Breaking the rules is easier said than done. Because that other side can be scary.
Rock performances are no good if they don’t bend reality. This isn’t like going to the movies, where you have a storyline to follow, and dramatics to entertain you through it. At concerts, emotions are more of the visceral kind, as all your senses seek involvement. Most great stage performers manage to find that equilibrium in their show routines, made up in equal parts of artistry and showmanship, that keeps their audience hooked.
It explains how and why we identify each famous musician of yore with their trademark stage mannerisms, almost as much as their music. In ways, their antics helped propagate their music, because the exaggerated emotions of the stage antics provided an effective background to it. If you’re a budding musician, that’s the kind of kinship you must be looking to cultivate with your audience.
However, stuck in your amateur days, here are a few stage moves that you might want to leave for later, hopefully, more indulgent times ahead.
IGGY POP HANGING OUT ON STAGE. LITERALLY.
Iggy Pop sometimes comes across as a misnomer, not only as a musician, but also as a human being. His success, primarily born out of his long-standing association with pre- and post-Ziggy David Bowie, is understandable, considering the popularity of the proto-punk music he made in the twilight of the 70s, and David Bowie himself, who re-recorded many of his songs and pushed them up the charts.
But Iggy hit the spotlight, quite literally, with his over-the-top stage act as part of The Stooges, allegedly inspired by Jim Morrison. There he was; puking and rolling around in broken glass and waving his penis at the crowd. Does that really win you fans? It could- and it did- if you can tune into your audience’s deepest, darkest, most forbidden urges.
PHIL COLLINS PERFORMING ON EITHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC ON THE SAME DAY
This would be a nice dream, I admit. But I realize it would be tough. You would need your own Bob Geldof to put together something approaching the magnitude of Live Aid 1985; bankroll simultaneous televised performances by the who’s who of rock gliterrati, at two venues in the US and the UK; and finally, get yourself invited to play both the venues.
That’s a tall order for a single day, even if you’re really good and a refreshingly early-riser.
So this is more of an off stage antic than on. Phil Collins, starting off at Wembley early in the day, with a performance alongside Sting. The afterparty was at Heathrow Airport, where Collins was transferred to a British Airways Concorde to fly to New York. After another couple of hop-overs, Phil Collins was at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in the evening, just in time to drum live for Led Zepellin and Eric Clapton. “I was in England this afternoon at Wembley. Funny old world, innit?”, Collins remarked after his Philadelphia gig. Funny indeed.
KEITH MOON, PETE TOWNSHEND & THE LORDS OF DESTRUCTION
For the sake of all the money you’ve spent acquiring them, leave your musical instruments out of your concert afterplay. Pete Townshend, The Who’s legendary guitarist, was the first of them to smash his guitar to pieces on stage. But by then, he was rich enough to despose of a Gibson every week.
It all happened by chance, at a gig The Who played at a venue with an incredibly low ceiling; so low that Townshend kept hitting his fretboard against it. Inevitably, Townshend ended up breaking the neck of his guitar. Frustrated, he smashed the broken guitar to pieces, as the small club audience stook askance. Keith Moon, always one to appreciate vandalism, loved it and joined in the act as his drumkit met the same fate at the end of the set.
Next day’s rock headlines couldn’t get enough of The Who’s irreverence and gumption. And they had more coming, as the guitar smashing, followed by Moon’s literal drum explosions, became the standard finale to all The Who concerts. Pete Townshend now suspects that is what made him deaf.
JIMI HENDRIX ON FIRE. LITERALLY. NAAAAH, JUST HIS GUITAR!
Wouldn’t we all be him, if we could? Not so much, since he’s dead. But in his brief lifetime, Hendrix set more benchmarks than most people manage in much longer, more fulfilling lives. It inspires wannabes to make the step up, do something other than emulate, because emulate you can’t. What Hendrix did up on the stage was, essentially, an extension of his own artistry.
The first man to truly unearth the potential of the electric guitar, Hendrix experimented with it endlessly, right from his post-Army musical beginnings in Clarksville, Tennessee. He said of his famous move playing the guitar with his teeth, “The idea of doing that came to me in a town in Tennessee. Down there you have to play with your teeth or else you get shot”.
As he grew as an artist, Hendrix took his showmanship and vision further, culminating in that famous climax at the Monterrey Pop Festival in 1969 when he burnt his guitar at the end of his set. For Hendrix, it was a personal sacrifice. For the rest of us, it was the ‘60s unchained
SINEAD O’CONNOR POPES IT IN
The most pertinent messages can be muddled and misread if they aren’t delivered with adherent objectivity. No one’s receptive anymore, once they feel offended. This fairly simple thought process seems out of the scope of Sinead O’Connor.
Her musical appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1992 was widely heralded as a sign of her rising fame and popularity, coming hot on the heels of the release of her then-famous cover of Nothing Compares 2U.
For her performance proper, Sinead had something special planned. She sang the a capella version of Bob Marley’s War, switching the phrase ‘racism’ with ‘child abuse’. It was her personal stand against prevalent child abuse in the Catholic Church, and Sinead drove home the point by flashing a picture of Pope John Paul II, implying evil, and then tearing it to pieces.
Whatever the millions of Roman Catholics might’ve thought of child abuse, they were pretty sure they didn’t want to listen to Sinead O’Connor ever again.