Faulty stages, suspect electrical devices and antagonistic props factor among the culprits.

Flaming LipsFlaming Lips

Since forming in 1983, the core ensemble of Flaming Lips -- singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne, multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd, bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Kliph Scurlock -- has been rock's go-to act for genre-pushing reinventions. The Oklahoma City group's live show has come to rival its Grammy-winning music, with elaborate costumes, puppets, mounds of confetti and Coyne's man-sized plastic bubble with which he navigates across the audience. The Lips remain one of the rare bands that has seemingly mastered both the studio and live stage with equal acclaim.

"There's always some catastrophe that we think in our minds is ruining it for everybody, then a lot of times people don't even notice. But we were playing at not-that-great-of-a-little festival opening up for Cake and playing with Modest Mouse in 2002 or something like that. We were playing at Red Rocks, the big prestigious venue in Denver, Colorado, to a sold-out crowd of about 10,000 people. We were working on our smoke machine backstage, and it kept triggering a fuse blowing the electricity.

"We're there all day fucking with our gear and all that, and I went to one of the technicians at the place and said, 'This is blowing a fuse here. I'm worried about when we go onstage we're going to blow the electricity.'

"He laughed and said, 'Look, dude, we had Slayer play here. Give me a fucking break.'

"I said, 'We've played places where Slayer has played a lot, and it's just kind of ramshackle.'

"I put it to the back of my mind. That having been said, we go onstage, the smoke machine goes, and the fucking whole place blows. The whole place. We stand in the dark apologizing best we can because there's no fucking microphones (working). The electricity comes back on, we say, 'Sorry about that. We'll trudge on.'

"Two minutes later, bam, the electricity goes out again. I see this guy who told me Slayer played there, and I’m like, 'Dude, it's just a fucking smoke machine. It's not like we're (Nikola) Tesla trying to get our coil to reignite the stratosphere.'

"Again we trudge on and when the electricity comes back on we apologize best we can. And it happens yet a third time.

"At some point we've used up the allotted 45 minutes for our set just with them mucking around trying to get us working again. And yet it's not really humiliating. You just stand there and think, 'Fuck, we want to present this show and you wanted to see it, and this moment has been messed up by people not being prepared.'

"But I have to say I've run into people who saw us at that show since then, and didn't even know who we were because they came to see some of the other bands, and said, 'You stood there, and just seeing you stand there trying to make this work, I really loved you guys.'

"You never now if it's the music you're playing or the way the light hits you. ... You never know what it is that lets the moment become magical. So I welcome all the calamities that come with performing. Sometimes within the disaster is that elusive magic."

— Wayne Coyne, Flaming Lips

 

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wilcoWilco

Jeff Tweedy was a founding member of the legendary alt-country act Uncle Tupelo. But his follow-up project, Wilco, has proven far more durable and successful than his formative band. Only singer-guitarist Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt have remained with Wilco since its formation in 1994, witnessing more than a dozen members come and go. The unifying factor that has kept the Chicago quintet centered through years of experimentation and internal turbulence is Tweedy's inimitable songwriting. The Grammy-winning act's strenuous creative process was infamously captured in Sam Jones' 2002 documentary titled "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart."

"It's a tie. There are two. The Sasquatch Festival in 2004 with this lineup of the band. We went on after Arcade Fire, which is kind of hard to do anyway. They had so many instruments that the monitor lines were crossed. We had a hopeless monitor situation. It was completely messed up on the monitor front. Not only did we have no monitors, we had really strange sampled sounds coming back at us at a huge volume. That was the most disconcerting show I've ever played. That was the most uncomfortable hour onstage ever. I saw it on YouTube. It actually sounded pretty good -- he had everything coming out front. But it's a very uncomfortable-looking band onstage. We also did a festival in Indiana in 1995. The first record had just come out and we hadn't toured much, and we had no concept how to get sound through a festival stage with monitors. There was a lightning storm. I remember it was the most ham-fisted live gig ever. We couldn't blame youth either. We weren't really that young. It's hard when there's nobody to pass the buck to."

— John Stirratt, Wilco

otepOtep

Otep (an anagram for Poet, though the singer insists "that's my real name") fronts the Los Angeles-based group of the same moniker. She gained her reputation as being one of the lone female voices on the male-centric Ozzfest tour. The vocalist is comfortable growling, whispering, lecturing and rapping her way through topics laced with virulent feminism and peppered with shards of ancient imagery.

"There was a time on Ozzfest (in 2001) where a lot of things went wrong. We had two guitar players that are no longer in the band. I had to release them from the band because they had lost focus of my vision. One of the guys couldn't get his gear working, and he couldn't get his amps going. He didn't understand why nothing was coming out of his guitar. We were 15 minutes into our set time, so we only had five minutes left to play. The reason was he had forgotten to turn the amp on. Prior to this, he was an electrician by trade."

— Otep Shamaya

Dweezil ZappaDweezil Zappa

Virtuoso guitarist Dweezil Zappa is obliged to respond to two questions his whole life:
1. Yes, that's his real name.
2. Yes, his dad is Frank Zappa, one of rock's greatest musician/composers.
Whether releasing his own solo albums, guesting on other people's records or attempting to honor the music of his late father through the Zappa Plays Zappa act, Dweezil is an industrious artist.

"With Zappa Plays Zappa we really haven't played a bad show because everybody is so focused on doing the best job possible. If we're going to give ourselves a hard time and say it wasn't a good show, it's still far better than a lot of other things. We never go up there and have a total train wreck. You might miss a few parts here and there, but that's because they're fucking hard. Outside of that ... I generally try not to get involved in things that I don't like. ... We've had things that have happened that you can't control. Like we played in Roanoke, Virginia -- I'm pretty sure that's where it was -- and we played one song and I stepped on my volume pedal to turn it down so I could change guitars. Then the next song starts and I have no sound. I'm thinking maybe a cable or something is weird. Forty-five minutes later, I still have no guitar sound. At that point we have techs onstage, and I've been conducting the band and doing stuff. But we finally had to resort to putting on house music for a minute while we're completely taking apart my guitar system. Come to find out what it was is there's a little thread in the volume pedal that is part of the mechanism that when you turn it on or off this thread is involved. And it snapped leaving it stuck in the off position. That's the last thing you think of when it comes to 'let's find the problem.' Forty-five minutes later that was, 'Well, let's look at the volume pedal.' We had that little 45-minute snafu, then we played for another two hours after we got it fixed."

— Dweezil Zappa

 

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skeetskeet2Yung Skeeter

Trevor McFedries transformed from rural Iowa football star to L.A. producer and performer Yung Skeeter in record time. While teamed with Shwayze and Cisco Adler, he became the first DJ to perform during the entire Vans Warped Tour. Well respected for his live sets and remixes, Skeeter (formerly known as DJ Skeet Skeet) was recently on the road with Katy Perry on her "California Dreams" tour, exposing audiences to material such as his signature single "I Like It Loud."

"The most memorable was one of my first really big DJ gigs. I had a show in Las Vegas, and I totally stressed myself out about it. Basically, I got to the gig, checked my e-mails and I had a problem with the booking agent because I had a gig the next day in Orange County that was about as big. So I scrambled, bought myself a flight ticket and got that happening. I ended up losing a ton of money because the flight cost more than both gigs combined were worth. But I just knew I had to be there.

"I do the gig in Vegas and feel great about it. I got to the airport and decided to work on some things for the next gig that was happening that day. I had an external hard drive that I would work off of. I put it between my laptop computer screen and my keyboard, and then I dropped something. So I reached over to grab it and smashed my screen against my external hard drive, and it basically wrecked this computer screen. So I couldn't use my laptop for my DJ set. I basically called every friend I had and asked them if I could borrow their computer so I could copy all my music over, all my sets. I ended up using my buddy's laptop.

"I copied everything over, reinstalled the software with seconds to spare. Got onstage at this proper nightclub gig with 1,000 kids or so there looking at me. I start playing a song, and I'm feeling good. 'This is going to be great. It actually worked out.' And I realize I had set both the channels' 'out' on the software to the same side of the mixer. Basically, I couldn't mix songs.

"It was one of those situations where I was like, 'What am I gonna do now?' I had to wing 45 minutes of me playing a song, starting a song, looping it out, bringing another song in, talking on the mic.

"I'm sure a whole roomful of kids thought I was an amateur whack job. It was pretty dreadful. It was 45 minutes of me looking at my clock: 'How can I get off of here?'"

— Yung Skeeter

belle-sebastian3Belle & Sebastian

Although Jack Black famously described Belle & Sebastian as "old sad bastard music" in the movie "High Fidelity," audiences and critics have been charmed by the band's "wistful chamber pop" for years. Formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1996, the act's reclusive, elusive approach helped foster a major cult following. After a several-year hiatus, the band is back touring and recording again, with a lineup that includes singer/guitarist Stuart Murdoch, guitarist Stevie Jackson, violinist Sarah Martin, keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn, bassist Bob Kildea and multi-instrumentalist Mick Cooke.

"It was Manchester Town Hall in 1997. The band hadn't been going very long, maybe a year or so. We always had mad ideas. We had one where we would be onstage in the middle -- like in a boxing ring -- with the audience surrounding us. But the whole thing with being onstage is the band is listening through monitors; the audience is listening through speakers. That's the classic performance model in the technical sense. What you hear and what the audience hears is completely different.

"When we started we always preferred playing cafes. Small places. Even at an acoustic bar with a very small vocal PA, you can get the sense if you angle things in a way that you're experiencing the same thing. It gives it more of a communal feeling to the experience. Our idea was to get that same experience.

"But this was not a cafe; it's a town hall. There were maybe a thousand or even 1,200 people. We had two stages. The band members were offset in the center with people surrounding us. Then there was another island in the back of the room where the keyboards were. ... And there were speakers facing in on us -- this being the idea that the audience and the band were going to hear exactly the same thing. This was the concept.

"It was a complete disaster.

"We were all playing out of sync with each other, especially the keyboards because they were in a different part of the room. What I could hear, I could tell it was the worst gig I'd ever been to. I was just going, 'This is utterly dreadful.' It was back in the days before computers, and Chris (Geddes) had a real Mellotron. It was completely out of tune.

"Performing at this was a huge nightmare. And then later in Manchester I found out Johnny Marr (of The Smiths) was at the gig. He was there to witness the worst band ever. My worst gig was probably one of the worst gigs in popular music history.

"But I think it looked pretty good."

— Stevie Jackson, Belle & Sebastian

ume2_kanrocksas_08042011Ume

Ume (pronounced "ooo-may") first earned raves from Rolling Stone as one of the nation's best unsigned bands. Now the Austin, Texas, trio is touring on its sophomore LP, "Phantoms," which showcases the intricate guitar chops and ethereal vocals of frontwoman Lauren Larson. The road-savvy indie band, which also includes bassist/husband Eric Larson and drummer Rachel Fuhrer, evokes comparisons to Blonde Redhead, Metric and Sonic Youth through its mesh of textural melodies and anthemic hard rock. Ume was recently featured on an episode of "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," taking the host on a tour of Austin eateries.

 "We have a van curse, where literally -- I hate to say it -- we are tens of thousands of dollars in debt from the van. The first van we ever bought was $400, and we got it at a salvage auction in Pennsylvania, where I was going to school. We didn't even know if it was going to run. I don't know why we bid on it. It had a rusted-out bottom. We'd taken it all the way to the West Coast. It broke down four times -- blew a head gasket in the Mojave Desert. That was pretty bad. But then we had 20 bucks, and I ended up going to Vegas, renting a car, turning that $20 into $80 ... it was on a nickel slot called Filthy Rich.

"Then we had another van and ended up putting a new engine in it. We booked a tour. ... We've always done preventative maintenance. We didn't even get eight miles out of Austin. We broke down in the middle of the freeway after we'd already had to replace the engine.

"Then we ended up borrowing our friend's diesel, which had 450,000 miles. That could have taken him to the moon. So we said, 'Let's get a diesel van.'

"We get the diesel van, and it's broken down every single tour.

"When I broke down in Nebraska this last time (in 2011), it was like this big rodeo day. (The people at the repair shop) were going, 'Well, we're gonna close at noon. It's Rodeo Days.'

"I was like, 'I don't know what that is.'

"So I had to put on my country-girl accent, 'Could someone work a miracle for me today? We're on the road from Texas.'

"He's like, 'Alright. Let me see what I can do.'

"They ended up taking our van in. We made it to the show. We ran onstage, plugged into someone else's gear, played one song and the stage manager is like, 'You're done!'"

— Lauren Larson, Ume

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