Times Musicians Were Too Wasted To Perform Live

If you've ever woken up the morning (or afternoon, or evening) after having gotten way too drunk the night before, you know it can be pretty mortifying. You're unsure if you're remembering anything right, and you kind of hope you're not, because the flashes of memory you are able to drag up from the depths of your throbbing brain are supremely embarrassing. You're hoping against hope that you only dreamed about sticking your butt in the pizza, you're pretty sure you got in a fistfight with a clown, and all the notifications on your phone suggest that you'll probably never be invited to another bar mitzvah again.

But if you happen to be a famous musician, the experience is made much worse by the fact that your half-remembered drunken antics took place in front of thousands of people who paid good money to see you not make a jackass of yourself. It's one thing to be so toasty that you throw a bum note or flub a lyric here and there, but these entertainers showed up to their gigs utterly ker-hammered — and hilarity or extreme awkwardness ensued.

Grace Slick

In 1978, the band formerly known as Jefferson Airplane had become Jefferson Starship, and vocalist Grace Slick was certainly spending her share of time in space. She was known to enjoy a cocktail or 14, usually having no problem holding it together. But during a tour of Europe in support of their album Earth, the band decided to make a few stops in Germany. This was a questionable decision, because — as author Jeff Tamarkin remarked in the band's biography — Slick "always had a thing about Germany. ... All things Deutsche brought out the worst in her."

Slick warmed up by drinking literally all the alcohol she could get her hands on, throwing a giant tantrum, and refusing to get ready for the show. By the time she was dragged onstage, she was so well-lubricated that she decided she'd rather berate the locals than sing, mockingly asking them "Who won the war?" while slinging around the four-letter N-word (hint: rhymes with "Yahtzee") and performing the accompanying salutes. Starship publicist Cynthia Bowman called it a "horrible, empty, bad, dark night," and it resulted in Slick's dismissal from the band. She rejoined several years later in time to participate in perhaps the worst song ever, proving that you don't need alcohol to make terrible decisions.

Keith Moon

If you're unfamiliar with The Who's legendary, late drummer Keith Moon, you really only need to know two things: He ruled the drums, and he embodied pure debauchery. This is a man who, as related by Rolling Stone and everyone who ever knew him, drove a car into a motel swimming pool — possibly while naked — at his own birthday party. His appetite for drugs and drink was considered to be completely insane even by other rock stars, yet he could still play hours-long sets looking like a tornado made of drumsticks and sweat. 

That is, until a San Francisco gig in November 1973. According to Rolling Stone, Moon had popped some of what he assumed were run-of-the-mill tranquilizers to calm his nerves, chasing them with brandy — but they may instead have been tranquilizers of the horse variety. In the middle of performing "Won't Get Fooled Again," Moon began to wind down like a cheap clock. He was dragged off stage and thrown in a cold shower (or injected with cortisone, depending on whom you ask) and brought back out to attempt "Magic Bus" — only to wind down yet again, actually passing out on his kit. In a last-ditch effort to finish the show, guitarist Pete Townsend asked if anyone could play drums — leading 19-year-old fan Scott Halpin to join his favorite band onstage for the last few songs. Halpin performed admirably, considering the insane pressure and the contact high he must have gotten just from sitting behind Moon's drum kit.

David Lee Roth

Van Halen was as hard-drinking as any '80s hard rock band, and consummate front man and cartoon come to life David Lee Roth was no exception. The band was tapped to headline "Rock Day" at the 1983 U.S. Festival, a ginormous days-long event that was the brainchild of then-32-year-old Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. According to Night Flight, the band showed up to the festival in pretty ragged shape after having spent the previous three months touring. Roth gave a sign of things to come by giving a loud, incoherent interview to MTV VJ Mark Goodman — who described Roth as "drunk and coked up, laughing at every joke he made" – before their set. Then the band took the stage (after making the audience wait for three hours), and the real fun began.

Roth promptly began forgetting half the lyrics to the songs he was supposed to be singing, and what words he could remember didn't seem to be coming out quite right. Wozniak wrote in his memoir that Roth was "practically falling down onstage. He was so drunk, slurring and forgetting lyrics and everything." He then proceeded to make things better by talking smack about the Clash, who were also present at the festival and already annoyed with the band for remarks Eddie Van Halen had made to Rolling Stone questioning their musical chops. The sloppy set ended in a backstage altercation, Steve Wozniak paid everybody too much and lost millions, and Roth probably forgot the whole thing ever happened.

Eddie Van Halen

Roth was eventually replaced in Van Halen by Sammy Hagar, an established vocalist with several hits under his belt. The move divided fans at the time, but Hagar acquitted himself well within the band, especially considering the fact that his relationship with Eddie Van Halen wasn't always rosy. Even though Hagar's tenure was Van Halen's most commercially successful period, he was dismissed from the band in 1996. When he rejoined them for a reunion tour eight years later, he almost immediately wished he hadn't. In an interview with journalist Sally Steele in 2012, Hagar called his experience on the 2004 reunion tour "some of the most miserable, back-stabbing dark crap I've ever been involved with my whole life."

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Hagar tried to quit the tour at least once, but stayed under threat of getting sued, which every musician knows is an ideal situation for maximum rocking. Hagar barely spoke to Eddie for the entire tour, and on the final night, things really came unglued. Hagar recounted, "It was the worst show we'd ever done in our lives. Eddie played so bad." In the middle of a song, a visibly inebriated Eddie smashed his guitar to bits (sending guitar shrapnel flying into the crowd), tearfully shouted "You don't understand!" to the crowd, and stalked off the stage — emphatically ending his relationship with Hagar, who says he hasn't spoken to either of the Van Halen brothers since that night.

C.C. Deville

Poison was one of the more respectable bands to work in the genre that is commonly known as "hair metal," with their supremely catchy tunes and wild stage antics earning them legions of spandex-clad, freaky-haired fans. Guitarist C.C. DeVille was a guy who knew how to put on a show — except during the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, when he forgot how to put on a show, which song he was supposed to play, how to play his instrument, and presumably his name, because he was also a guy who liked to do a lot of cocaine.

The infamous sorta-performance is recounted on the band's fan club website. It started off poorly, and only got worse. First, DeVille launched into the band's hit "Unskinny Bop," the song they were supposed to play, during a commercial break. After lurching through the song for a couple minutes, DeVille seemed to realize he'd screwed up and just petered out, apparently waiting for host Arsenio Hall to tell him what to do. He then launched into the ironically titled "Let It Play," which he was actually not supposed to play. For some reason, lead singer Bret Michaels confused DeVille further by prompting him to play the band's other hit, "Talk Dirty To Me." So DeVille played it extremely poorly, even taking several seconds to notice when his guitar came completely unplugged. Michaels played it off afterward by proclaiming, "It ain't perfect, but it's rock and roll." Then he followed DeVille backstage and fired the hell out of him.

Jim Morrison

It should surprise nobody that Doors front man Jim Morrison has earned his place on this list several times over. His booze-soaked stage shenanigans are well-documented, but two incidents stand out as particularly egregious, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. During a European tour in 1968, the band was playing a gig in Amsterdam with Jefferson Airplane, which may not have been a great idea. After doing approximately all of the drugs and drinking half the booze (saving the rest for Grace Slick), Morrison took the stage — during Jefferson Airplane's set, dancing around for a little while before collapsing into a pile and going nighty-night right there. As Morrison was carted off to the hospital, the show went on — with keyboardist Ray Manzarek taking over on vocals for the duration of the set.

Unfortunately, things sometimes got worse when Morrison stayed conscious long enough to attempt to perform. At a 1970 show in New Orleans, he mixed up his words, failed to sing entire verses, and used a mic stand for support throughout the set before finally just having a seat on a drum riser. When drummer John Densmore prodded Morrison with his foot, the Lizard King got up, grabbed the mic stand, smashed it to bits, and walked offstage. It was the last show he would ever play with the Doors, who at this point quite sensibly decided to just stop playing live.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse famously had a massive hit song about not wanting to go to rehab, and just as famously joined the notorious 27 Club after predicting that she would do so, according to friend Alex Foden. During what would have been her comeback tour shortly before her death, the Telegraph reported that Winehouse had infuriated fans by showing up to a gig in Belgrade, Serbia, utterly plastered, despite the fact that she was ostensibly banned from drinking on the tour. She kicked off the night by greeting the crowd with, "Hello, Athens" (which is not a city in Serbia) before launching into a mumbling, incoherent set, alternately falling over, sitting down, and wandering offstage. 

The 20,000 or so in attendance, many of whom had paid ridiculous amounts of money for tickets, were not amused. Co-headliner Moby would later tell Today that as he was approaching the venue, he could "hear the audience booing louder than the music" and that he'd arrived to find what remained of the crowd "looking on in disbelief," as the band played more awkwardly than perhaps any other band in history. It would unfortunately be Winehouse's final performance — but we should always remember that she once kicked some major ass, a fact of which there is plenty of proof.

Gene Ween

Ween is a band that could fairly be described as "idiosyncratic." ("Just weird" is also perfectly fair.) Front man Gene Ween (real name Aaron Freeman) has been known to imbibe a bit before some of the band's more intimate shows, but the 3,000 fans that paid $50 per ticket for a 2011 gig in Vancouver were none too pleased to find that Freeman was phoning in his performance from some distant planet.

According to the Georgia Straight, Freeman spent the opening instrumental number trying desperately to remember how to work a tambourine while the rest of the band nailed every note. When it came time for him to rock the mic, it got so much worse. Freeman sang his lyrics in a bizarre, off-kilter voice for the first few tunes, but he was at least singing. After guitarist Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) took over on vocals for a few songs, Freeman completely botched the lyrics to the next number, had a seat onstage for the one after that, and was flat on his back by the next one. Springing up to apologize — for his bandmates' "panties being in a bunch" — he then totally ruined the Alarm's classic "Spirit of '76" with his off-key vocal before deciding it was time to totally fail at tuning his guitar. At this point, everyone else onstage ... literally left. Freeman took a while to notice, flubbing his way through one more tune before forlornly asking, "Hey, where's the band?" and mercifully departing the stage.

Johnette Napolitano

Concrete Blonde was an indie band best known for '90s hits like "Joey" and "Tomorrow Wendy," and singer Johnette Napolitano, with her distinctly huge, awesome voice, was a big part of the band's success. Fans arrived to a 2016 solo gig in Fort Worth, Texas, expecting to hear some of the powerhouse singer's signature belting — but instead got treated to an insanely awkward mumble-fest by a performer who had clearly had six or seven belts (of liquor) too many. 

According to the Dallas Observer, Napolitano kicked off the festivities by obnoxiously crashing the stage during the opener's set, then opened her own set by apparently forgetting how to sing or play "Joey." One audience member said, "She trailed off and was mixing up the lyrics and adding things in. ... It was like she couldn't remember the song at all and was just pawing at the guitar." The audience ended up singing most of the song for her, and halfway through the next number Napolitano rose from her stool, grabbed the mic stand — and just biffed it, right onstage. The curtain came down 10 minutes after Napolitano had taken the stage, with the singer barely conscious and flat on her back, and angry fans were told they couldn't even have a refund because she had technically shown up. (Debatable.)

Scott Stapp

Creed front man Scott Stapp may be sober these days, but in years past, he was known to arrive at gigs looking like he had fallen into a pool of booze and had to drink his way out. One show, in Chicago in 2002, is legendary for all the wrong reasons. It may be one of the worst performances ever given by a major band in the modern era. It was so bad that, according to MTV News, a group of fans actually filed a lawsuit against the band for cheating them out of a real show.

The court filing stated that Stapp was so "intoxicated and/or medicated that he was unable to sing the lyrics of a single Creed song," and that he "left the stage on several occasions during songs for long periods of time, rolled around on the floor of the stage in apparent pain or distress, and appeared to pass out while onstage during the performance." The band actually carried on for the entire show, playing extended solos and generally just trying to pretend that everything was fine. While the lawsuit was eventually thrown out, the debacle was the beginning of the end for Creed, which broke up in 2004.

Billy Joel

Elton John and Billy Joel hit the road together in 2002 and took their piano-fueled show to Madison Square Garden in New York City. First they played a few songs together, but then Joel left the stage, leaving John and his backing band to grow some funk of their own. Then it was time for the Joel portion of the evening, although fans had been forewarned to not expect the "Piano Man" at his "My Life"-growling or "Just the Way You Are"-crooning best, as they'd been told Joel had a cold. But that couldn't explain Joel's behavior. Sure, he sang, but then he went off on a weird rant where he made fun of the Liberty Bell for having a crack in it, and then yelled out the names of major World War II battles. ("Corregidor! Midway! Guadalcanal!" Joel screamed.) 

The music eventually continued, although Joel was clearly compromised. "When he slumped forward on his bench and slurred, ”Don't, don't, don't try to save me,” he sounded truly hopeless," Kelefa Sanneh wrote in the New York Times. "As he wailed he banged on his keys almost at random." When John returned for a double-piano presentation of "Bennie and the Jets," Joel banged on the keys nonsensically, and John visibly mouthed the words "Thank God" at its conclusion. It's not for nothing that in June 2002, Joel entered a rehab facility.

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day

Green Day may have reached commercial heights with power ballads like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," but deep down, they're still a band of punks. And a real punk will act like a brat, drop some f-bombs, and break some stuff when they feel like it. Billie Joe Armstrong and company played the iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas in September 2012. While the band played its 1994 hit "Basket Case," a message flashed up on a monitor informing Armstrong that he had just one minute left of stage time. (Radio station festivals are often overloaded with acts and offer notoriously short time slots.)

That awakened a righteous fury deep inside Armstrong, who cut "Basket Case" short to deliver a remarkably profane rant to a bewildered crowd. "You're gonna give me f*cking one minute? Look at that f*cking sign right there. One minute!" Armstrong bellowed. "I've been around since f*cking nineteen-eighty-f*cking-eight. And you're gonna give me one f*cking minute? You gotta be f*cking kidding me!" Armstrong then declared that he wasn't "Justin Bieber" and decided to show organizers what he could do with his "one f*cking minute": He smashed his guitar, flipped the bird, and stormed off the stage. Armstrong, who was "blackout drunk" when he went out onstage that night, according to Rolling Stone, soon thereafter entered rehab.

Vince Neil

As laid out in graphic, extreme detail in Motley Crüe's memoir The Dirt and the film adaptation, the '80s hard rock band fueled its music with substances. Lead singer Vince Neil drank profuse amounts of alcohol ... up until the night in 1984 when he crashed a car while driving drunk, killing his passenger, Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle. Neil checked into a rehab facility but has struggled with sobriety, seeking professional help more than once. In June 2006, Neil was off the wagon when he took the stage for a solo show in Tampa, Florida. According to an eyewitness account published by Blabbermouth, Neil was already "smashed" when his set started. He couldn't seem to remember the words to any of his songs, and stumbled around the stage, almost falling down. When the crowd started to boo, Neil yelled at them to shut up and went backstage. His band carried on, turning out some Led Zeppelin covers before bringing out singer John Corabi of opening act Ratt (and briefly Neil's replacement in Motley Crüe). Neil followed him out, and together they sang Motley Crüe's "Live Wire," before Corabi disappeared, allowing Neil to lurch around the stage for a few more minutes.

A few days after the fact, Neil told the Calgary Sun (via Blabbermouth) what had happened. "I was pretty buzzed. I tripped, fell off [the stage] — sometimes it happens."

Wes Scantlin of Puddle of Mudd

After playing just four songs at Headliners, a club in Toledo, Ohio, all the members of Puddle of Mudd who were not frontman Wes Scantlin walked off the stage. What happened? Scantlin admitted that he was "too f*cked" to perform. Not taking the hint from his bandmates, the singer and guitarist remained on stage, and for an agonizing and bizarre half hour, he staggered around, swore profusely, insulted the audience, dodged stuff thrown at him by the hostile crowd, dropped his guitar and sang "songs that he seemed to make up as he went along," according to MTV News. Finally and mercifully, Scantlin threw in the towel and headed to his dressing room backstage. Apparently his show was so drunken and terrible that it was illegal — Toledo police arrested Scantlin on a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. He was released after paying a $150 bond. 

A few days later, Scantlin explained himself. "I just got a little too buzzed to play my guitar and sing at the same time," he told MTV News (via Blabbermouth). "Out of playing over 400 shows in the last four years of my life, one of them kind of didn't go very well and I had a bad day."

The Replacements

The Replacements are alternative rock legends from back in the days when they called it "college rock" — in other words, the '80s. Shortly after the release of its major label debut, Tim, the band made its national television debut on the January 18, 1986, episode of Saturday Night Live. According to Bob Mehr's Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements (via Rolling Stone) the band's pre-show ritual of getting wasted was in jeopardy when they found themselves stuck on SNL's "dry" set after soundcheck. But their sound guy snuck in a bunch of booze, which the musicians gulped down in their dressing room. Just after midnight, the intoxicated Replacements took the stage to play "Bastards of Young." Lead singer Paul Westerberg wandered away from his mic mid-verse, while bassist Tommy Stinson staggered around so much he rarely wound up in frame. Westerberg, worried that guitarist Bob Stinson would come in late on his solo, shouted "Come on, f*cker" as a cue ... which a mic picked up and the censors missed. At the end of the song, Bob Stinson did a somersault, unaware that his outfit had torn, adding a brief glimpse of backside to the circus. 

That drunken behavior, along with a post-show drunken destruction of their hotel room, for which a bill was sent to Lorne Michaels, earned the band a lifetime ban from SNL, although Westerberg did come back to Saturday Night Live as a solo act in 1993. (He behaved himself.)