Worst Sounding Gigs

The thread for the best sounding gig made me think a thread about opposite may be interesting, in the interest of balance!

I went to see Alice Cooper at the now demolished Cornwall Coliseum situate on a beach near St Austell, Cornwall in October 1991.

I had seen several big acts at the, I think, 3,500 seat venue & the sound was OK.

The opening act that night was introduced by the announcer as ‘Tamworth’s Finest’, Wolfsbane. My friend & I had never heard of them &, despite never being able to forget their ‘performance’ (loose use of the word here), have never bothered to listen to them again & successfully avoided visiting Tamworth.

I have struggled to play the guitar for well over 30 years but can make a very loud, discordant & extremely unpleasant, tuneless noise at home with my Les Paul & Marshall practice amp. Even being this bad, had I played with Wolfsbane that night they would have sounded as if Clapton or Page had leapt up on stage to join them. To say they were truly awful is way too kind to them. My friend & I only listened to the full 30-minute set on the basis that they could only get better once warmed up. They proved us wrong.

I had only ever seen beer thrown at punk acts in small venues on TV & didn’t think it could ever happen in a larger venue & in a civilised location such as St Austell. Wrong again. Had I been nearer the front I may have been tempted to join in.

To be fair, Alice Cooper came on & the sound was only a little better. Pretty much a loud, continuous, incoherent noise for 90 minutes & everyone around us was asking ‘is this Schools Out/No More Mister Nice Guy/Poison’ etc etc. I’m not joking, it was that bad & is why, nearly 30 years later that it remains a clear memory. A real pity as the stage visuals were really good & would have fitted well with the music if we could have worked out what was playing,

Finally, if you are reading this Wolfsbane, I am sure you have vastly improved over the years & are a genuinely nice bunch of guys now looking forward to your pensions. However, on the night you weren’t very good………

Peter Murphy at LPR in NYC in Aug '19, David Bowie tribute night. Granted, he had had many health issues last year, and this gig had originally been postponed because of that. He was not ready to come back, and his voice was absolutely shot, and he was clearly exhausted. Painful to watch and I wish him the very best. Nevertheless, it was an awful show. Second to worst.

Cat Power in (maybe) 1998 at the Knitting Factory. She made it through about three songs before she broke down, fell to her knees, and started bawling on stage. She was backed by two of the guys from the Dirty Three who looked shocked and uncomfortable. Almost as shocked as the audience watching her. Eventually, she gathered herself together and played two more songs (if I recall) before leaving the stage for good. It was awful. Worst show I have ever seen.

Sounds as if both artists had the excuse of not really being fit to perform & must have been hard, & in Cat Power’s case, awkward & embarrassing to watch.

Wolfsbane had no such excuses!

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Bruce Springsteen at Hampden Park, Glasgow, 3 or so years ago.

In a lifetime of concert going, this remains the only concert where I have walked out before the end. I left after around 20 minutes for a number of reasons. Primarily, I was genuinely afraid that my hearing would be permanently damaged. I own many Springsteen albums so know his catalogue of songs pretty well, but after 20 minutes and 4 or 5 songs the distortion was so bad and so loud that I couldn’t make out any melody whatsoever and had absolutely no idea of which songs he had played.

Now, I suspect the reason the sound was so bad was that I was located in the main stand and the sound engineers appeared to be feeding (and badly overdriving) the stand’s own sound system alongside the pitch side audio towers.

It was only when I had left the stadium and some hundred yards away that I began to make out the melody of the songs being played.

Hopefully this was just a very bad one off, but I will never again attend an outdoor stadium gig.

Joe Bonamassa at Leeds First Direct Arena, few years back.

Given that this is a purpose built music venue, and that, one assumes, a full sound check was carried out in the afternoon, before the concert, then the sound was abysmal, thin and weedy, with none of the “in yer face” power for which Joe is known.

I do appreciate that sound checks carried out in an empty venue don’t always translate well, once the place is full, but what was especially annoying was that the mixing desk was only a few rows directly behind my seat … if only the tech had taken his phones off, and heard what we were hearing, things could have been so much better. :-1:

It’s rather put me off this venue for the future.

I have every sympathy with you. It sounds as if you experienced the same sound as I did at the Alice Cooper gig.

Had the opposite experience at a Moody Blues gig at Plymouth Pavilions in 1990.

The sound was distorted, especially the bass. At the interval several of us went to the sound desk & suggested the engineer turned it down a bit the second half. He apologised for the poor sound & said that it sounded fine during the sound check earlier in the day in an empty arena. He also apologised that he could do nothing about as it wasn’t as simply as turning the volume down. The second half was just as bad.

I am not a sound engineer & have no idea how concert sound works & is set up. Perhaps another forum member may be able to shed some light on this?

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Two concerts come to mind.

The Police - Sydney Olympic Stadium - dangerous and distorted sound levels.

Gary Numan - Worthing - had to leave the hall when the sound level was reaching 120DB.

As much as sound engineers try, you really can not polish a turd. Live or not!


I assume you mean ‘if the band are rubbish, improving the sound quality will not stop them being rubbish’?

A couple of months after the dreadful sounding Alice Cooper gig my original post referred to, I got a call from a friend who is a member of the Blues Band (with Paul Jones). He said they were playing the Cornwall Coliseum & could we meet for a drink afterwards?

I mentioned the awful Alice Cooper sound at the same venue & he said not to worry, they would sound fine. They did indeed sound good & he explained it to me, saying that Alice Cooper was used to playing huge arena’s in the states, 5,000/10,000 seats, & the sound engineers set the sound accordingly. This caused most US sound engineers to suffer deafness to various degrees & to therefore be largely oblivious to how loud & distorted the sound was in mostly smaller UK venues.

He said that, at the time, the Blues Band predominantly played in small venues of 750 to 1000 seat capacity & that therefore their sound engineers were used to setting everything up for these small venues.

As I have already said earlier the Blues Band sounded fine, clear, nice balanced sound, full frequency range & good instrument/vocal separation whilst still maintaining a good live feel. I still have doubts re. his comments about deaf US sound engineers but would love to hear the opinions of a real concert sound engineer about this.

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Slightly off topic, but the strangest gig I went to was in about 1970. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band at the Red Lion in Barnet. Band stopped playing after a couple of numbers and began chucking things at the guy running the lights because he was “ruining the set”. At half time we ambled up the High Street to the Salisbury where the Groundhogs were playing. Mr McPhee was having an off night and sounded like a VW Beetle with gearbox trouble and a bent crankshaft. So neatly back on topic😁


@ badger1954

Groundhogs seem to be jinxed for me as well.

Went to see them at college monthly gig in 1973. They were late on, 11.50pm, & at midnight the caretaker cut the power, insisting the venue licence said no music after midnight. Still sounded good for 10 minutes.

In 2010 thought I would finally see the rest of the show when they were scheduled to appear in Truro, where I live, on a triple bill with Wishbone Ash & Focus. Arrived at the venue to find that McPhee was ill & Groundhogs had been replaced by the Strawbs.

Only mildly disappointed as I like the Strawbs as well & they were pretty good!

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Bruce Sprinsteen again in Glasgow, this time at the SECC the sound was so thin & weedy I said to the better half we would be better sitting at home listening to bootlegs.

The Ramones in early 90s in a small venue, usually used for racket sports. Really, really loud, low level bass and high treble with sound bouncing back and forth. My ears never recuperated from this night, my ears are still ringing.

I had attended a The Mission gig there a few nights earlier and the sound was all right, not great but pleasant at least.

Morrissey Royal Albert Hall. I was admittedly up in the gods but the sound was atrocious. Just a muddy wall of sound. At one point I left to go to the toilets and the sound was no worse there!!
I had a mate who was at ground level standing who said he thought it sounded ok.

Whitesnake – Bingley Hall, Stafford.

At some venues it can indeed make a huge difference where you are located, from good to awful. Not too much of a problem if it is a standing venue, unlike with fixed seats.

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Motörhead at Birmingham Odean in about 1980.

I was in a mellow mood and none of my mates could or would afford to go on a school night, so I was on my own.

I had front stalls and so was allowed to get up and stand next to the towering stack of black speakers :loud_sound:

The air was literally pulsing as the wall of noise spewed forth.

I felt nothing, no connection to the band, or the music or the event.

I went to the Circle bar and ordered a whisky.

I got talking to a member of the road crew who was the only other soul in the bar at that moment, apart from the barman.

Then went back to Solihull on my own on the train to my parents house.

A teenage non event with bad SQ.

Rainbow 1980 - Bingley Hall, Stafford!
Only my second ever gig and it was just a wall of noise loud enough to re-arrange you insides.

The Who at Rexal Place Edmonton, most terrible concert I have ever been to.