Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of live sound engineers for PSN, and occasionally I’ll ask them, “What was your best gig ever?” The answer is always disappointing; in fact, usually they can’t even think of one. But ask an engineer “What was your worst gig” and the reply gets even more frustrating, because every single one of them has a great story to tell about The Gig From Hell...and they’ll only share it “off the record.”
Music journalist Jon Niccum found he had the same problem whenever he interviewed bands, but luckily he talked many of them into sharing their favorite disasters, and the results are all in The Worst Gig. Everybody from Rush and The Sex Pistols to Owl City and Fitz & the Tantrums can be found in helpfully titled sections like Wrong Venue, Insane Fans, Dangerous Malfunctions, Nature’s Wrath, Violence and the self-explanatory Oops.
Naturally, the tales come from the musicians’ points of view, but there’s enough tales to make audio pros wince, too. Some moments of note:
• Annie Haslam of Renaissance remembers riding to a gig and laughing as they passed a truck submerged in a lake—only to arrive and discover it was the band’s PA truck.
• Dennis Casey of Flogging Molly recalls the nightmare of being left by the band’s tour bus at a foreign rest stop with no money or cell phone, 100 miles from the gig.
• Aimee Mann tells of a night of terrible sound at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and how it made for a better gig by taking her out of her comfort zone.
• Stevie Jackson of Belle and Sebastian brings up the disastrous first time the indie stalwarts tried to play “in the round,” embarrassing themselves in front of thousands of fans and their hero, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
• Plenty of name DJs appear, too, from Yung Skeeter, who recalls barely being able to use borrowed gear after wrecking his laptop just before a gig, to 12th Planet, who shares what it's like to puke on your turntables mid-set.
Some artists contribute entire chapters for the book, including Chuck Mead of BR549, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi, Sherri DuPree-Bemis of Eisley, and Jason Falkner. But the proverbial cake is taken by Dan Wilson, Grammy-winning songwriter for Adele and the Dixie Chicks, who used to front Semisonic—a band that might hold the record for the most worst gigs ever. Recounted as a conference call with bandmates John Munson and Jacob Slichter, their tales grow increasingly ridiculous until they reach the highpoint of their lowpoints: performing their hit single, “Closing Time,” at the Grammy Awards. When that’s your worst gig ever, that’s saying something.
Not every tale is exciting and a few artists prove that they’re better musicians than storytellers, but on the whole, The Worst Gig is an entertaining diversion, full of bite-sized tales that will make your eyes widen in recognition or shake your head in disbelief. All of it makes for an entertaining rock n’ roll bathroom book.