Artists who embark on large tours often have the luxury of picking their own opening acts. Sometimes this means choosing someone they love with no consideration for genre or audience. Other times, the promoters of large tours will choose instead, often picking anyone who they see as commercially viable. Especially back when rock and roll was the most dominant form of music and still part of the zeitgeist, there were some crazy combinations of opening acts and headliners. In the minds of promoters, as long as the band had guitars strapped around their shoulders, who cared what they sounded like, right? Just put a rock band in front of an audience and surely they’ll love it. As it turns out, that wasn’t always the case, sometimes leading to confrontation or feelings of indifference between the opening act and audience. Fast forward to 2018 when most people listen to all kinds of music. Now seems like a better time than ever to have a rapper open for a garage rock band or a folk singer open for a thrash metal band. We decided to count down 10 classic and modern tour pairings that—regardless of whether the crowd enjoyed it or loathed it—sound like ill-advised, perhaps drunken ideas.
Death Grips opened for Bjork in Toronto in 2013, and the pairing seems plausible on its face—both acts play experimental music that can’t be pinned down by one particular genre. Though I’m not sure how much crossover there is between the two fanbases. Bjork has dabbled in art-pop, ambient, trip-hop, electronic and other adjacent genres, and even though you might classify both Bjork’s and Death Grips’ music as glitchy and avant-garde, you definitely don’t get the harsh industrial hip-hop or hardcore sides of Death Grips in Bjork’s music. Both acts share a philosophical desire and necessity to experiment, but the Icelandic singer did have several Platinum records in the U.S. while the music of Death Grips largely lurks in the shadows and in the depths of the Internet—their Wikipedia page literally refers to the California group as a “cult.”
The Stone Roses have had some strange opening act choices in the past—most notably Public Enemy—but the choice of the Mexican classical guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela was a bold and eclectic one. The duo opened for The Stone Roses at their only North American reunion show (and what could end up as their last ever North American show) at Madison Square Garden on June 30, 2016. The acoustic guitar fingerpicking of Rodrigo Y Gabriela was absolutely next level and no one in the crowd questioned their musicianship for a second, but for me, with their lack of vocals, you can really only listen to acoustic guitar shredding for so long before becoming desensitized to their brilliance. The Roses’ sun-drenched, jangly pop and funky dance-rock have about as much in common with Rodrigo Y Gabriela as they do with Justin Bieber.
Unlike a lot of combinations on this list, the Beastie Boys and Madonna coupling was for an entire tour. I can’t imagine the stick-it-to-the-man, frat boy hip-hop of the Beastie Boys really connecting with any segment of pop goddess Madonna’s audience, particularly the young girls. Both acts were trailblazers in their own way and were commercial giants, especially with the help of MTV, but they shared few musical similarities. The band reportedly provoked the 1985 Virgin Tour audience with gestures, resulting in objects being thrown at them. Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock said in reference to their disastrous relationship with Madonna’s crowd, “We hated them. They hated us. It was like love.”
One of Def Leppard’s very first gigs (their third, to be exact) was opening up for The Human League, who, at the time (summer 1978), were not even widely popular yet, per an interview with DL frontman Joe Elliott from earlier this year. Def Leppard wouldn’t release their debut album, On Through The Night, until 1980, but it’s safe to say in 1978 they weren’t far from adopting their sugary hair-rock sound. The Human League also wouldn’t release their first album, Reproduction, until the following year, and it’s as futuristic and spacey as any of their proceeding albums. Because their sounds are so wildly different from one another, Def Leppard and The Human League make for an odd pair, but certainly an interesting one.
The Jam opened for Blue Oyster Cult on their 1978 American tour and the hard rock and prog-psych of Blue Oyster Cult was an obvious clash with the British mod punk-pop of The Jam. The Jam were promoting their second studio album, This Is The Modern World, undoubtedly their weakest studio album, which probably didn’t help them to convert any people, but their musical differences totally set them up for failure. The English trio were reportedly booed off the stage on multiple occasions by the long-haired BOC fans. Luckily, The Jam’s next album, All Mod Cons, was one of their most beloved, and their subsequent American tours had a much better response.
Picture this: You’re an up-and-coming singer/songwriter with just one album and 22 years to your name. You’re agile with an acoustic guitar, sure, but you’re just getting into this whole playing-music-live thing. Those were the circumstances facing Jewel when she opened up for the legendary Neil Young during his 1996 tour with Crazy Horse. If you’re familiar with Crazy Horse shows, you know they’re especially electrifying, but a young Jewel wasn’t intimidated. In fact, she was inspired by advice she received from Young, according to excerpts from a 2010 interview. “Don’t care about radio, don’t think about radio,” he told her. “Just keep writing what you write and stick to touring.”
“My main memory of that tour is playing interminable hand-organ solos to an audience full of quietly despairing teenage girls.” That’s what Radiohead guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood said of the band’s tour with Morissette 20 years later in an interview with Rolling Stone—Yup, sounds about right. While both of these artists went on to become massively popular, their fan bases haven’t ever crossed over much. Morissette targeted the aforementioned teenage fan base, while Radiohead more often pleased an adult alt-rock demographic. But, the pairing makes more sense in context: The 1996 tour was in support of her breakout album Jagged Little Pill, which was a chart-topper, and, in 1996, Radiohead were still a rising rock group not yet made famous by 1997’s OK Computer. So, maybe this tour pairing isn’t so weird after all.
If you were at Simon & Garfunkel’s show with The Doors at Forest Hills Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 12, 1967 (though chances are, you weren’t), you probably didn’t think there was anything “bizarre” about it, other than the latter losing their equipment and delaying the start of show. At the time, both bands were in the same, albeit large, musical circle. A concert critic who reviewed this show called them both “leading exponents of two major trends in popular-folk-rock music.” More than 50 years later, we can definitely agree The Doors and Simon & Garfunkel were leaders in popular music trends, but we probably wouldn’t lump them both into a folk-rock classification. Simon & Garfunkel specialize in mellow, storyful folk-rock while The Doors stan a brooding take on classic rock. Nevertheless, and despite the late start time, this unexpected bill proved to be a hit: The critic writes, “...it was smooth sailing, smooth chanting and a beautiful evening of complete rapport between performer and viewer.”
This is just one of those two lineups that makes less and less sense the more you think about it. In 1978, the Ramones supported Toto, who were big in the ’70s and ’80s with cheesy, commercial pop/rock hits like “Rosana,” “Hold The Line” and “Africa,” the latter of which Weezer famously covered earlier this year. They played one show together in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and when comparing the radical punk minimalism of The Ramones with the insufferable yacht rock of Toto, it’s no wonder that Toto reportedly apologized to their crowd after The Ramones’ set, with their singer Bobby Kimball calling them a “horrible band.”
The Fall opened for U2 on their Joshua Tree European tour on July 1, 1987 at Elland Road Stadium in Leeds, England. This combination is so strange given The Fall’s enduring underground rock cred and their provocative, rant-like punk rock that was far from the mainstream, despite the band’s efforts during this period to gain more traction. The Fall’s 1988 album The Frenz Experiment contained one of their best known tracks, “Hit The North,” and it might be more accessible than the rest of their discography, but it still seems like night and day when placed next to the anthemic arena rock of U2. Considering the dangerous wildcard Mark E. Smith is practically the antithesis of the self-righteous, agreeable Bono, this lineup probably didn’t appeal to many.