Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Worst Opening Act Ever

Spending the lion’s share of my life in the music industry as afforded me the opportunity to see some amazing concerts. As a rock journalist and radio DJ, I was given literally hundreds of passes and free tix to shows.  As a promoter, agent, and manager, I got to see scores more. And I also purchased my fair share as a common punter wanting to see his fave new act. 

Great shows are not that hard to recall:  My first U2 experience in ’81 at the Park West nightclub in Chicago; the visual spectacle of Pink Floyd at Vanderbilt Univ. Stadium in the summer of ’94; the unexpected joy of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia on the Oops, Wrong Planet tour in ’77; Kansas previewing material to their classic Leftoverture in ’76 a month before its release; Phil Keaggy Band in a 3 hour tour-de-force in ‘82; Genesis with stunning light/laser effects on the Wind and Wuthering Tour in ‘77; Pearl Jam exploding on stage at MTSU in ’93; Andre Crouch turning conservative Wheaton College into a pulsating black gospel party in ‘73; The Dixie Dregs in incinerating 328 Performance Hall in ’95; The Police tearing up the legendary Aragon Ballroom in Chi-town in ’80;  Peter Gabriel’s stage wizardry at Joe Louis Arena in ’87; Springsteen’s with his reunited E-Street Band in Nashville in ’98; Midnight Oil scorching the Paramount in Denver in ’88; Monte Montgomery wowing a packed-to-the-rafters 12th and Porter Showroom during the NAMM show in 2000; and more to be savored.

As stupendous as all of those were, none, however, none can match the depths of unequivocal incompetence of the worst act I’ve ever seen. Before I get to them, let me take you down the Hall of Shame before reaching the Lowly of Lowlies.  Burned into my memory cells are The Godz in Rockford Armory in ‘78; Thunderpussy in Decatur in ‘73 (although they get kudos for one of the funniest monikers ever); The Chi-lites opening for blues master Roy Buchanan at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago (what was THAT promoter inhaling?!); Leon Patillo debuting his all girl back-up band in ’84 in Nashville (you could actually see his career ending before your eyes); Natural Gas; Tutu and the Pirates; Beaverteeth; Nick Gilder (what a panzy); T.J. Bear; Twister;  Faustas (arguably the worst heavy metal band of all time—I swear the singer had a rabid weasel lodged in his rectum); Roxx; Barooga; Skafish; 999; Krokus; Saint (Christian heavy metal at its absolute worst); W.A.S.P; Berlin; Duke Jupiter; Legs Diamond; Lust; The Dictators (featuring Handsome Dick Manitoba as the “charismatic” frontman); Krumbacher; and Autograph;  Then there was Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band; Bad Boy; P Boys; Country Boys; and The Boyzz—you can pretty much guarantee that if a group has “boy” somehow incorporated in their name, they will wreak (that even includes Christian lounge singer Dave Boyer).

Of course, there have been some real doozies playing on the Bud Lite  stage at Nashville Predators hockey games during between-period intermissions. The Stones cover band Jaggered Edge was particularly puke inducing, and I had to regularly choke back the bile whenever The Groove Addiction graced us with their clumsy exertions.  I wish I could also forget the plethora of female fronted bands that feel it obligatory to play “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” ("Oooh, I got a great idea for a hockey song!”). If I hear that one more time at a Preds game I will take them up on the offer with a rocket launcher from good ol’ Section 303.

But the band that scrapes even lower, that swirls repeatedly within a black hole of incompetence, whose musicianship is was so bereft of quality that even Satan and his minions would be challenged to embrace them was Felix Pappalardi’s Creation.  It is sad, really, that this is true, because I had the utmost respect for Felix as the producer of all of Cream’s amazing blues/rock albums in the late 60s, as well as being the bassist/producer for Mountain.  That band’s “Mississippi Queen” still sounds as vital and raucous today as when it was released in the early 70s.

However, for reasons known only to Felix, and perhaps to God, Mr. Papalardi assembled the most questionable entourage I’ve ever laid eyes and ears on in the mid 70’s, and dubbed it his “Creation.” I wouldn’t be the least surprised if it was the inspiration behind Christopher Guest’s Spinal Tap. I don’t know the names of the other members of his band, nor do I even care to Google them.  Suffice it to say that any band that is chosen based on the following requirements is going to produce dubious results:

1)     Every member had to be of Asian decent (nothing against that people group—I would make the same assessment of a band chosen for other appearance reasons, like say an all organic Eskimo lineup, or paraplegic Pygmy players, or autistic Albanian albinos). Maybe Felix was ahead of his time, but, then again, I thought Japanese rock groups like Loudness and XYZ sucked with abondanza in the 80s as well.

2)     There had to be an equal number of women and men in the band.  Now I’m not sexist, but let’s face it, there just haven’t been many convincing female rock musicians.  Some fantastic singers to be sure, but actual players…uh…no.  If you doubt me, just think of the Runaways, Hole, Go Go’s, Rachel Rachel, The Donnas, Vixen, or The Bangles as reference points. The three women Felix chose couldn’t have performed their way out of a wet paper bag.

3)     There had to be two of every instrument. Now, in the 70s the phenomenon of double guitars came into vogue for harmonizing leads, and groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Thin Lizzy truly pulled it off with aplomb.  There were even southern rock groups that had two drummers (Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, and The Outlaws come to mind).  I’m not sure what was actually accomplished with twice the rhythm—especially when they were often playing the same patterns--but at least it was fun during their drum duets.  But why in the name of all that is holy, would a band need two BAD keyboardists, and even more puzzlingly, two bassists? I still chuckle every time I think of it. 

I had never heard Felix Pappalardi’s Creation before the night they opened for the incomparable Gentle Giant at the Riviera Theater in Chicago in July of ’77.  After their “performance” I had no intention of EVER wanting to hear them again. Hence, I am not at liberty to neither recite song titles nor give a blow-by-blow account of the interplay between the members.  But only one word comes to mind when I reflect on what I heard that night: cacophony.  Webster’s defines it thus: “a disagreeable or discordant sound, full of dissonance.”

The fact that they were chosen to open the show for Gentle Giant only enflamed the problem.  You see, G.G. was arguably the most musically intense rock band ever assembled.  Each of the five members could play at least four instruments well.  It was not odd to see them switch with each other DURING a song.  Their compostitions were complex, yet rollicking. They sang amazingly layered harmonies under intriguing lyrics. Their showmanship was Pythonesque. And it was all pulled off impeccably.  As a result, their fan base was rabid, and opinionated to the nth degree.  Opening acts were often mercilessly booed off stage.

But even the 2,000 strong Giantites packed into that old vaudeville palace were stunned by the sheer ineptitude they were experiencing with Pappalardi’s ensemble.  As they ended their first song, there was some scattered applause and a smattering of boos—but mostly jaw-dropping amazement of how bad it sounded and looked. However, as the boorish onslaught continued, word somehow made its way around the hall, so that with the end of each heave-inducing number, the audience would simply sit in mocking silence.  No boos, No catcalls.  Not even the meagerest of “golf claps.”  I do recall after one particularly frightful offering--as Felix paused during the introduction of the next “tune”--someone with practiced skill in the art of fake flatulence let fly with the largest mouth fart one could imagine.  Even those of us in the balcony heard it.  And it was met with gales of laughter. After another selection someone bellowed “I’ll PAY you more if you’ll just stop!” You could tell the band was becoming increasingly aware of the bitter acrimony being exhibited.

It was so awkward, and the Giant fans were becoming bolder as they reveled in their unified derision. The audience became much more the show than what was on the proscenium. After forty minutes of enduring this torture, Felix finally announced “This will be our last song,” to which one fan bellowed “Thank bloody Christ for that!” Waves of derisive glee swept the hall. Upon finishing their magnum opus, the crowd rose to its feet in mock adulation, cheering their departure. 

Maybe Felix was feeling a bit uppity, or maybe he was even delusional, but he gathered his oriental sextet stage left, and they boldly marched back out towards the throng for what they must’ve felt was a well-earned encore. I’ve never seen anything like what ensued: as one, the entire audience yelled “NO!” and was pointing back to whence they came. Some were even throwing popcorn boxes, cups, wadded paper—I think I even saw a hush puppy shoe fly towards those addled artisans.

Realizing the error in his assessment, Felix and his buffoons immediately did an about face and marched back to the bowels of the Riviera. I would not be surprised if the band broke up right then and there. One thing’s for sure, they never appeared in Chicago again.  And no further albums were forthcoming.

Was it cruel?  Yes.  Was it deserved? To some degree, yes.  Was it hilarious?  Absolutely. Bands need to be prepared to take their lumps.  Just four years before, Gentle Giant, replete with their violins, vibes, glockenspiels, saxophones, trumpets, flutes, wooden recorders, olde English harmonies, and rock instrumentation, had their first U.S. tour opening for….Black Sabbath.  Talk about your baptism by fire!  But they survived it, learned from it, and became a better band in the long run. 

Creation, however, ended due to their trials...and never was “survival of the fittest” more apropos. I just wish I could rinse that malodorous melodious-less stench out of the recesses of my brain.   

Who was the worst opening act you ever endured?

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