In the early days of rock and roll, it didn’t take much to shock audiences. From Elvis Presley gyrating to the Beatles’ unkempt hair, people were easily scandalized and sent to the fainting couch with hysterical dropsy. But by the 1970s, that was all old hat, and artists needed to raise their game to get attention.
Some did it by using elaborate props to wow and amaze concertgoers. Others had no intention of shocking, but a rogue medical event intruded. Others, meanwhile, were just gross. It all made for unforgettable concert moments that shocked audiences, upset fans, or both. Here are a few examples.
1. Ozzy Osbourne (1982)
In the 1980s, few artists were as feared by polite society as Ozzy Osbourne. However, his best-known shocking incident was not planned, at least not by him. On January 20, 1982, a concertgoer threw a dead bat onstage during a performance in Des Moines. Thinking it was fake, Osbourne picked it up and bit its head off. The Prince of Darkness had to be immediately treated for rabies.
2. The Stooges (1970)
The Stooges made pre-punk music that did not sell many records, but singer Iggy Pop made a spectacle of himself for the greater good of the band nonetheless. This effort included rolling in broken glass and exposing himself onstage, but if you had to pick an in-concert moment for the ages, it would have to be a 1970 Cincinnati gig in which the singer was captured on film standing atop audience heads while he smeared his exposed torso with peanut butter.
3. Alice Cooper (1973)
Vincent Furnier, otherwise known as Alice Cooper, knew the value of showmanship and made visual spectacle the centerpiece of his concerts. As popularity grew, the stage shows got more elaborate, culminating in 1973 when the shock rocker added a new prop to his arsenal – a fake guillotine. He would “behead” himself at the end of every show, and Cooper, now 75 years old, still decapitates himself every night on his current tour.
4. The Plasmatics (1980)
The Plasmatics were a punk rock band fronted by lead singer Wendy O. Williams, and their stage shows so violated safety and fire codes that little punk rock clubs couldn’t contain them. Rather than scale down, they performed at Pier 62 by New York City’s Hudson River, and at the end of the show, Williams drove a Cadillac full of explosives at the stage, jumping out right before impact. It exploded, to the shock and awe of those in attendance.
5. GWAR (1984)
The American heavy metal band GWAR has no single concert moment that shocked or upset audiences. Since their formation in 1984, all of their concerts have featured highly objectionable moments, particularly if you’re standing at the front of the stage. Their show includes onstage combat between fake monsters that culminates in the first twenty rows of the audience getting soaked with fake blood. It may be unpleasant to be covered from head to toe in gore, but one thing’s certain – when you go home, no one will sit next to you on the subway.
6. The Dwarves (1985)
Just like with GWAR, the Dwarves have been treating audiences to their unique brand of mayhem since their founding, so it’s hard to pinpoint a single concert during which they did something appalling. That being the case, we’re going with 1985, the year of their founding, when they started playing shows. These would feature the band members mutilating themselves and engaging in the physical act of love with multiple partners, often resulting in their sets being cut short after just a few minutes. So really, any time you saw them was probably shocking and upsetting.
7. GG Allin (1985)
GG Allin was a punk rock singer who was famous for just about everything but his music. It would be kind to say that he was an acolyte of his predecessors, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper, and sought only to take the torch of shock rock and run down the coastline with it to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” Sadly, that would be inaccurate, as Allin exceeded both of them at a single concert in Peoria, Illinois in 1985, where he voided his digestive system of solid waste, right onto the stage. This became a regular feature of his act until he died in 1993.
8. The Rolling Stones (1969)
In August 1969, half a million hippies came to the Woodstock festival to hear the latest groovy psychedelic sounds. Not to be outdone, the Rolling Stones booked the Altamont Speedway Free Festival a few months later, with bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. The organizers had enlisted the Hell’s Angels to work security, a disastrous decision that led to violence, culminating in an audience member being fatally stabbed. The 1970 Maysles Brothers documentary “Gimme Shelter” shows the unfolding horror, and you can see the idealism of the hippie era evaporate right before your eyes.
9. Joy Division (1980)
Ian Curtis was the lead singer for Joy Division. He had epilepsy and frequently suffered seizures but managed to get through all of the band’s performances without having one onstage. That changed at an April 1980 show at London’s Rainbow Theater, where technicians turned on a strobe light halfway through the performance, causing Curtis to have a seizure almost immediately and stagger backwards into the drum kit, where he collapsed. A lifelong depression sufferer, Curtis died by suicide in May 1980.
10. Morphine (1999)
Morphine was a band formed in the 1980s in Massachusetts, and while their unique, jazz-informed sound meant they would never have a top ten hit, they carved out a niche for themselves nonetheless and were beloved by their cadre of fans. Tragically, bassist and vocalist Mark Sandman suddenly collapsed in the middle of the band’s set at a July 1999 performance at the Nel Nome del Rock festival in Palestrina, Italy. He had suffered a fatal heart attack onstage, and the group disbanded shortly after that.
Editor’s Note: This list was created based on the opinions of the author. The choices presented are subjective and can vary depending on personal preferences and perspectives.
This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.
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