WHO ARE THESE GUYS?: When opening acts simply don't work out

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There are moments when it all comes together on one concert bill, when the opening act works seamlessly to get the crowd ready for the headliner. Then, there are the other times. These times.

Presenting a few choice recollections from when the warm-up guys simply left us ice cold, or when they couldn’t have been any more incompatible with the band you actually bought a ticket to see. Then there are the times when these newcomers simply blow the main band off the stage — creating a mismatch of another kind.

Some got lustily booed, some got escorted out ahead of a pissed-off customer base on the edge of rioting, some no doubt got a stern talking to from the shunned headliners. But all of them left an indelible image: The Opening Act That Didn’t Work Out …

Mark Saleski: I saw Frankie and the Knockouts open for the Tubes. Oh, it did not go well. Also saw a local band in Bangor, Maine fill in for Riot, who had visa issues and couldn’t make their flight. The band was called the Dogs and they were a kind of Cheap Trick/Beatles thing. Sadly, they filled in for Riot — who were opening for Dio’s Black Sabbath. That REALLY didn’t go well.

Fred Phillips: King’s X opening for AC/DC was a memorable one for me. While they’re both in the same realm, I suppose, the AC/DC folks just did not get King’s X. I was wearing my King’s X shirt, and everybody was asking me about them. My favorite questions — Dude next to me: “Do they have any songs on the charts?” Me: “I don’t know. What’s on the charts?” Dude next to me (in utter confusion): “How do you find out about new music if it’s not on the radio?” He spent the entire King’s X set with his face screwed up in distaste, and he was far from the only one.

Mark Saleski: The Tubes show was was during the Completion Backward Principle tour. I suppose you could call The Tubes “power pop,” but that’s not quite right. In any event Frankie and the Knockouts were a bad choice. There were some people yellin’ some pretty nasty things during this set.

Glen Boyd: I saw AC/DC open for Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick one year, and they ended up completely winning over a crowd that was initially very skeptical. This was right before they hit huge, and because of their name (I’m assuming), a lot of the metalheads who hadn’t yet heard of them were ready to dismiss them as “punk.” (This was during that weird time when rock was completely polarized along genre lines). Instead, Bon and Angus had em’ eating outta their hands before it was over, and Seattle became one of the first cities to “break” AC/DC.

Fred Phillips: By the time of this show, they were completely mainstream, and the crowd reflected that. Speaking of Ted Nugent, one of the most mismatched shows I went to was a Damn Yankees/Bad Company show in the early 1990s. Damn Yankees went on first and Ted was all over the place, jumping off amps, standing on his head playing, shooting flaming arrows. Then Bad Company came out and looked like they were all on very strong sedatives. I struggled not to fall asleep during their set. It was a double-headliner show, and if I’d been BC, I’d have taken the first slot.

Mark Saleski: The worst one … I wish I knew their names. They opened for The Clash on the Combat Rock tour. I don’t know who they were, but they sounded like fucking cheerleaders. After about 30 seconds, beer cups rained down onto the stage. After about 3 “songs” (it was kind of like chanting), somebody said “Fuck you!” — and they left the stage.

Glen Boyd: Poor Rick Roberts opened a J. Geils Band on an acoustic guitar, for a crowd of chuckleheads starved for some J. Geils “boogie,” y’all. Poor bastard was booed out of the building. Another one was Graham Parker opening for Thin Lizzy: Same result, as the metalheads just weren’t havin’ none of Parker’s “punk rock shit.”

Donald Gibson: Mark, where did you see the Clash? in Boston?

Mark Saleski: Cape Cod Coliseum. What a silly name: It was a hockey arena. I also saw Marshall Tucker the same summer, with very cool opening act Gary U.S. Bonds — right in the middle of his “This Little Girl” resurgence.

Donald Gibson: Depending on which of the three nights you attended (The Clash played Friday, Saturday, and Monday) — Elvis Costello and the Attractions played the venue (Imprerial Bedroom tour) on the Sunday night — your opening act was either Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids (both local Boston bands), or .007.

Mark Saleski: Well, it couldn’t have been the first two, because both Gang Green and Jerry’s Kids were heavy-guitar rock bands.

Donald Gibson: My most mismatched opening act story would be the Spin Doctors opening for the Rolling Stones on the Voodoo Lounge tour. I’m sure there are folks in this world who want to hear “Two Princes” live, but those are not the same people who want to hear “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter.”

Glen Boyd: I saw that same tour Donald. And that hippy-dippy guy in Spin Doctors going on and on about smoking pot didn’t cut it in Seattle either.

Kit O’Toole: I think one of the worst opening acts I ever saw was when Fiction Plane opened for the Police at Wrigley Field in 2007. They played pretty average alt-rock, but then the lead singer announced their next song, and that’s when things turned ugly. He explained that he wrote the tune after his then-girlfriend left him for another guy. After adding that the woman essentially ripped his heart out and stomped on it, he launches into the song. And oh, what a song it was, with the lead vocalist screaming stuff like “fuck her! Fuck him!” I felt like I had just entered a bad group therapy session. When the band finished, we were all in a daze, wondering how the hell this sub-par band ended up opening for the Police. I later learned why: it definitely helps when the lead singer is STING’S SON. Go figure!

Fred Phillips: Van Hagar and Alice in Chains was another one. I went in to see VH and left an AiC fan. I thought they blew them away. I was in the extreme minority.

Mark Saleski: I felt really bad for the Dogs. I’d seen them several times before and liked ’em. They played a shimmery kind of pop music. The problem was that the arena was full of males young and old ready to hear Ronnie James Dio, Iommi and company crush some bones to powder. It wasn’t very pretty.

Glen Boyd: There was a band called Rubicon, kind of a Chicago styled jazz-rock horns thing — and it did not go well for them opening for Elvis Costello. This did not deter the lead singer though, who proceeded to cuss out the audience when they booed him. The band was eventually unplugged and escorted offstage by building management, who were probably fearing a riot.

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  • Leib

    @Mark, when I saw your post I thought you were talking about Pulsallama. I saw two of the first three shows in Asbury Park on the first leg of the Combat Rock Tour, and this all-girl group opened. They played in their underwear iirc correctly and at one point were singing “We are, We are pulsullama, if you don’t like us, F— your mama”
    Needless to say, the crowd was hurling sharp objects at them with the intent of injury.
    On the second leg I saw`shows where Burning Spear and Kurtis Blow opened.

  • mort weiss

    YA KNOW GUYS –I some times take a little look see around the site- just read above- (yea i know, im a old dude and just don’t get it) and having read some of the comments and obsrvations on all this SUB MINIMLISIM (there’s no word for it )crap-**** is to complementing.

    Why would any seeminly intellegnt men in their 40s even attend these events of teenaged and early 20s HORMONE explosions & then make an effort to analyze them? I JUST cant comprehnd it! I guess its tanamont (in the late 1800s ) to going to a staged TRAIN WRECK where thy laid 3 miles of track and and amined two steam engines at each other so that they would CRASH head on in front of the viewing stands–come to think of it –that probely was more musical!!! MORT —OUT!

  • Val

    I’ve seen some pretty messed up pairings: The Babys opening for Rush at Boston’s Orpheum Theater – it didn’t help that John Waite was wearing a big straw hat with a flower on it (he looked like he was set to do some gardening). I was in the third row, close enough to know they heard the screams of “You Suck!!!” I saw Robert Lamm open for Sea Level and The Outlaws (also at the Orpheum) – poor guy wasn’t bad, it was just him and an acoustic guitar, and by the second song and three flying beer bottles later, he simply said, “Thank you, goodnight”. Some genius though it would be fun to have comedian Barry Crimmins open for Asia on the first night of their first tour – he pretty much told the audience, “I got paid – you can watch this f***ing curtain for the next hour for all I care”. Although I liked Atlanta Rhythm Section they always seemed to end up in mis-paired shows – one was headlining a show with Yes-clones Starcastle and a pre-Steve Perry Journey; the other was opening for Alice Cooper at Boston Garden (singer Ronnie Hammond picked up a thrown beer bottle, held it up and said, “I don’t know who threw this but whoever it was can kiss my ass”)