Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"With Special Guest ______" - The Opening Band Dilemma

I've always had mixed feelings about opening acts. On the one hand, I'd like to consider myself open enough to new music to be able to listen to an opening band with welcoming ears. I've discovered a few acts that I really enjoy when they played as unknown (to me) openers. On the other hand, there have been plenty of openers that simply killed 30-40 minutes of my life while I was waiting for the headliner I came to see to take the stage.

Ah, the classic opening band dilemma. It's usually considered a great "opportunity" to play for an act with an established following, fans with whom, presumably, your music will connect. But you have to be awesome every night just to appease a crowd that generally isn't there to see you play and would, at times, rather you took the night off so they could see the band they love play an extended set. And if you blow the audience away? If your opening set is outstanding, most audience members will only remember that you didn't suck. Some will be impressed enough to buy your CD or check you out online later, but I bet the great majority of concert-goers don't remember the opening band's name after the gig. If the audience was even in attendance for the opener's set, that is... I've been to plenty of shows that are less than half full for the opener but are jam-packed by the time the headliner goes on. I've even been one of those late arrivals on purpose.

Cynical? Perhaps. There's no denying that being an opening act is a difficult challenge. That's true even for established acts that choose to open for one of their heroes, as a kind of nod to the headliner's venerable career or as a notch on the career belt of the established opener. Maybe suffering the "special guest" slot is a rite of passage that all up-and-comers have to endure in order to "earn" a sweet headlining tour and build that coveted following. More likely, it's a way to keep cash flowing for the opener, even if it's just a trickle, while making a living out of making music. Just about every band you and I love started as an opening act for someone that was more popular or experienced, so I guess in the end there's no dilemma. The good ones, and a lot of the craptastic ones too, will succeed in clearing the hurdle of being the dreaded "opener" and go on to have their own headlining show.

So get out to the venue early, because it sure is fun to be able to say to your fellow music snobs - "Yeah, they're great now...but I saw them when they opened for _______."

Some Of My Favorite Bands In Random Opener Slots:

Led Zeppelin opened for Country Joe And The Fish in 1969

The Rolling Stones opened for the Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley in 1963

Pearl Jam opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins in 1991

Radiohead opened for Catherine Wheel in 1992

The Black Crowes opened for Robert Plant in 1990

Catherine Wheel opened for INXS in 1993

Juliana Hatfield
opened for Aimee Mann in 2002

Nirvana opened for Mudhoney in 1992

Jeff Buckley opened for Juliana Hatfield in 1995

Gov't Mule opened for The Black Crowes in 1996

Soundgarden opened for Guns N Roses in 1991

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Anonymous Erik said...

In 1980, Los Lobos was the last minute openers from Public Image Limited.

And in 1991 I saw Southern Culture On The Skids open for Galaxie 500.

August 16, 2006 3:49 PM  
Blogger Side3 said...

My aunt saw The Who open for The Monkees. In 1978 I saw Van Halen open for (in order of appearance) AC/DC (w/ Bon!), Pat Travers, Foreigner and Aerosmith.

August 19, 2006 7:18 PM  

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