they did, there were technical difficulties. Frontman Axl Rose was also experiencing vocal issues. He bailed after performing just a handful of songs. “This is going to be the last you'll hear from us in a long time,” Rose said before walking out. He was reportedly drinking backstage as thousands of angry fans wreaked havoc in Olympic Stadium and the adjacent neighborhoods. The riot caused more than $500,000 worth of damage. -- Noah Zucker

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Milli Vanilli, MTV Concert (1989)

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Source: Sony BMG Music Entertainment

How often does one bad concert become a career-ending disaster? Milli Vanilli, the German dance-pop project put together by producer Frank Farian, was ostensibly a duo that consisted of singers Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus ... except Morvan and Pilatus were really just models that Farian had recruited to look pretty and lip-sync along to recordings, a fact that was only discovered after their backing track started skipping and repeating during a live MTV concert in Connecticut in July 1989. Because this was the pre-internet era, the incident remained relatively contained, but the seeds of Milli Vanilli’s downfall had already been sown. “I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli,” Pilatus recalled a year later. Eventually, Farian, fed up with Morvan and Pilatus’ demands to actually sing their own songs, fired them and let the secret out, igniting a massive backlash, forcing Milli Vanilli to give back their Grammy for Best New Artist – still the only time in history that’s happened – and spawning the first-ever episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. -- Peter Helman

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Frank Ocean, Coachella (2023)

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The singer-songwriter behind two of the most critically beloved albums of the modern era, Frank Ocean has always seemed distinctly uncomfortable with performing live. Which made it all the more surprising in 2023 when he announced that his first live gig in six years would be a headlining slot at Coachella — one of the most widely-dissected and high-pressure bookings on the annual music calendar. According to reports, his initial plans for the gig involved constructing an entire ice-skating rink onstage so that ice-dancers could encircle him as he performed, only for the star to ditch the idea on the day of the show, forcing performers and stage managers to frantically improvise. Emerging onstage an hour late, Ocean proceeded to perform radically re-worked versions of his signature songs while mostly invisible to the audience. The notoriously fickle Coachella crowds were largely encouraging at first — even as Ocean left the stage for an unexplained 12-minute DJ interlude — but he gave them precious little to work with, and the set ended with a whimper as Ocean announced he had reached the festival’s curfew time and simply walked off. The backlash came quickly, with an instant-classic Reductress headline noting: “Frank Ocean Fan Depressed and Disappointed for New Reason.” Days later, Ocean announced that he would not return for the second weekend of the fest, with Blink-182 recruited in his place. He has not performed live since. -- A.B.

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Fergie, NBA All-Star Game (2018)

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There are bad performances, and then there are “so bad they’re good” performances. Fergie’s disastrously misguided rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game falls squarely into the latter category. Just try to watch it with a straight face. You can’t do it. Even the NBA players on the court were struggling to contain their laughter as the Black Eyed Peas singer soldiered through an interminable, awkwardly jazzy version of the national anthem that sounded, for some reason, like an impression of Marilyn Monroe doing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.” It may have been bad, but it was also instantly iconic. "I wanted to try something special for the NBA," Fergie later explained in a statement. "I'm a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn't strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best." Honestly, same, girl. -- P.H.

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Led Zeppelin, Live Aid (1985)

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Source: YouTube

The legendary band had called it a day back in 1980 after the death of drummer John Bonham, but when Live Aid rolled around, agreed to reform for a one-off performance at the Philadelphia leg of the fund-raiser, with guest drummer Phil Collins flying in on Concorde from London especially. Within minutes they wished they hadn’t. Not only did Jimmy Page’s guitar sound out-of-tune and Robert Plant’s voice out of shape, but it became immediately obvious that the cobbled-together band hadn’t actually rehearsed together very much. According to Page, the blame lay with Collins: "The drummer couldn’t get the beginning of 'Rock and Roll', so we were in real trouble with that," Page told The Times and The Sunday Times, adding in another interview, "At the end of the day, he didn't know anything. We played 'Whole Lotta Love', and he was just there bashing away cluelessly and grinning. I thought that was really a joke." For his part, Collins told Q in 2014: “Robert was happy to see me, but Jimmy wasn't. You could sense I wasn't welcome. It was a disaster, really. Robert wasn't match-fit with his voice and Jimmy was out of it, dribbling. It wasn't my fault it was cr-p." The band hated the performance so much it's not even on the Live Aid DVD. -- D.U.

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Blur, Coachella (2024)

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Blur performed alongside some of the world’s most popular contemporary musicians during the first leg of Coachella last weekend. But it doesn’t seem like the festival’s current target demographic loves the Britpop band. Frontman Damon Albarn struggled to get the crowd engaged in Blur’s performance. “You'll never see us again, so you might as well f--king sing this!” he said during the track “Girls & Boys.” It may have been a reference to his plans to pull the plug on Blur’s revival. Albarn’s solo project Gorillaz is likely more popular than Blur among American millennials and Gen Zers. -- N.Z.

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Eagles, Benefit Concert for Sen. Alan Cranston (1980)

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You know a concert is bad when it’s annually commemorated with headlines like “The Show That Broke Up the Eagles.” And, yes, of course, the band got back together eventually, but it took a long time for that to happen after their benefit in support of California Senator Alan Cranston. Guitarist Don Felder was apparently annoyed that they were getting involved in a political event, so much so that when Cranston thanked the band for playing beforehand, Felder said, “You’re welcome...I guess.” As such, tensions were high already, and Felder wrote in his memoir that Glenn Frey told him mid-concert, “‘F—you. I’m gonna kick your ass when we get off the stage.” Meanwhile, Frey later told Rolling Stone, “We're onstage, and Felder looks back at me and says, 'Only three more songs till I kick your -ss, pal.’ And I'm saying, 'Great. I can't wait.' We're out there singing 'Best of My Love,' but inside both of us are thinking, 'As soon as this is over, I'm gonna kill him.'" Instead, Felder smashed his guitar backstage after the show and left. The band was still contractually obligated to deliver a live album to their label, Elektra Records, but that was done using archival tapes: for all practical purposes, that show was the end of the Eagles...until 1994, anyway. -- W.H.


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