“My Appendix Was About To Burst”: 12 Aussie Artists Share Their Disaster Gig Stories
Burst appendixes? Check. Diarrhoea? Electrical storms? Check. Missing guitars? Check.
Being a touring musician is a tough gig, pun fully intended.
Ruthless schedules, sleepless nights, rowdy crowds (if there’s a crowd at all), long drives in cramped fans…it’s not a life for the fainthearted. And that’s just when it’s going well. When it goes wrong, it really, really goes wrong. From lost instruments, to missing cables, to burst appendixes and violent diarrhoea, it can be a very uncomfortable time.
We hit up some of our favourite artists to find out the story of their worst of all time. Dive in, and a warning: some of these get a little gross.
It was 1998 and Jebediah were on another tour. This particular day found us in the sweaty tropics of North Queensland, with two shows to play at a nightclub in Cairns.
The first show was an all-ages gig in the afternoon. Prior to the show, I felt a slight stomach pain, but being on tour and existing on alcohol and service station food I thought nothing of it. As the gig went on the pain felt like it was worsening and when the gig ended I crawled, sweating profusely, into the sticky backstage area where I could have a lie down. I was dropped off back at the hotel where we had a few hours to rest before the evening gig back at the same nightclub.
I took myself to bed but as the pain got worse and worse I began to worry. Nighttime began to descend and it was almost time to go back to the nightclub for the evening show. I told the tour manager I think I might need to see a doctor so we got in the car and drove to the doctor.
As my tour manager spoke to the receptionist inside, I was outside throwing up in the car park. The doctor had a quick feel of my stomach and informed me that my appendix was about to burst and I’d better go straight to the Cairns Base Hospital, which we did and I was given pain relief that knocked me out.
The next day, my appendix was taken out and I heard about how the nightclub owners were freaking out when they were told I was too sick to take the stage that night and Jebediah would have to cancel. “Isn’t there an injection we can give him or something?”, they pleaded, obviously concerned about how 600 drunken, hot and sweaty North Queenslanders might react to the bad news.
There was no riot or anything as far as I know. We cancelled the tour the next day and my band mates went tripping in the Daintree rainforest.
The Kite String Tangle
My disaster gig would probably be in Barcelona when I played at Primavera. It was one of the most exciting dates on the tour and I’d been looking forward to it for months. That of course meant that it was cursed. We went in early and were able to do a brief soundcheck to get our in-ear monitors working.
We then left to grab some food and came back for our set. When we got back the entire team had changed and nobody knew what was going on and the engineers spoke only broken English, so our change over was super crazy and then halfway through the set one of the stage crew came on to try to fix a loose cable or something and knocked the power out to the whole rig, and so we had to stop playing and restart everything which took us out for what felt like an eternity.
We managed to get one more song in but it was just one of those things. Not much you can do in those situations. There was a band that I really love, Majid Jordan, playing after me too just to add to the embarrassment.
Heidi: On one Cloudies tour of Europe we’d wrapped up a set around midnight at La Maroquinerie in Paris and had to drive nine hours overnight to Germany, where we were opening the main stage of Hurricane Festival at midday the next day.
We turned up around 10am, wolfed down some brekky and halfway through our first song the heavens opened with a deluge of torrential rain that saturated the stage within two minutes.
It immediately shorted our instruments but we kept singing because the crowd were absolute champions keeping up the chant “why-o-why-o-why-o-why” in an epic collective rain dance to ‘Meditation Song’.
Hurricane festival was true to its name, and an overnight drive to play half a song easily holds our record for max-effort-to-outcome ratio. I still remember flipping my Nord keyboard over afterwards and watching half a litre of rain pour out. Good times.
Eating on tour is a precarious thing. You’re in a new city and you’ve got a whole new exciting world of culinary greats at your disposal. However, you also have to not eat anything that might jeopardise your performance.
I learned how important that latter point was before a gig at The Brightside in Brisbane. JH and I had the brilliant idea of smashing some BBQ pork noodles at a dodgy Chinese restaurant. I also made the deadly mistake of drowning it in chilli sauce.
Cut to an hour later and I’m profusely sweating in 40 degree Brisbane heat and realising there’s no bathroom backstage. There was one bathroom that was public which I had to cut into past fans and hold the door closed with my foot because there was no lock.
The gig was great and I thought I’d dodged a bullet. Except I woke up the next day and realised my black jeans were literally ruined with grey sweat stains. Thank god for Country Road in Adelaide airport.
I’ve played to so many empty rooms, so many shows where there would be a football screen behind our heads on stage, so many shows where I couldn’t hear myself because of sound issues. Sometimes I would turn up and the venue had forgotten to organise a PA so I would stand there and sing in the corner.
There was a time where my drummer DJ and I were touring solo for a couple of years before I could afford to bring more players along. We played show after show after show. One day we arrived at a bowls club in Newcastle and the room was completely empty, again.
We were nearly finished setting up when two ladies turned up (Hooray an audience)! One of them said to the other “Who’s playing tonight?”, we wondered how they had heard of the gig, if they might have friends coming??
The other replied: “I think it’s the Rabbitohs vs the Cowboys!”
I had a pretty wild Easter weekend a while back where I had to run straight off stage at a festival in Sydney and fly overnight to Bali. I was picked up from the airport and taken directly to the wharf where the boat I was playing on that day was soon departing.
Fast forward a few hours and several Bintangs, we were at the furthest point we would reach away from land and a hectic storm was starting to brew. The Kite String Tangle was soundtracking the rumbling clouds with some euphoric techno and everybody was having a great time. Most of the people on board, Aussies, were super loose and seemingly not fazed by the rocking.
“The doctor had a quick feel of my stomach and informed me that my appendix was about to burst.”
I was playing after him but by then the storm had grown so ferocious that there were two speed boats full of local guys following us around to scoop up anybody who might fall overboard.
Hard rain was lashing everybody outside and sloppy people were getting super close to the edge.
I was supposed to be doing a live show with synthesisers and drums but I could hardly even stand upright because of the boat near capsizing. We decided to call off the performance and instead I played my first ever Kilter DJ set stuffed inside the captain’s cabin in the Indian Ocean. A few wrecked mixes aside, I made it through and as we pulled back into land the clouds cleared and the sun came back out.
Long story short: keep a few USBs on hand at all times and always be aware of where the life jackets are stowed.
Alex The Astronaut
My guitar stopped working for 25 minutes when I was opening for Neil Finn. I had to do one-line jokes to fill the time while my guitar was fixed to the crowd of five thousand Crowded House fans from Cairns who did not care for me at all. It was a bit disastrous.
There’s a venue that I’ve played at twice, I don’t want to say where so let’s just say the town is called Coffs…Something. No… that’s too obvious, let’s say Something Harbour, yes that will do.
Anyway, the first time I played there I was doing a DJ set and one of the decks had the power plug snipped off. Like there was literally no way to plug it in because it just had these raw cables hanging out and no plug.
I called up the sound guy who gave me a big spray and told me he knows what he’s talking about because he used to do the sound for Bliss and Eso. So I played that set on one turntable.
My most disastrous gig was one of my first proper shows ever and I didn’t know anything about advancing, so I turned up and there were no CDJs at the venue. Luckily I’d brought my laptop and I’d done a radio guest mix the week before, so I played that through AUX and pretended to laptop DJ.
I felt like such a loser ‘cos the gig was super intimate, but the set was only half-an-hour and I made it through, albeit awkwardly.
In saying that, all of my first shows were a little awkward because I was 16-17 and sometimes had to work my way through security when they didn’t believe I was playing.
On the way to a show in NSW a roided-up, road raging guy threw open my door, threatened me and sprayed a litre of red Powerade over me (and the inside of my car), and drove off.
Feeling shaken and sticky, I get to the venue, where, mid-set, two guys came into the quiet room, and proceeded to have a loud conversation at the front. Normally I make a joke about the talkers in the room, everyone laughs, the people listening cheer ‘cause secretly they want to say something, and the show goes on, generally undisturbed.
I make the joke, receive a few laughs but the talking continues. I try again. I’m so despondent that I pretty much tell them to shut up and sit out back if they want to continue. The room goes awkwardly silent, and I rush through my set and get off the stage as fast as I can.
That night I stayed at a fan of the headliner’s place. Turns out they’re a far-right Trump supporter, and in between uncomfortable political views that we contest, the subject of my banter comes up. They turn to me and say, “I was about ready to jump up and defend you because in this town if you say something like that you get glassed.”
Safe to say I haven’t made plans to visit there any time soon.
When I first started singing, gigs were hard to come by so I would say ‘yes’ to any gig thrown my way. One afternoon I got a call from a girl (who had been given my number by a friend of a friend of a friend of a distant acquaintance) looking for someone to fill in for her gig that night.
She said it was really easy, just sing three songs in between the other “acts” at a cabaret club in the city. Cash on the night (of course) and paying $150 which might have well been $150,000 to me at the time.
“A roided-up, road raging guy threw open my door, threatened me and sprayed a litre of red Powerade over me.”
I arrived at the venue, greeted by blacked out windows with an intimidating bouncer and announced that I was the singer. Once inside I was quickly ushered by an older woman with a smokers voice to the dressing room where I was told I needed to hurry up and get dressed as the clients were starting to arrive. When I informed her that I was dressed she laughed and replied “I wouldn’t pay to see you take that off.”
She pointed to a rack of the skimpiest looking lingerie I’ve ever seen and said that I could borrow something as long as I didn’t sweat too much in it. Again she told me to hurry up, change and get out and start chatting to the clients as it was bad for business not to have any girls out there.
I said that I didn’t usually go and talk to the crowd before the gig and asked when soundcheck was? She replied “I don’t know where you worked before, but NO one here is above anyone else! All my girls work hard and we share the load!”
She informed that if I wasn’t out there in five minutes I was fired.
Not A Boys Name
I was in New York for the CMJ music conference. You don’t get a lot of time at these things and they’re always pretty strict about scheduling. My guitarist was having some difficulty making his way across town (to be honest he had difficulty making his way anywhere). I booked him an Uber and could see his location, but things were looking grim.
As I waited and ate into our set time the audience grew increasingly more frustrated and started to leave. Finally, he appeared 15 minutes into our 30 minute set, jumped on stage and started to set up.
As he opened his guitar case an expression of sheer terror came over his face. He closed the case looked up at me and in a shaky voice said, “There’s no strings on my guitar”. OF COURSE he had removed them before the flight and OF COURSE he didn’t think to look at his guitar before the show and OF COURSE there were no other guitars in the building.
We ended up playing one guitarless song to the five people remaining in the room. “Of course” has since become my catchphrase for when things go wrong on tour.
All photos supplied