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May 1, 2008 11:27 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of "the show going on" under the threat of a riot?

I am riveted by footage of the Rolling Stones performing at Altamont, pretending to enjoy themselves on stage so that utter pandemonium doesn't break loose, and James Brown performing in Boston in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King.

What are some other examples of musicians (or other performers) going on with their performances in the face of volatile and unfolding circumstances?
posted by umbú to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Reportedly, the band kept playing on the Titanic as it sank beneath them.
posted by Atreides at 11:37 AM on May 1, 2008

Saturday Night Live in September 2001.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:38 AM on May 1, 2008

the first performance of stravinsky's "rite of spring", they say, caused a riot.

could be apocryphal.

(originally posted in the wrong thread, sorry)
posted by stubby phillips at 11:41 AM on May 1, 2008

Woodstock '99. Especially during Red Hot Chili Peppers.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:42 AM on May 1, 2008

Reportedly, the band kept playing on the Titanic as it sank beneath them.

The band was Wallace Hartley's; the story appears to be true.
posted by timeistight at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2008

Mrs. Henderson Presents is about a vaudeville theater in London that stayed open during the blitz.
posted by ALongDecember at 11:46 AM on May 1, 2008

William Macready's performance of Macbeth as the Astor Place Riot was brewing.
posted by scody at 12:02 PM on May 1, 2008

There's some evidence from neuroscience that your brain releases seratonin when the "process new sounds" circuit is overloaded. Too much seratonin can lead to, oh, schizophrenia. So it's been suggested that the crowd rioted during the first performance of Rites of Spring because they were temporarily insane.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:05 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ooh, cool, just found this (pdf) in the NY Times archives, including excerpts from Macready's diary (no doubt at least somewhat self-serving, but fascinating nonetheless!):
The second act passed, the noise and violence without increasing, the contest within becoming much feebler. Mr. Povey, as I was going to my raised seat in the banquet scene, came up to me, and in an undertone and much frightened, urged me to cut out some of the play and bring it to a close. I turned upon him very sharply, and said that I had consented to do this thing -- to place myself here, and whatever the consequences I must go through with it -- it must be done.
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on May 1, 2008

Ellington Live at Newport. To say that the crowd go wild during that monster sax solo is a huge understatement.
posted by dogsbody at 2:15 PM on May 1, 2008

Wagner's Tannhäuser survived three performances in Paris in 1861 before being yanked.
posted by gimonca at 3:59 PM on May 1, 2008

I've had the honor of being told in person by an elderly Canadian airman about when he saw Vera Lynn perform live at Croydon during the Blitz, while you could hear the bombs falling in the distance.
posted by gimonca at 4:04 PM on May 1, 2008

I suppose many of Dylan's performances during the period that he first "went electric" could be considered soldiering on through difficult conditions. I mean, when you see some of the footage of that first tour with the Band, and hear a sizeable chunk of the audiences screaming at him, making a lot of noise, booing... it can't be easy for a performer to continue the show in circumstances like that.

And remember when Sinéad O'Connor did this? She was already a controversial figure for her action of tearing up a picture of the Pope on TV, and the audience greeted her (ironically, at a Dylan tribute concert) with massive booing and catcalls. She soldiered on, with an impromptu a cappella version of Bob Marley's "War". (Rather poorly sung, actually, but, she did see it through...)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:12 PM on May 1, 2008

There was also the legendary Sex Pistols gig at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio in 1978, though arguably the band did as much to incite the mayhem as did the audience.
posted by scody at 4:29 PM on May 1, 2008

The MC5?
posted by ZeroDivides at 4:56 PM on May 1, 2008

what riot was going to break out on SNL after 9-11??
posted by stavx at 5:30 PM on May 1, 2008

what riot was going to break out on SNL after 9-11??

Lorne Michaels was going to stage a single-person riot out of sheer outrage that a ragtag band of foreigners would dare to upstage his precious television show.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:41 PM on May 1, 2008

You should watch Rock the Cradle. One of the best movies ever about theatre during the Great Depression.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 6:40 PM on May 1, 2008

It's "Cradle Will Rock", not "Rock The Cradle" but other than that, it's exactly what I was going to say...

The story is that Orson Welles is trying to mount a musical about striking steel workers, which was a touchy subject at the time. I have been told by people who are reasonably knowledgeable about such things, that the depiction is accurate enough. As far as I know, actual riots did not break out during the show, but the authorities were absolutely convinced that they would and did everything they could to prevent the show from going on.

I've also read stories (primarily in Luc Sante's "Low Life") about actual, full-blown riots breaking out during vaudeville performances in NYC in the 1800's. The reasons seem unbelieveably trite now (an Englishman portraying an Irishman), but it seemed to be enough to get the crowd riled. I don't think that they burned the theatre down, but they did trash it. I suspect that if you look to pre-television times, you will find stronger reactions to live performances...
posted by schwap23 at 7:22 PM on May 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. These examples are great. I didn't know about the MC5 or Duke Ellington performances.

I have to say I'm skeptical of an explanation of the reception of Rite of Spring that bypasses cultural factors, though. Nonetheless, it's an interesting case.

Keep them coming!
posted by umbú at 5:04 AM on May 2, 2008

When "Jerry Springer: The Opera" was broadcast on the BBC in 2005, nine different BBC offices were picketed, and the homes of two BBC executives were targeted. The opera later went on tour around the UK and was continually picketed by thousands of Christian protestors who said the opera was inciting religious hatred.

However, other than a token protest by the Catholic League, no major protests seem to have occurred when the opera was performed at Carnegie Hall this past January. Perhaps there were not enough religious fundamentalists in NYC who knew about the show.

(To be fair, the opera is filthy, as one might expect from the subject matter, but it is indeed truly blasphemous, on many levels -- from the actual content to the implications of the double-casting to the costumes. But the show is also really funny and surprisingly touching. I recommend watching the DVD or getting the cast recording from iTunes.)
posted by Asparagirl at 8:12 AM on May 2, 2008

In 1968, Gilbert Gil and Caetano Veloso performed in eliminatory rounds of the Festival International de Canção at the Teatro de Universidade Católica in São Paulo. The purpose of the rounds was to select one Brazilian song to enter into the festival in Rio, and it was pretty much a forgone conclusion that the song would be in the style of bossa nova or Música Popular Brasileira, both considered valid expressions of national identity. (And it was, the first prize went to Chico Buarque and Tom Jobim's "Sabia.") Yet here were Gil and Veloso, leaders of the new countercultural movement known as tropicália, intent on shaking things up under the dictatorial right and the orthodox left.

The audience didn't react well to Gil's enty, which incorporated acid rock and African styles with his song "Questão de Ordem (Question of Order)." It didn't help that he came on stage with an afro, African tunic and beaded necklaces, an outlandish getup for the time. (Only a year earlier had Veloso and Gil performed at the TV Record festival in sports coats and turtlenecks instead of the usual tuxedos.) Gil performed to jeers and didn't make it to the second round.

Veloso performed his song "É proibido proibir," the same night, backed by Os Mutantes. The title, "It's forbiden to forbid," came from a slogan of the 1968 French student riots. During the song Veloso invited the hippie americano Johnny Danduran on stage to scream at the crowd. Somehow he made it to the second round.

Early on in second night there was a riot in the audience when a tropicália fan held up a sign saying "Folclore É Reação!" (Folklore is reaction) during a protest song by Geraldo Vandré (who would go on to win second place.) So by the time Veloso and Os Mutantes could come on, the students had targeted him for revenge. Foreseeing the reaction he was going to get, he deliberately provoked them. He came on shaking his hips in an outfit made of plastic, with electrical cords as necklaces. The song started with a minute of atonal music and the crowd erupted in rage. While the students screamed and threw garbage, the song dissolved into rant on culture and politics in which Veloso lambasted the students for their lack of courage and insight.
This is the youth that wants to take power?...You're the same youth that will alway, always kill the old enemy who died yesterday. You understand nothing, absolutely nothing!...If you are the same in politics as you are in aesthetics we're done for!
The rant was released as a single ("Ambiente de festival"); you can hear part of it here.

When "Sabia" was selected as the festival winner over Geraldo Vandré's entry, the jury was widely perceived as bowing to political pressure. Vandré's song was banned from air and police collected copies of the single. Fifteen weeks after the festival the regime imprisoned Gil and Veloso.

Most of the above cribbed from Christopher Dunn's book Brutality Garden: Tropicália and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture. "Ambiente de festival" is on the Singles collection if you can find it.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:15 AM on May 2, 2008 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Nice, hydrophonic. Chris is a friend and colleague of mine. Another classic 1960s/1970s Brazilian example is Chico Buarque and Gilberto Gil singing Calice, a song that uses double meanings in an attempt to get around censorship during the military dictatorship. In the video, you can see Buarque and Gil continuing to sing as the police are turning off his microphones during the song.

The crackdown was ultimately touched off when Buarque sang "greek rice" instead of the original lyrics, in a veiled reference to the practice of replacing censored politically-sensitive newspaper articles at the last minute with recipes so that there wouldn't be an ominous blank space in the newspaper.
posted by umbú at 1:32 PM on May 2, 2008

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