The goosebumps, the excitement in your eyes and the satisfaction within. This is the end-result.
In this article we will be looking at how such experiences are being orchestrated.
We’ll start by identifying a two highly successful rock performances and work our way through the whys and hows of each. The aim here is to find common characteristics of unforgettable rock concerts and to present them to you. Our only criteria is that the two bands we’re comparing have at least one successful Rock concert in London in their bag.
Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath
Rolling Stone have identified 50 live performances that have given millions the ultimate goosebump experience. We are only interested in rock and metal concerts for this article and we will therefore shamelessly ignore pop, rap and reggae listings. For this exercise we are looking at Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath and analyse two of their most engaging performances and what made them so, in order to determine the characteristics of a great rock concert.
Pink Floyd ‘The Wall’ Tour
Along with probably their most ambitious recording ever – The Wall, Pink Floyd turned it all up to eleven in their stage performance. From the music, to the lighting, the props, the timing, and the coordination, it was all an impeccable display of excitement.
‘Yes, we did all sorts of strange things, you know, for live concerts as well, we used to make up tapes for the audience to come in by. We had one half-hour-long tape, which we’d play for the half an hour the audience was coming in just before we started our show, and things like that. Just tapes of bird noises in quad–quadraphonic sound, you know, with birds singing, and pheasants taking off in the distance, and swans taking off from water, a tractor driving down one side of the room, and an airplane going over the top, and all these things carrying on, all just from just different sound effects records, you just stick them in and you–you create a type of mood.’ — David Gilmour
We’re now breaking the experience down into the parts that make the sum:
Pink Floyd were pioneers in many aspects of showbusiness: from music making, to the live experience, they trail-blazed through the music industry. With an unconventional approach to music and the guts to experiment with albums such as Ummagumma Pink Floyd has quickly established themselves as the ones who do things differently. The ones who oppose the status quo. Rebels with a voice, and a powerful one at that. And when the music is less experimental and more predictable, Pink Floyd manages to push your emotional buttons like an overly-energetic 90’s kid playing arcade games. The Division Bell is a great example of that.
The Wall had a story to tell, and a powerful message went along with it. Pink – the protagonist from the movie was modelled after Roger Waters and Syd Barrett. He was a rock-star jaded by life and closed within himself. His father had died during the second world war and had an over-protective mother. There was a ‘Wall’ between himself and the world at large. The album goes to explore his battle with depression and is featuring several Syd refererences in songs like Nobody Home. The Trial finds Pink being judged for his behaviour and ordered to be exposed before his peers. Thereby breaking the ‘wall’ and ending the album by going full circle with Outside the Wall.
What gave Pink Floyd this unique mix of ingredients is the band line-up and the timing. Syd’s issues which lead to him leaving the band were for Pink Floyd the fuel to create at least one album dedicated to him: Wish You Were Here. A whole array of shared experiences and emotions gave the band the courage, fuel and inspiration to create a far-out experience with each new release.
Carving out such a musical masterpiece in the shallow, plastic crevices of the vinyl called for a show to be remembered. For The Wall, Pink Floyd built an actual wall during the first part of every performance in the tour. They then proceeded to play most of the second part obscured from the audience. The most marking moment in the performance took place near the very end of the show, when the wall came tumbling down. David Gilmour said that “the first couple of bricks would terrify people in the front rows” and it certainly created a raw and memorable experience for everyone attending the concert!
They were among the first to use dedicated travelling lights along with their stage performance. Automated, coordinated lasers, liquid lights and animations projected onto the wall onstage added a second layer of mystery and obscurity for the band that loved to stay away from the spotlight – quite literally.
State-of-the-art lighting and highly competent engineers have helped the band create an eccentric interplay of lights and shadows.
The rock opera The Wall was so complex to set-up on stage that the band only performed 16 times in 31 months and they only hit 4 cities. One of the only two European cities to experience such a rock concert was London.
Black Sabbath American Tour
Controversy, Line-up changes, reunion and unpredictability. The often-cited pioneers of Heavy Metal, Black Sabbath were never afraid to sail straight into a storm settle right in the middle of it.
Ozzy Osbourne’s eccentric public persona and the battle with virtually any form of abuse known to man had cast a veil of intrigue over the band. When Black Sabbath first landed on US soil, Ozzy put down ‘Satanist’ as his religion on the immigration form.
‘By the time I got to the immigration the hangover had set in. My headache was so bad that I’d forgotten what I’d written as a joke on the visa-waiver form. Where it asked for your religion I’d put down ‘Satanist’. So the boke takes the form off me and starts reading it. Then pauses when he gets halfway down. He looks up at me. ‘Satanist huh?’ he says in this thick Bronx accent, with a bored tired look on his face. Suddenly, I’m thinking, Oh, shit. But before I can start trying to explain myself he just stamps the form and shouts, ‘NEXT!’’ (I am Ozzy, Ozzy Osburne)
We all know the line-up, and we’re all too familiar with the changes and the Great Schism when Dio took Ozzy’s place as lead vocalist. But Black Sabbath had the magic recipe beforehand. What made Black Sabbath the most, is probably their unique and widely recognised sound. The heavy, distinctive growls of Tony’s Guitar gave Black Sabbath the spark of uniqueness. While Ozzy’s nasal voice added another layer of eccentricity to the music. Combining this with Osbourne’s somewhat unstable public persona and an insatiable thirst for substances, it was all a PR stunt waiting to happen. All it took was some guy throwing a (rubber)bat onstage, a slightly inebriated Ozzy and thus the Prince of Darkness was born.
Black Sabbath the first song from the album that shares the same name as the band represents the black sun that exploded and created the universe of Heavy Metal and all of its sub-genres. The album continues shifting from positive, back to darker tones but all strongly related to the Occult including the Left Hand Path and Satanism.
In Ozzy’s solo career, the pursuit for the dark sacred continues with Mr. Crowley – a philosophical tune that questions the motivations and life of Aleister Crowley.
They starter the tour by opening for the likes of: the Faces, Alice Cooper and the James Gang. The locals din’t know how to feel about the band just yet. In order to fix the sentiment into their minds, drummer Bill Ward tore off his tom from the riser and threw it into the audience. “I was like, ‘Fucking move! Do something!’ Soon everyone was headbanging.” It was magical, the people were fired up and couldn’t stop talking about it! It seems that a well-timed reaction can make up for the lack of sophisticated stage lighting.
Black Sabbath never put much price on lighting or high-end, fancy pyrotechnics. Instead, the band preferred to dim the lights and let the music guide the experience entirely. Probably one of Black Sabbath’s most controversial concerts happened when they were co-heading alongside Blue Öyster Cult and just happened to start a riot at MECCA (the Milwaukee Exposition Convention Center Arena) on October 9th, 1980. It all started with a bottle being thrown at Geezer Butler’s head, rendering him unconscious.
The crowd went absolutely mental after that. It’s probably best to hear it from the horse’s mouth:
“It’s all a big misunderstanding, really, The lights were down, first of all, so unless the fellow was some sort of incredible quarterback, I don’t know how he could have hit me on purpose. But I was knocked out, and the band was busy getting me off the stage and to a hospital. When the lights came back up, there was no band on stage. And of course, the crowd freaked out. Someone should have gone out and explained—the promoter or someone. I mean, the band was worrying about getting me to the hospital, you know? So the crowd freaked out because there was suddenly no band on stage, and things got worse from there.” – Geezer Butler
“We wanted to give a lot for you, but not our blood. If you don’t want to enjoy it, then tough shit!” – Ronnie James Dio
This doesn’t go to say that Black Sabbath was ever planning for this kind of shenanigans, we are merely remaking the most memorable live concert experiences and what made them so, whether on purpose or by accident.
In many ways, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath were radically different in the way they managed to entertain the crowd. From the music, to the pyrotechnics, light play (or lack thereof), to the sheer style of interacting with the crowd. for a successful rock concert, whether in London or not – you, as a band need to find your own way of keeping the crowd on their toes. Whether this means building and demolishing a wall onstage or biting off the head of (plastic?) bat, you need to find out what works for you and test it with the audience.
On the flip side, if you’re part of the audience and you’re going to a rock concert, you should communicate to the band, in whatever way you can, what you loved and what you didn’t love as much about their performance. This will help the group improve which in turn will know how to better satisfy your thirst for live rock and roll music.
Don’t know where to start? Get in touch with us, we’re happy to have a chat. DAMAGE INC. organises Rock concerts in London and provides you with the most band-centric talent management system in London.