5 of the Craziest Live Performances Ever
As much as we love a great live showcase, not every event is created equal. Some experiences provide us with just enough entertainment for the day and earn a few applauses.
But there are very few that leave us with no words.
They create so much anticipation that we're waking up early on the event day. We keep checking the time. The group chat is littered with notifications. We even triple check if we have our tickets.
And when it's time to head to the venue? We're blasting their greatest hits. We get goosebumps while waiting hours in line, and then a tingly feeling in our guts tells us this is going to be epic.
Sure enough, it turns out to be a once in a lifetime experience. We're on the edge of our seat, better yet standing up, taking in everything we could have expected and more. The punchlines land perfectly. Every note is crisply delivered. Surprises are revealed, and if we're lucky, history is made. It doesn't even matter that you're taking photos because you're not going to forget any minuscule detail about this event.
Regardless of how different the best live events can be, they seem to leave us with a lot of the same feelings. In honor of the unforgettable memories they create, here are five of the craziest and most revolutionary live performances in North American history.
5. George Carlin at Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI (1972)
"Comedy is too fragile for large groups," said George Carlin. "I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion."
In an era when U.S. censorship laws called for greater punishment, Carlin championed freedom of speech with action that backed up his frequently voiced opinions. He performed his famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" monologue at Summerfest, rambling then illegal words in front of a festival audience. However, he was immediately escorted off the stage and arrested for "disturbing the peace."
While disruptions like this may impact audience energy at festivals, Carlin's performance had a bigger mission. His act of bravery influenced media organizations to increase the amount of acceptable airtime for "indecent" content on television. Most importantly, Carlin's sacrifice heightened the creative ceiling that entertainers and performers can work with.
4. KRS One vs. Melle Mel at Latin Quarter, New York, NY (1987)
There was once a time where the best rap shows weren't planned. Just as rap icon KRS-One was ready to walk on stage at the Latin Quarter — a then-famous New York nightclub — the Bronx's very own Melle Mel hijacked his performance.
Melle Mel bolted the stage and crowned himself as the best MC, completely disregarding KRS-One and his booked event. KRS-One then stopped the show and began battle rapping Mel, sparring back and forth with the same New York legend that wrote one of the greatest hip-hop songs in Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message." Fans that came to see KRS-One were left speechless, and by the end of the evening, it was difficult to choose sides.
But to this day, KRS-One agrees with Melle Mel's original on-stage claim. "At the end of the day, that's still my teacher, man," said KRS-One. "Melle Mel, the greatest of all-time."
3. Piñata Full of Bees at Second City, Chicago, IL (1995)
While countless revues go overlooked, Piñata Full of Bees has no trouble standing out in the history books. The Second City Chicago production launched some of the best comedy careers from the last quarter-century, including cast members Tina Fey, Adam McKay, Rachel Dratch, Scott Askin, and Jon Glaser.
Yet it's the show's overall structure that stood out more. Gone were blackouts and oh-so predictable writing, and in were recurring characters and well-timed integrations of dark humor. In turn, Bees didn't feel like a minimalistic, awkward collection of disjointed, subpar sketches. Instead, it premiered with the swagger of professional cinema that knew how to masterfully tell different stories. 25 years later, Second City is still one of the most prestigious comedy clubs in America, and Bees anchors its reputation to this day.
2. Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll at Women Here and Now exhibition, East Hampton, NY (1975)
Challenging expectations of feminine sexuality, Carolee Schneemann stood naked on a table and covered her body with mud. She then removed a paper scroll from her vagina and started reading out loud.
"I thought of the vagina in many ways — physically, conceptually: as a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation," said Schneemann.
Interior Scroll wasn't just loud performance art that left a few art critics with something intriguing to talk about for one weekend in New York. If anything, it perfectly captured the sentiment behind an entire second wave of feminism in the U.S. spanning more than two decades. In less than 100 words, Interior Scroll highlights the dependence the world has on women, reminding them of their worth when society didn't.
1. Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop Festival, Monterey, CA (1967)
By the mid-1960s, counterculture started growing in popularity, and one performer broke the molds of America's superficial conventions forever. And despite arriving at Monterey uncertain of what to expect, Jimi Hendrix's performance was nothing short of a masterpiece.
Hendrix perfectly curated a nine-song setlist filled with psychedelic slow jams and neck-breaking hits that transcended the quality of their studio version counterparts. When performing somber songs like "Hey Joe," the Seattle native feverishly bounced around the stage and played a minute-long guitar solo with his mouth. Most famously, he played a cover of Chip Taylor's "Wild Thing," capping off his performance by setting his white Fender Stratocaster on fire.
No act had ever done this before Hendrix in rock history, which speaks to the influence he would have on future creatives. Sets like this allowed Hendrix to turn his greatest pains into moments of sheer happiness, rewriting the rules for what bounds individuality and creativity can take on in an increasingly complex world. His irresistible free-spirit reminds us we have the power to think for ourselves, and that challenging the status quo can make life more purposeful and fulfilling.