What was the summer of 1992 like for tours? Miles of empty aisles. Though up 18 percent from last year’s dismal showing, the average show gross was still 25 percent less than it was in 1990. The acts that did well, grossing close to or more than $20 million by the end of August: Neil Diamond, Genesis, Grateful Dead, and Metallica with Guns N’ Roses. Biggest flops: Hammer, Paula Abdul, and Ringo Starr. In the tradition of the Grammys and the Emmys, we present the Roadies, our awards for the most bizarre or amusing moments in live music.
THE P.T. BARNUM AWARD: How do you keep the MTV generation entertained? In addition to booths for body piercing and ”smart” drinks (enzyme-powered ones), Lollapalooza ’92 had a sideshow that made The Addams Family look like The Waltons: Lifto, who hung weights from a hook in his eyelid; Matt the Tube, who sipped beer and Maalox through his nose; the Torture King, who stuck needles in his cheeks; and Jim Rose, who put his face in broken glass while people stood on his head. Oh yeah, some big rock bands played too.
THE WHO-NEEDS-RECORD-SALES? AWARD: Sure, Bruce Springsteen trailed ”Weird Al” Yankovic on the album chart throughout the summer. But from July 23 to Aug. 10, the Boss played 11 shows, all sellouts, at the Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey, grossing more than $6.2 million in ticket sales in his former home state. ”Weird Al” couldn’t sell that many tickets if he went door-to-door with all the Girl Scouts in America.
THE SURGEON-GENERAL’S-WARNING-ON-ELECTRIC-MIKES AWARD: The Newport Folk Festival featured an Aug. 9 closing performance by the Indigo Girls, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, and Joan Baez as ”The Four Voices of Harmony.” During their set, a bolt of lightning hit the sound system and ended the show, lending credence to the theory that God hates folk music.
THE WHY-DO-YOU-THINK-IT’S-CALLED-HEAVY-METAL? AWARD: The Guns N’Roses stage — 200 feet wide and 80 feet deep, with a 75-foot set — weighed 50 tons. Three identical stages were built, because each one took 60 people three days to construct and a day to dismantle. The PA system speaker cabinets, which used 250,000 watts of power, traveled in three tractor trailers. Each show ended with 20 explosions, four fireballs, and a 100-piece fireworks display — when the group didn’t walk off stage early, that is.
THE DAD-CAN-I-BORROW-$27.50-AND-A-FEW-GRAND-FOR-BAIL? AWARD: In one amazing 10-day span, the GN’ R/Metallica tour played six shows and grossed $7.8 million in ticket sales. Much of that money was probably needed to pay for Axl Rose’s wardrobe of baseball caps, bicycle shorts, skirts, and codpieces. But all the cute outfits in the world didn’t amount to much when Rose cut short the band’s Aug. 8 show in Montreal due to ”throat problems” (Entertainment Weekly, #133). Fans rioted, resulting in 13 injuries and 12 arrests.
THE I-KNOW-YOU’RE-OUT-THERE-I-CAN-HEAR-YOU-BREATHING AWARD: On June 22, Paula Abdul performed for more than 5,500 empty seats out of 17,850 at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Englewood, Colo. Two days before, she had almost 11,000 empty seats out of 18,000 at the Sandstone Amphitheatre in Bonner Springs, Kan. Moreover, the Indigo Girls (who would go on to have such bad luck in Rhode Island) drew only 4,060 to the 20,000-seat Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, N.C. Iron Maiden played to 3,819 in the 20,000-seat Starplex Amphitheatre in Dallas. In the same locale, the cursed Indigo Girls sold just 4,499 tickets. And prog-rock granddads Emerson, Lake & Palmer played before a mere 3,343 in the 15,000-seat Waterloo Village in Stanhope, N.J. If a drum solo falls in an empty stadium, does anybody hear it?