Even when things fall apart, performers find something positive in the experience.

tori_amosTori Amos

Poised somewhere between vulnerable debutante and femme fatale, Tori Amos is an odd mosaic. Her records are entangled, diverse offerings of highly skilled piano and studio wizardry that have managed to deposit some of the most unusual material ("God," "Cornflake Girl") ever to be hits on commercial radio. In concert, it is often just Amos, perched as a terra cotta-haired torch singer whose intellect is as promising as her libido. The singular enigma that is Tori Amos has generated a healthy fanbase, fueled in part by her mesmerizing, intimate live show.

"It was during the taping of my MTV 'Unplugged' performance (in 1996). … What happened was I just couldn't harness the energy. And I got really mad at myself because I couldn't harness it. And I do this every night and I can usually harness something, and I couldn't understand why. What was wrong? What was I missing here? So I walked off (crying).

"It was the best thing I could have done because what I did was I acknowledged what the truth was – and the truth was I wasn't harnessing it; for whatever reason it wasn't happening. Because I acknowledged it, it gave me power. It gave me my strength back again. It's funny that in that moment of 'this is a mess,' you begin to kind of find the pearls.

"So when I walked offstage I went down to the dressing room and just was pacing.

"My tour manager said, 'So I guess that's it then. Should we order some food? Should we book a restaurant?'

"I said, 'What are you talking about?'

"He said, 'That's it then, you've obviously finished for the night.'

"I said, 'Not necessarily, I'm just pacing right now.'

"He said, 'Okay. I’ll pace with you.'

"We started pacing beneath the MTV thing.

"Then my soundman came in and said, 'What’s going on? It sounds fucking great out there. … I'm telling you, it sounds better than most of your shows.'

"Then my L.D. (lighting director) came down and said, 'Something just doesn't feel right. I can’t put my finger on it.'

"Then my tour manager looked at my L.D. and they looked back at each other. And they go, 'Hang on a minute. Give us five seconds.'

"They walked outside the room and came back in smiling and said, 'The lights are up. We're going to bring the lights down.'

"For 700 hundred shows over the five years (prior to that), I'd played with the lights down. So all the lights were up to catch the audience and I felt like somebody was watching me take a shower. So they dimmed the lights, I felt better. By that point because I'd made the choice to stop it and make some changes, I felt like I began again. And I turned the whole show around."

— Tori Amos

IncubusIncubus

Since forming in 1991 while merely scruffy high school students, Incubus has gone from a commonplace funk-metal outfit to one of the more ambitious rock acts to achieve radio dominance. With multiplatinum albums to its credit that feature perennial singles such as "Nice to Know You," "Wish You Were Here" and "Drive," the Los Angeles five-piece incorporates heavy guitar riffs and turntable club sounds when putting a new spin on a weathered style.

"The worst show that we've ever played was probably in a snowboard park on a piece of plywood. That was probably the worst show we've ever played, and we've played a few really bad ones. ... (That was) in 1993. ... We were playing in a snowboard park and nobody cared that we were there. We were playing on a piece of plywood with no PA. Our singer Brandon (Boyd) had to sing out of a bass amp. It was funny. We were told there was going to be a stage and a PA and we were going to get paid and all this stuff. We didn't get paid, but we got free burritos and we thought that was cool."

— Mike Einziger, Incubus

 

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presidentsPresidents of the United States of America

While the 1990s were politically synonymous with Bill Clinton, the decade's music scene was equally receptive to The Presidents of the United States of America. The Grammy-nominated, multiplatinum-selling band racked up quirky rock hits such as "Lump," "Peaches" and "Kitty," and provided the version of "Cleveland Rocks" that served as the TV theme song to "The Drew Carey Show." The Seattle trio is equally remembered for its witty videos that ruled MTV back in the day.

"There was a show at a hockey rink in Medford, Oregon, where we got there and the guys putting on the show were like out of a movie. They were just trying to get in and make a quick buck in the concert promotions business. They didn't have any resources or anything. They were literally there to grab the money and run away -- which they did. So we were left with this dark, leaky skate rink with a really angry manager and hundreds of kids who had just been ripped off. So we basically played a benefit that night. That was a Spinal Tap moment. But as far as bad shows musically, it doesn't happen. We're too good for that. When things go wrong, like equipment or tuning, that makes the show stronger. We excel at going off-map, off-script. It's easy with a three-piece band and to have a guy like Chris (Ballew) in front who's brilliant when he just starts winging it. That's why there is never a dull moment at a President's show."

— Jason Finn, Presidents of the United States of America

chely_wrightChely Wright

Kansas native Chely Wright first earned her place in Nashville's elite after being named best new female vocalist in 1994 by the Academy of Country Music. She followed up her early promise in 1999 with a No. 1 country hit in "Single White Female." In 2001, she even landed on People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People list. But she made national headlines in 2010 when she came out as a lesbian -- a declaration that caused major ripples within the country music industry and the world of pop culture. The announcement coincided with the release of her first book, a memoir titled "Like Me."


"Before I had a record deal when I had a band called County Line when I still lived in Wellsville (Kansas), I played a show in Greeley, Kansas. The total number of people who showed up was zero. Nobody. It was at a venue with a restaurant on one side and a dance hall on the other. No one showed up, so we talked the owner into opening the door and letting people come in for free. It ended up being amazing. People stayed all night and drank a lot. What they sold in beer alone ended up paying for what we cost. But the first couple of sets were pretty miserable. So that was a bad beginning and a good end. But I've got this optimistic thing in me where I try to block out the bad."

— Chely Wright

wallflowers02The Wallflowers

The Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan is, of course, the son of legendary troubadour Bob Dylan. Since 1992, the younger Dylan has issued nearly as many albums of fresh material as his father, occasionally outselling the elder songwriter. (The Wallflower's 1996 effort, "Bringing Down the Horse," moved 4 million copies.) His Los Angeles quartet is known for a radio-friendly blend of alternative roots rock, characterized by the Grammy-winning single "One Headlight."

"It takes all kinds as they say. The shows where there isn't anybody there, it just doesn't get worse than that. So as long as people are there, any type of fiasco that goes wrong, it's all part of it. I've played at every type of show possible. I've played with some horrible people, like as an opener. When we were younger you got times when you look back and wish you weren't in the place that you were. I did fall on my back in Osaka, Japan, once. Thankfully, it was the end of the show and I just happened to fall back and step over a monitor. It was a great finale, and thankfully I couldn't read the papers to read about it so I wasn't embarrassed." 

— Jakob Dylan, The Wallflowers

that1guyThat 1 Guy

Despite performing under the stage name That 1 Guy, Mike Silverman is proud of the fact he utilizes as much gear onstage as an entire band. Silverman is best known for performing on a gigantic instrument of his own design, which he affectionately calls the "magic pipe." The device is fashioned from steel pipes and shaped like a harp Dr. Seuss might envision. Each pipe has its own string on it. One is pitched high, the other low, and both are played in a percussive manner. Oh, and smoke billows out the top. A classically trained upright bass player, Silverman paid his dues in the California jazz scene of the '90s before reinventing himself as That 1 Guy. He has since expanded his skills to include playing bizarro instruments known as the magic boot and the magic saw. And in 2008, he also released a collaborative CD under the name The Frankenstein Brothers, which teamed him with avant-garde guitarist Buckethead.

"I played at this country-western bar for this country-western radio station in Florida. ... It was a welcome-home party for this big country star who was going to be the new morning DJ. It was a party for all the listeners, so it was packed with country music fans -- and I've got nothing against country music. I just showed up and thought, 'I'm so out of my element here.' Not a single person had any idea who I was. I didn't think anybody knew what to expect. I got up there to play, and it was the first time I was really scared. They were all staring at me like, 'What the hell is this guy doing? Who is this dude? Where is he from? He ain't from around here, that's for sure.' It was a little, weird town, too -- a funny little city that was not even on the map. It was packed and I was scared to death. But by the end, they were really, really friendly. It was a great lesson for me. It made me realize that people just want to check out and see good music. And if you can play all right and kind of get to them, then they're gonna dig it. It doesn't really matter geographically. If you're playing from your heart, it's gonna reach folks."

— Mike Silverman, That 1 Guy

wynton-marsalisWynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis is the most acclaimed trumpet player in the world. Not only has the musician earned nine Grammys spanning jazz to classical, he is one of the few to ever earn a Pulitzer Prize for Music (for "Blood on the Fields," his oratorio about slavery). The New Orleans native (and son of jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis) released his first album in 1981. Since then he's recorded dozens of projects and collaborated with icons ranging from Eric Clapton to Kathleen Battle to Willie Nelson.

"I try to forget them. I don't really know. I've got some I could nominate for it though. We did a Louis Armstrong show once at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It was the Hot Five and Hot Seven. That was a rough one. Nothing about it sounded good. It was painful. Painful. Nothing blew up or anything -- just our egos. Sometimes that type of (explosion) is the most painful of all. ... But you get past the bad gigs quickly. I always wanted to be a musician. And sometimes not everything goes where you think it should. My father told me, 'Do it because you love to do it. Don't put a lot of ulterior motives on it.'"

— Wynton Marsalis

aimeemann2Aimee Mann

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann first had to fight to free herself from the glossy image of her post-New Wave band 'Til Tuesday, which won MTV's Best New Artist award in 1985 on the strength of its hit "Voices Carry." Then she was tied up in court for years by a bankrupt record label that prevented her from releasing solo records. But the musician persevered, crafting a string of records that earned her both Grammy and Oscar nominations along the way, notably for her work on the Paul Thomas Anderson epic "Magnolia."

"I remember playing a show at The Troubadour (in Los Angeles) where there was something wrong with the monitors and I kept hearing a really loud, weird rumbling noise onstage. I felt like I was singing so poorly that I offered to reimburse the audience. It was kind of a fun show, and people in the audience were like, 'No. It was a great show.' But the onstage sound was so weird. Nobody took me up on the offer. ... I almost like when stuff goes bad because it gives you something to work with. It may give you the opportunity for comedy or to just goof around -- to do something that's not just playing a set. I can't really think of a time where I was totally miserable. I've played shows where I was sick. But audiences are just very supportive if you come out and try your best."

— Aimee Mann