TOP FIVES: Artists Who’ve Crossed The Line
The role of any artist is usually to push the boundaries – sometimes in the guise of publicity, often for the sake of social commentary, and sometimes just because they can (cough, Madonna, cough). Unfortunately, those artists aren’t the topic of this article. This article is about artists who’ve gone to far by acting inappropriately off or on-stage and crossed the line with or without intent.
There are public faux pas, there are unfortunate misdemeanors, and then there are full-on, highly publicized, embarrassingly public meltdowns that would put even Kanye West, King of the Mid-Concert Rant, to shame.
5. FIONA APPLE @ Roseland Ballroom (New York City, NY, U.S.A)
In April of 2000, Apple’s star was on the rise and the artist was playing to a sold-out crowd of 3,000 people in New York City after the release of her second album, When the Pawn… Jimmy Fallon had opened the room with a ten-minute comedy set. You’d think that nothing could bring a girl down on a night like that, right…?
Well, you’d be wrong.
Unfortunately for APPLE, sound complications saw the controversial singer-songwriter come unhinged on-stage. She broke down in a tirade of expletives and tears before threatening to kill any critic who gave her a bad review for the performance, and storming off forty minutes into her set.
Predictably, and in the style dictated by the Streisand effect, if you tell people not to talk about something, they’ll just talk about it more: APPLE’s breakdown has often been named the most infamous and talked about breakdowns in show business. The performer went into hiatus for two years and contemplated retirement before returning to the studio in 2003.
In 2012 the reclusive, generally quiet Apple appeared on Late Night with JIMMY FALLON and tentatively spoke about the incident: “The short answer is that I’m a human being,” she said, “and that I was reacting to life.”
Despite the now-infamous meltdown, FIONA APPLE went on to be named one of the most iconic singer-songwriters of the 90’s.
4. THE BLACK LIPS @ Sir Mutha Venkata Subbarao Concert Hall (Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India)
During a performance in January 2009 as part of the Campus Rock Idols tour throughout the Indian subcontinent, Atlantan garage-rockers THE BLACK LIPS offended Indian authorities with an unfortunate series of culturally insensitive blights and all-around poor choices. During their set in Chennai guitarist Cole Alexander stripped naked, ran into the crowd and swapped salvia with his (male) bandmates on-stage.
While hijinks like that are usually considered good showmanship amongst their genre in the band’s native U.S.A., they were considered extremely offensive and unnecessary by the crowd, the Indian press and government: at the time, homophobia was prevalent in India, and homosexual acts were considered criminal acts (although they were de-criminalised in July of 2009).
Campus Rock Idols’ promoter kicked them off the tour and the group alleged that their passports were swiped by the Indian agency that had booked them; they fled India fearing jail time, eventually arriving in Berlin. It was later revealed that the band had exaggerated many of the details of their ‘daring escape’.
On-stage nudity is almost always ill-advised – so is traveling to another country without knowledge of the laws and customs in your destination. Here’s a public service announcement: when traveling, always do your research…and keep your pants on.
3. WAVVES @ Primavera Sound Festival (Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain)
In May 2009, Nathan Williams (singer of beloved Californian lo-fi surf rock act WAVVES) unwisely ingested a cocktail of drugs before the band’s set at Spain’s biggest music festival – a move that he described as “one of the more poor decisions I’ve made” [sic]. Williams gave a predictably poor performance and in retaliation, fans launched bottles, shoes and other such detritus at the stage.
Williams was filmed berating the crowd and then-drummer, Ryan Ulsh; he refused to leave the stage until his microphone was cut and crew entered the stage to perform some damage control, packing up the band’s gear and ushering him off.
The next day, Williams admitted to alcohol addiction and issued a public apology for the performance; the band cancelled the rest of their European tour, Ulsh left the band and Williams sought help. Thankfully, Williams was able to recuperate his image before the release of WAVVES’ second, much-hyped album, King of the Beach.
Critics, bloggers and fans alike now recognise the group as a “tight-touring band” and the new line-up earned Sneakers’ mainstay Hannah Story’s seal of approval with their performance at both the Oxford Art Factory and Groovin’ The Moo in 2012 – a relief for punters headed to Splendour in the Grass 2013, as WAVVES’ have recently announced that they are part of the festival’s line-up.
If the afore-mentioned, unfortunate incidents have taught us anything, let it be this: if you’ve crossed a line, you can come back from it – it may not be quick or easy, but it is achievable.
Also, you know…drugs are bad.
2. THE BIG PINK @ Masquerade (Atlanta, Geogria, U.S.A)
During a set in April of 2010, Robbie Furze – singer of the London-based electro-rock duo The Big Pink – punched someone for the first time in his life. That someone happened to be a member of the audience.
After enduring heckling and a series of inappropriate comments from a particularly disenfranchised member of the crowd, Furze was filmed unleashing a landslide of slurred profanities before inviting the show-goer on-stage to repeat himself. Before the man could make it onto the stage, Furze hit him forcefully – falling over himself as he did so – and knocked the unidentified ‘fan’ off of the stage and back into the audience.
Afterwards Furze picked up his guitar, mumbled an apology to the crowd, and resumed playing. When interviewed later and asked why he chose to punch the heckler, Furze told NME: “Well, it was either my fist or my guitar and I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to damage my guitar’.”
No charges were pressed against Furze, who is currently the only active member of the band and seeks to release a third studio album in 2013.
1. CRYSTAL CASTLES @ Every Show They’ve Ever Played
We’ve said before that Crystal Castles are – just a little bit, maybe just slightly – mad. Going to a Crystal Castles gig without the expectation of sharing blood, sweat, spit and tears – literally – with strangers and/or witnessing a full-blown meltdown is kind of like going to a Tracy Morgan show and being offended by jokes about genitals.
I tried (really, I tried) to isolate a single incident that outshone every other meltdown. Truly. But when a band is famous for the anger, violence, raw energy and hostility of its singer, a task like that is practically Herculean. Singer Alice Glass has found every possible way to XTL as a musician and a person in the public eye – from beating fans with microphones to throwing drum kits at security guards (at 2009’s Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Spain).
Therefore without going into any further details we’re just going to give Crystal Castles a big XTL shoutout. Shine on you crazy diamonds!
Words by Cheryl Billman