1. The Velvet Underground and MC5: Boston, 1968
When raucous Detroit rockers The MC5 toured with The Velvet Underground, they didn't come alone. Instead, the band —and, more notably, their manager, John Sinclair— brought along a posse of White Panther Party crazies to preach their revolution. In Boston, one Party member took to the stage, after The MC5's set, to exhort the audience to tear down the venue, and burn it to the ground. The Velvets already resented the entourage before that (Sterling Morrison would later call them "leeches"), and this mooted act of schoolboy sedition pushed Lou Reed to denounce the openers from on stage. "'I'd just like to make one thing clear," Reed spat. "We have nothing to do with what went on earlier and in fact we consider it very stupid.'"
2. Tangerine Dream and Nico: Reims, 1974
Tangerine Dream —those krautrock innovators turned new-age synth wallpaperists— picked an amazing venue for a show in December, 1974: Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral; which had historically hosted the coronations of French Kings. Unfortunately, the promoter of the gig got a little swept up in the grandeur, overselling the show so blatantly that the crowd, when eventually crammed in, couldn't move; leading to audience members urinating where they stood. The Catholic Church was apoplectic, and banned concert events in Cathedrals for eternity. The show's legacy grows over the years thanks to a bootleg of opener Nico, playing her haunted, pump-organ dirges in a house whose natural reverb makes them sound like the ghostliest hymns.
On the Sex Pistols' first-ever tour outside London, the pre-fame punks attracted only 40 kids to the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Yet, these ranks included countless soon-to-be superstars of the post-punk movement. The gig had been organized by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, who'd just started The Buzzcocks, and the crowd featured future Smiths frontman Morrissey, future Fall mouthpiece Mark E. Smith, future Warsaw/Joy Division/New Order founders Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, and future Factory Records founder Tony Wilson. After being cited in the 2002 movie 24 Hour Party People, the myth of this show grew so much that one English journalist, David Nolan, wrote a book about it called I Swear I Was There: the Gig that Changed the World.
For 1970s audiences, the simple fact that Suicide —Bowery toughs Martin Rev and Alan Vega— took the stage with neither guitars nor drums was, itself, a provocation; a brazen mocking of rock convention that rarely went down well. Like when they opened for Elvis Costello in Brussels in '78. The Belgian crowd booed, heckled, and eventually stole Vega's microphone. Disgusted by the crowd's treatment of the opening act, Costello refuses to play the conquering hero, delivering an abrupt, pissed-off set. When Costello leaves, the crowd erupts in a frenzy. Riot police are called in, tear-gas is unleashed. Later, Suicide release a bootleg of their set, as 23 Minutes Over Brussels, and it enshrines the night in infamy for generations to come.
5. The Cure: Brussels, 1982
With Robert Smith still applying the pancake make-up, it's amusing to think of The Cure playing a 'final' show back in 1982, at the end of Pornography's European tour. But that's what the Ancienne Belgique audience thought when the band fumbled through a freeform 14-minute jam, loaded with venom, that they called "The Cure is Dead." It featured Cure roadie Gary Biddles on the mic, and he seized the spotlight with a drunken tirade attacking Smith and drummer Lol Tolhurst. Smith responded by throwing drumsticks at Biddles' head, the band had it out on stage, and bassist Simon Gallup quit. Two years later, Biddles brokered a reunion between Smith and Gallup, who rejoined the band. Three decades later, Smith and Gallup are still soldiering on.
6. Hanatarashi: Osaka, 1985
The mystical, eternal, iconoclastic 'Eye' —the singularly-named leader of legendary shamans Boredoms— began life not as a percussion-bashing psychedelic tribalist, but as a noise-music provocateur with a bent for performance-art. His first band, Hanatarashi (later Hanatarash), were renowned for the literal danger of their live-shows, which included machetes, molotov cocktails, and circular saws. The band's most infamous spectacle —and, perhaps, the most infamous night on this list of the infamous— was the 'Bulldozer Show,' which saw Eye driving a back-hoe around the venue, tearing it apart in front of a polite and respectful Japanese audience. Its legend lives on online; this act of Dada-ist destruction encoded as internet slideshow.
7. Pavement: Lollapalooza in West Virginia, 1995
Given all the gushing and fawning that greeted Pavement's 2010 reunion shows, it seems strange to think of them as anything other than beloved; but the memory of their time on 1995's Lollapalooza tour happily contradicts rose-colored '90s nostalgia. For a crowd of teenage neanderthals ready to mosh, Pavement's laconic slacker-rock was rarely welcomed, and, in backwoods Charles Town, West Virginia, the band were showered with a hail of dirt-clods and rocks. In response, Pavement left the stage, but not before Spiral Stairs drops his drawers and moons the riled-up yokels. The incident is enshrined in Pavement lore when video of it is included in the documentary DVD Slow Century; Spiral's buttocks, once seen, something that cannot be unseen.
8. Cat Power: Anywhere, circa 1996-2005
Long before her post-Greatest 'lounge-bar' era as crooner out front of slick, soulful backing band, Chan Marshall used to play her shows, as Cat Power, by herself. And paying for a ticket was concert-going Russian Roulette. Identifying herself as someone who wasn't a performer, Marshall wouldn't 'perform'; mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally, too. Playing her stark, spooked songs with no pretense or theatricality, Marshall laid her fragile psyche out in front of often-unimpressed crowds; slipping in and out of songs (as in her Speaking to Trees DVD) and often declining to finish them if the mood wasn't right. At their best, these shows were music at its most intimate; at their worst, it was like watching a bird with a broken wing.
9. Elliott Smith: Northwestern University, 2002
In 2002, Elliott Smith was in a bad place. He and producer Jon Brion had fallen out over Smith's drug intake —copious amounts of crack and heroin, smoked in the studio— making his sixth LP, and, with no record to make, Smith drifted; rumors placing him wandering Silverlake streets barefoot and being found passed out in toilet stalls. He would only perform three times that year, including a disastrous show at Northwestern University opening for Wilco, in which Smith failed to complete a single song throughout an excruciating 50-minute set. Afterwards, a writer at the website Glorious Noise famously eulogized: "it would not surprise me at all if Elliott Smith ends up dead within a year." 17 months later and, sure enough, Smith was no longer.