Music Blogs

Best Starts to Gigs

  • By MisterCharlie Author Avatar
  • 15 May 2012

Today sees the release of the Music is GREAT Britain DVD—featuring some of the finest live performances from British artists ever recorded to celluloid. This has got us thinking about great openings—those moments when a gig starts with such a mad impact that time freezes, trapped in the billion watt dazzle of brain thumping performance sorcery. This list is, as with most lists, nowhere near definitive, and we’d love to hear about your favourite gig openings in the comments below...


10. David Bowie – Hammersmith Apollo 1973

With the whole performance deemed strong enough to make the Music is Great DVD, Bowie’s last gig as Ziggy opened in fine fashion. Bowie stands, centre stage, focussed in a tight spotlight. 2 stage hands whip away his outer robe from under his porcelain face, magicians pulling away a table cloth without disturbing the crockery. Underneath Bowie’s in one of his outrageously camp space outfits—essentially a silver mini dress, silver thigh high boots and bright ginger hair. He stands there, arms outstretched, messianic. Mick Jones kicks into the all time classic rock n roll riffs of Ziggy Stardust and a persona prepares for his last hurrah.


9. Iron Maiden – Hammersmith Odeon 1982

The Hammersmith show of ’82 has become a mythical moment for Maiden fans. The band were touring their Number of the Beast album, and on their way to being recognised as one of the leading forces in metal music world wide. As the venue heated up to hordes of fans feverishly chanting for their heroes, the band took to the stage with a blast of light and the thrilling intro to Murders in the Rue Morgue, Bruce Dickinson throwing himself into the song with every last breathe he’s got.


8. Screaming Lord Sutch – South London 1964

Before his forays into comedy politics, Sutch was the master of theatrical rock n roll. Unfortunately there aren’t any clips about of his infamous starting-a-show-from-inside-a-coffin schtick, spoofed in the Slade film Flame, but there is this great footage of the Lord opening a gig by creeping through the audience in full Jack the Ripper get up. Listen to the genuine screams of terror as he makes his entrance. Watching it, you can’t help wishing for the days when a crap false nose and a goonish shuffle put the horrors up a room full of teenagers. Nowadays Sutch would probably have to eat his hands, poo them out and eat them again to illicit a reaction. Hooray for progress!


7.Sex Pistols – The Jubilee boat party 1977

You all know the legend of the boat party now—Pistols vs royalist England, police breaking up the boat ra ra ra, but what’s forgotten is the musc- the pent up fury of opening with Anarchy in the UK, those first lines of “I am an antichrist// I am an anarchist” maybe one of the greatest opening couplets the country has ever produced


6. Public Enemy – Hammersmith Odeon 1987

Public Enemy’s early UK shows have gone down in hip hop history, and a quick watch of the footage tells you why. Thatcher was in power at home, and Reagan in the States, Nelson Mandela was held captive in a South African prison and global armed conflict seemed just a moment away. Against this social backdrop, PE swept the Odeon auditorium with spotlights, whilst a louder than loud air raid siren screamed. The bands faux military dancers – The Security of the First World took to the stage as Professor Griff hyped ‘Armageddon has been in effect. Go get a late pass... London, England, consider yourselves WARNED!’ – after which Flava Flav and Chuck D bound out, Terminator X drops the beat, and it goes OFF- this is less of a gig, more of a apocalypse plus bass. Which, fyi, is a good thing.


5. Oasis – Knebworth 1996

There was no overblown stage show at Knebworth, and there didn’t need to be- nothing could compare with the sheer bloody size of the audience. What other band could open with projected footage of themselves in the studio—which included shots of Bonehead looking like a plumber working out a particularly tricky U bend blockage – and still seem cool as fuck? After the film plays, the band step out, launch into cocaine anthem Columbia and boom, 100,000 people go batshit.


4. Jay Z – Glastonbury 2008

And another example of a Oasis being part of a great entrance, albeit at someone else’s gig. Jigga’s appropriation of Noel Gallagher’s words and music after the Chief had made disparaging comments about rap at Glastonbury was a masterstroke, taken straight from the hip hop school of beef—the other guy slags you off? Take his biggest hit and turn it into yours. Job done. At the end of Jay-Z’s opening montage, when Noel’s words had been placed next to a sweet old biddy being all “Jay-Z, I’ve never heard of him” Gallagher looked like a curmudgeonly, out of touch gramps moaning about how t’were all better in my day when you used to be able to buy loaf o’Hovis for a thruppence and hip hop were t’funny dance that auld mad Gregory did outside t’mill.


3. KLF – Helter Skelter 1989

From a rickety scaffold on top of a flat back lorry, the arch pranksters of rave delivered one of their legendary early live shows. First of all they blasted 4000 E blitzed ravers with a choral rendition of middle England staple England’s Green and Pleasant Land, combined with a disembodied voice preaching to the crowd-

“Welcome space cadets. Welcome to the moon. You are the first human beings under the age of 21 ever to travel to far.”

This quickly gave way to the agitated hardcore synths of What Time is Love, over which the band laid a voice preaching- “I goin’ fill your pockets full o’ money”, then- and here’s the clever/insane bit- they used a jerry rigged cannon to fire their entire fee (£1000 in Scottish pounds notes) into the crowd, each note inscribed with the words 'we love you childrn’. Pandemonium, predictably enough, ensued. I, for one, would like to see more bands adopt this approach. Going to see a woeful grunge act playing a Dalston basement on a rainy Tuesday would be immeasurably more appealing if they chucked fivers at me between songs.  


2.Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense 1984

The Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense is often considered one of the finest the genre has to offer, right up there with Gimme Shelter, Woodstock and Glee:The 3D Concert Movie. It’s opening has gone down in history as a virtuoso use of minimalism—David Byrne walks out to play the band’s first hit Psycho Killer on an acoustic guitar with only a ghetto blaster providing occasionally spasmodic drum machine backing. Look in his manic eyes. That’s a man who can channel psycho killing right there.


1.U2 – ZOOTV 1993

OK, look, say what you like about Bono, this really is an amazing opening to a show. Watch it and tell me that ain’t true. I defy you to.

Looking to break away from their austere image, the U2 of the 90s went maximal—out went the stripped down stage design and in came a giant stadium terrorising TV station, pretty much as a 5th member of the band. Starting with a truly epic intro clip made up of then president George H.W. Bush’s words chopped up into the lyrics of We Will Rock You, the band then launched into a set where they were dwarfed by the screens around them pumping out situationist slogans and frenzied collages of image, in an orgy of overload that in many ways prefigured life in the 21st Century.


For more info on the Music is GREAT Britain DVD and project, head on over to their facebook page here. We've also got 25 copies of the DVD to give away-- all you need to do is email us at greatlive@supajam.com telling us your favourite gig memory and your postal address-- we'll pick out the best next Tuesday (May 22nd)...