The second installment in the Local Spins series recounting our critics’ most bizarre concert experiences continues with tales of outlandish musical misery, courtesy of the one and only John Serba.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: Some descriptions may be offensive.
Support our coverage of
West Michigan's music scene
I once witnessed a fan at a Stevie Nicks Van Andel Arena concert dump an entire beer on a woman’s head because she was blocking her view by standing and dancing.
I once saw Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor get beaned with a Zippo lighter right in the middle of an encore rendition of “Hurt” at the DeltaPlex Arena.
I once watched with wide eyes as Rage Against the Machine fans grouped together and flooded over the general admission barricades at the Palace of Auburn Hills, prompting fistfights with security guards.
I once laughed and winced as Swedish black metal band Watain blew the smell of a rotting animal carcass into Detroit club the Magic Stick, creating an appropriately necrotic atmosphere for their odes to the devil.
I once scratched my head as an unusual explosion occurred near the front of the Wings Stadium stage as Skid Row played, prompting singer Sebastian Bach to admonish whoever threw an incendiary device at the band.
The Nicks fan was booted by security. An angry Reznor ended the show right there on the spot. The Rage fans formed the wildest mosh pit I’ve ever seen. Watain frontman Erik Danielsson knelt in front of a makeshift altar and poured pig’s blood on his head. I later learned on the news that a few people at the Skid Row concert were injured by the blast.
After decades of attending concerts as a critic and fan — totaling probably 400 shows over 30 years — you’ll inevitably see something insane. All the volatile ingredients are present: Alcohol, drugs, loud music, people gathered en masse and a generally more liberal, anything-goes feeling in the air that you don’t get at, say, Peppa Pig Live or Festival of the Arts.
And those aren’t even the best (worst?) stories I have. They’re fun to revisit here in the pandemic-induced live music moratorium, in the spirit of both nostalgia and hope — hope that many more enjoyably bizarre concert experiences are yet to come. The following is a countdown of the three craziest things I’ve ever experienced, unvarnished and, I promise, not too heavily embellished.
3. Motley Crue, Van Andel Arena, 2014 — We all know the Crue is the most shameless band on Earth. I don’t need to get into the reasons why, because you’re already aware of their rampant hedonism and moral depravity (we all saw that “Behind the Music” episode, right?), and how they unapologetically charge you $125 a ticket to witness an explosion-riddled extravaganza that distracts us from Vince Neil’s increasing inability to sing coherently.
In 2014, the band announced its “final tour,” capping it with a publicity stunt in which they signed a “cessation of touring” legal agreement, a document that bears the approximate weight and value of 17 Chuck E. Cheese skee-ball tickets. It was stupid and transparent and we all knew they were lying, and they absolutely were, because they “reunited” in 2019 to announce a filthy-lucre summer-2020 stadium tour, which obviously was scuttled by COVID, and the hardened and cynical part of me wants to say it’s the only silver lining to this ruthless pandemic.
Anyway, Grand Rapids was “lucky” enough to host the first date of this “monumental” “final tour,” he said, firing off ironic quotation marks with reckless abandon. It is perhaps a reflection on the state of our civilization that the show sold out quickly. I girded my loins for sloppy versions of “Shout at the Devil” and “Kickstart my Heart,” as well as the most ridiculous drum solo I’d ever seen since the last time I saw the Crue. Months of hype and anticipation, coupled with a phony-ass promise to never have to see this band play again, were leading up to this big moment.
As many of you probably already know because the story went viral on a wave of schadenfreude, they crashed and burned.
Three songs in, the head on Tommy Lee’s kick drum broke. You’d think a professional band would have a contingency plan for such a snafu that doesn’t leave fans in limbo for 15 minutes, listening to Neil laugh it off (“At least you can say you were here”) and Mick Mars flail through an impromptu guitar solo. But apparently not this professional band. Once the stage crew defibrillated the show, the Crue powered through a few songs before, in Neil’s words, “something else broke,” followed by a second delay.
Then, the band flubbed “Too Fast for Love,” which prompted bassist Nikki Sixx to angrily assert, “The band forgot their own song.” They restarted again, then Mars’ monitors and guitars went kaflooey, followed by a third stretch of empty silence in the room, filled with the occasional chorus of boos.
Was this their fault, outside of some sort of karmic occurrence, the universe punishing them for being awful? Some of it, for sure. Other bits, maybe not. But did they deserve to suffer like this? Yes. Yes, they do.
Of course, there’s more to the story. A year later, the band announced a second leg of their “final tour,” and another Grand Rapids date. (“Last Grand Rapids show ever.” “Last tour ever.” The most meaningless lies ever uttered prior to the Trump presidency.) The second gig would give the Crue a chance to redeem themselves to an audience that got half, maybe two-thirds, of a decent show the first time — an audience that was invited to pay full ticket price a second time.
Credit my hometown for rejecting this offer. Ticket sales were pathetic. They pulled the plug during a late-Friday-night news dump (classic!) and moved the show to Toledo. Well, Toledo can have those a-holes.
2. Lollapalooza Tour, Milan Dragway, 1993 — Some context: In the ancient times, Lollapalooza was a gigantic summer touring festival that deposited a dozen or so “alternative rock” bands and knitted rasta cap-vendors in cities across America. The one and only time its Detroit-area stop wasn’t at Pine Knob, it set up shop on a miserable stretch of dirt known as the Milan Dragway, on a brainmelting 90-plus degree July day. There was no shade in sight.
It was the perfect setting for capitalist jerks to fleece the sunburnt masses, asking us to pay $2 for a cup of ice — no water, just ice — or $9 for a gallon jug of water if your parents were lawyers. Was it worth it to see Tool and Rage Against the Machine as hungry young fledgling acts? I can’t answer that. But bragging rights rarely come without a price, my friends.
For reasons that almost made sense at the time, Primus headlined over an in-their-prime Alice in Chains. The token hip-hop act was Arrested Development, the token female-fronted act was Babes in Toyland and Fishbone were main-stagers. Looking back, nothing seems more unapologetically ’90s than the previous two sentences.
The main draw for me was Dinosaur Jr., my favorite band at the time because they absolutely bulls-eyed the emotionally discombobulated mopey-sad-guy guitar-hero aesthetic I so badly wanted to emulate. They were third-billed, and by the time they took the stage, what remained of my ocular juices and cerebrospinal fluid oozed from my pores — money was to be spent on T-shirts, not the life-sustaining replenishment of water — but I didn’t give a damn, because J Mascis was just WAILING on his Fender Jazzmaster. My discomfort and troubles evaporated. Bliss!
Three songs in, Dino began gleefully slaughtering the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven,” which nature apparently saw as an affront to the alt-rock gods: Black clouds swept in. Lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. Mascis dropped his very electric guitar and hustled off a very metal stage flanked by a very tall metal lighting rig to keep his ass from getting very electrocuted.
Gigantic, freezing raindrops started pelting us, and they were so mercilessly cold, they brought no relief from the heat, only misery. The crowd scattered. One of the countless rasta-cap merchants was kind enough to let some of us take shelter under his little canopy. The storm quickly dispersed.
The cold rain was now a memory, and once again we were parched with thirst and slowly dying of dehydration. Security at the front of the stage sprayed the crowd with hoses, and we held cups aloft (I broke down and shelled out $2 for the goddamn ice) in hopes of getting a few nourishing drops. Would Dinosaur resume its set? Nope. I was bummed. BUMMMMMMED. Alice in Chains ripped, which was a dollop of salve on my suffering. We later would learn there was a legit tornado warning for the area. Neat!
1.Phish, Van Andel Arena, 1998 — I would like to preface this anecdote by stating that my distaste for hippie jam bands ranks slightly higher than dickhead wallet-chain Nickelback rock and the genre-mangling abomination that is hick-hop. It’s the absolute worst.
As someone who cut his teeth on Slayer, Overkill and Sepultura, I am diametrically opposed to draping oneself with tie-dye, tripping balls and twirling in a circle to endless noodling. That’s escapist horse crap. Music exists to confront, not elude your demons, which are best exorcised by swilling at least seven large plastic cups full of domestic beer and screaming along to Satanic mantras and snide exhortations against mainstream society.
Sometimes, as a professional music critic, you get assigned to a show on your beat that, as a civilian, you’d never stand downwind from. But you do what you have to: Clothespin your nose so you can get in the venue door, then let your bias roar and hiss in the subtext of a concert review.
I was sometimes bad at that last part, and let it emerge in the text; so it goes. I always keep these less-desirable assignments in context — reviewing Phish is at least better than being paid minimum wage to scrape the inner walls of septic tanks, but only just. I remember nothing of what I wrote about the show, which diddled and pooted on for at least seven hours of perceived time. But I do remember what happened during the concert clear as day, and it only reaffirmed my dislike of the band and the dishygenic culture it inspires.
I went to the show with a friend, who I liked despite his mild appreciation for Phish. Outside the arena, we politely declined sales pitches from grubby fans trying to fund their cross-country Phish-tour trips by selling what were surely the world’s least trustworthy burritos.
We had assigned seats in the lower bowl. About 4.8 millennia into the set, I was staring at the empty middle-distance space between myself and the stage when my friend leaned over and said, “Hey man, the girl next to you is pulling down her pants.” What was I supposed to do, not look? I wished I hadn’t. She sat on the edge of her chair and proceeded to urinate on the floor, apparently because every note of Trey’s 173-minute guitar solo was so mind-bogglingly essential to the experience, she couldn’t miss three minutes of it to participate in civilization and use a f—ing toilet.
It’s at this point in the story that I’d like to remind you that most animals disregard their waste: I looked on in horror as she pulled up her drawers and danced in the puddle like all of this was totally acceptable behavior. Being new to the Phish experience, I just assumed such action was par for the course for this cultural subsect, as no one from her traveling pack castigated her, or even seemed to notice.
The floor was slightly slanted away from me, and I watched, hypnotized, as a rivulet of piss slowly made its way toward a sweater that another concertgoer, seated a few spots down from the mad urinator, had stashed beneath her seat. “Phanatics” whirled and spun, and thousands upon thousands of masturbatory musical notes cluttered the air like twiddly aural pollution, and pee trickled toward that sweater inch by agonizing inch.
It was far more fascinating than what was happening on stage.
Miss last week’s “strangest concert experiences” by writer Tricia Boot Woolfenden? Check it out here: Bizarre, agonizing, disgusting: A Local Spins music critic’s 3 weirdest concert adventures
Copyright 2021, Spins on Music LLC