Weekly survey: Did you ever see a big band before they were famous?

Back in the late 80s, we put a bunch of music fans on a bus and sent them to a roller rink in Kitchener to see a “secret” show by The Cult. We got their just in time to see the opening act wrap things up.

I thought they were awful, especially the way the singer screeched his way through a Bob Dylan cover. “These guys aren’t going anywhere,” I said to someone. Turns out I was watching Guns N’ Roses. Who knew?

Thanks to Joel for the ticket stub!

I have a couple of other examples: a Chili Peppers show featuring support from both the Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Stone Temple Pilots opening for a Toronto band called Hhead. Nine Inch Nails starting the night for Peter Murphy.

Have you had any similar experiences? The only rules are that the artist you saw had to blow up big-time and that you were there to witness it. There’s gotta be some good stories out there.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

43 thoughts on “Weekly survey: Did you ever see a big band before they were famous?

  • January 28, 2019 at 9:44 am
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    I remember seeing Nickelback here in Edmonton at a tiny, tiny club that is long gone. If memory serves, it was a place called The Ritz Diner. Held maybe 100 people. Also saw Our Lady Peace in pre-Naveed days at a UofA nightclub.

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    • January 28, 2019 at 9:51 pm
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      I was at that Cult show. It was at the Superskate 7. My buddy introduced me to GNR as he had Apetite as an import. I think we were the only 2 people who knew who GNR were that night. I’m actually looking at the ticket stub now. Wish I could post it.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 9:51 am
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    Nelly Furtado story –
    Walked into Call The Office in London Ont on a sunny Sunday afternoon. She was on stage preforming in front of 1 news reporter, myself and my buddy. It was a practice run for her 1st album release and tour in a couple weeks.

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    • January 29, 2019 at 3:18 am
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      I think I was there…some friends and I went to the London Balloonfest and then afterwards we went to Call the Office and Furtado was playing to an empty room. Some crazy guy playing an acoustic guitar opened for her. I forget his name, but the singer for the Gandarvas was also there with some of the members of Scratching Post.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:06 am
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    In the late 70’s and early 80’s I went to two April Wine concerts at the Memorial Centre in Kingston, Ontario. One for the Harder Faster tour and the other for Nature of the Beast.
    At one of these, the supporting bands were Streetheart and the band that came on first had the worst looking amps I’ve ever seen. All dirty and with holes in the front fabric. I didn’t don’t hold up much hope for a good set.
    That band was Red Rider. Lunatic Fringe blew me away. And the rest is history.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:07 am
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    AC/DC opening for UFO at Massey Hall, June 12,1979. I remember Angus Young playing a five minute solo while some poor roadie carried him through all three levels of Massey Hall.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:16 am
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    Saw Black Crowes open for Robert Plant about a week before Hard to Handle blew up. Clearly they were somewhat known already, but got huge right after.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:28 am
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    I saw Nickelback open for Everclear.. The crowd was into Nickelback – Everclear had to stop the “Nickelback” chants during their show. Also, Guns opening for Iron Maiden. Saw Metallica in a small venue in the mid 80s right after Cliff died.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    I also remember seeing Nickelback pre-blowup. Edgefest (I think?) at Molson Park in Barrie. I was sitting in the beer tent listening to the ‘Up and Coming’ acts on the side stage and remembering thinking that Nickelback really had something good going on.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 10:54 am
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    also saw Radiohead (along with a few other bands) open for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at Ontario Place. Creep had just been released as a single.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:07 am
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    Tragically Hip at the Terrapin Tavern in Kingston in 1986. Guns & Roses opening for the Cult at the CNE Grandstand in August of 1987

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:10 am
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    I remember seeing Big Sugar at a small club in London, ON. Also saw the Hip in London at one of the summer festivals back in the late 80s.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:10 am
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    I remember seeing the Hip open for the BoDeans at the Diamond Club back in the day and they were terrible sounding – awful show. Same venue a few years later – was blown away by 2 unknown bands opening for Big Audio Dynamite 2 – Live and Blind Melon.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:15 am
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    Nickelback as the headliner for 4 or 5 local bands just before they signed to a major in Duncan BC at the hockey arena with the world’s largest hockey stick. Also saw Death From Above at a community hall with no stage. We literally stood on the floor in front of the band and they had to keep stopping to push everyone back a few feet. Amy Winehouse at Coachella 2007 as Rehab was hitting the airwaves.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:16 am
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    The Hip played the bar I worked at in Moose Jaw (Watts On Main) in ’88 (I think) on what had to be their first tour, supporting the s/t EP. The place held ~150 people. Even then, Gord had presence.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:21 am
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    I saw Soundgarden opening for VoiVod when they were touring on the ‘Louder Than Love’ album in ’90? I knew some of their material prior to going to the show but was totally unprepared for the sonic event I was about to encounter. Faith No More was also on that tour but didn’t perform at the show I attended. I felt sorry for VoiVod having to follow up such an intense performance by SG. I was a convert to the Church of Cornell that night.

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    • January 28, 2019 at 3:55 pm
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      I saw that tour also. Faith No More was on the bill also. Wow, did those bands explode shortly after that!!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:21 am
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    The Black Crowes opening for the Dogs D’Amour at Rock City, Nottingham, UK in June 1990. Unfortunately I missed G’N’R play there in 1987.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:28 am
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    Seeing Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Masonic Temple. Had maybe read something about Smashing Pumpkins in Spin but had never heard of Pearl Jam. Also saw the same show Rob mentions, Radiohead at Edgfest or whatever it was called. I think they did only a couple of songs.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 11:32 am
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    Summer 2004: headliners were Sloan and Sam Roberts. To me this was my Woodstock (1969) show when it comes to being exposed to great up-and-coming artists. Many of the bands that day were already qualified with indie cred and recognized by fans, audiences and critics.

    The two bands starting off the day were Death From Above (1979) and The Arcade Fire. Knew of DFA and liked them; Arcade Fire I thought, “WTF”! Look who’s selling out arenas worldwide and dictating the new standards of indie music appreciation now?

    I wouldn’t be welcome at their shows now!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:14 pm
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    saw rusty and our lady peace open for 54-40 in cleveland in ‘95, couldn’t have been more than 50 people there.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:15 pm
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    I saw U2 on their October tour in a bar in Buffalo, NY, called “Uncle Sam’s.” Opening acts were Pauline and the Perils and a trio called SVT featuring Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane fame. U2 hadn’t broken big yet and were just a buzz band at the time, and they were all just barely out of their teens.

    The second major act I saw was Bruce Springsteen on the second last date of his Born To Run tour at Seneca College gymnasium, December 21, 1975. He played a three hour plus show with no opening act, and I thought he was going to blow the roof off the place! The energy level was so high!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:27 pm
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    Saw U2 in 1982ish. Their first tour. God they were awful. Singer couldn’t sing. Lead guitar could not play lead. Drummer could not mark time. Hated them ever since.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:52 pm
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    Yup GNR opening for the Cult at the CNE in 1987 , thought they were shit and pretty much still do .

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:52 pm
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    Live opening for the Ramones at the Pines on Bridgenorth, Ontario just outside of Peterborough. It was right when Throwing Copper was released. There were about 8-10 of us standu g at the front watching them while everyone else were sitting at tables drinking. They played like they were playing to an arena of people. I was really impressed. And it’s a tough gig, opening for the Ramones. Like opening for Slayer.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 12:53 pm
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    I saw The Brenaked Ladies in the park across from the Flat Ion Building. They were shooting a Student film project for someone from OCAD. I was the only other person in the park. I threw some change in their guitar case and requested “If I had a Million Dollars”. It had just come out on cassette tape.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 1:03 pm
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    Saw Tea Party play an acoustic set at Ha’penny Bridge in Brampton just as Spledor Solis was released. We all sat on the floor in a semi-circle around the stage. That was pretty damned cool!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 1:13 pm
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    Tool 1994 at Le Rendez-vous in Winnipeg. Played 3 songs, Maynard told the crowd to F-off or something to that effect. They returned in 2010, hell of a show! AEnema performance was absolutely amazing!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 3:03 pm
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    I saw Billy Talent open for I Mother Earth & 30 Seconds To Mars, even had one of the members hand me a demo disc in the crowd after their set. It wasn’t til after Try Honesty blew up that I remembered I saw them

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  • January 28, 2019 at 3:06 pm
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    Now that I think about it, also saw Creed on the small stage at Edgefest, and Slipknot opening the small stage at Ozzfest ’99. Caught Nickelback at an A&B Sound In-store performance in spring ’99.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 3:50 pm
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    I saw Rage Against The Machine on January 17, 1993 for $5. I was in Rotate This in Toronto and the tickets were on the desk near the register. I remember asking if I could buy 2 tickets and the employee told me to just take them and pay at the door the night of the show. A great band called Sing Along With Tonto opened up for them. Great show!!

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  • January 28, 2019 at 4:52 pm
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    I also saw that 1987 tour where GnR opened for The Cult. Only I saw it in Calgary at Max Bell Arena. They were booed, but I loved the punk rock attitude of Axl & Co. As I recall, I think he kicked a white stetson cowboy hat off one of the off-stage security guards down front and told the crowd to fuck themselves.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 4:57 pm
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    Now that I think about it, I saw GnR again in ’88 open for Iron Maiden on the Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour. By then, Appetite came out but the Maidenheads still hated them.

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  • January 28, 2019 at 9:42 pm
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    I saw The Pursuit of Happiness opening for the Forgotten Rebels at Thorold High School and I think it was 1986

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  • January 29, 2019 at 3:14 am
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    Our Lady Peace opened for Malhavoc…I think that it might have been their first show.

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  • January 29, 2019 at 7:18 am
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    Muse in a pub in Devon about a year before they were signed. They were local heroes at the time, people in Exeter had been spreading the word for months.. I saw them a few times years later, but the biggest Muse gig I saw, for comparison, was the headline V Festival slot touring Origin of Symmetry. Very different experiences!

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  • January 29, 2019 at 9:44 am
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    I saw the Pearl Jam / Smashing Pumpkins / Red Hot Chilli Peppers at the Masonic Temple. Pearl Jam was not even named on the bill. Had no idea who they were. I had no idea who Smashing Pumpkins were either. I remember the Smashing pumpkins were booed and people threw pennies at them. Billy Corgan was pretty pissed off. He picked up a penny and threw it back with an explitive or two. They never sounded as good as they did on thier albums. But once thier album did come out, history was made, it was epic.

    Pearl Jam was great, but there is no way to know how big they were going to be in just a few months.

    Then when the Chili Peppers come out, who we were all there to see, it was insane. I never knew what a Mosh Pit was so I thought I’d wiggle my way to the front so I can enjoy the Peppers more than everyone else.

    The Mosh Pit was so crazy it took me most of the set to get out. I lost my watch, my glasses, my (plaid) shirt was torn and I was bleeding from the multiple Doc Martins I took to the face from the surfers.

    Great concert and great memmories.

    Now I’m planning to go to the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orilia to see First Aid Kit. LOL, how time flies!

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    • January 29, 2019 at 12:48 pm
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      I’d never heard of the Smashing Pumpkins, that concert was right around Halloween I remember thinking that a band named the ‘Smashing Pumpkins’ playing near Halloween must have been some joke band!

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  • January 29, 2019 at 3:04 pm
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    RPM used to have ‘2 Dollar Tuesday” live music…went one Tuesday, and the Headliner was(currently residing in the ‘where are they now’ file) “Blood on the Saddle”….openers were…first…Cowboy Junkies followed by Blue Rodeo….

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  • January 29, 2019 at 9:30 pm
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    Same tour with Guns and the Cult. I’m working security at the Civic Centre in Ottawa.

    I walk in for my shift and Duff McKagan is standing (barely) by a bank of payphones and waves me over. In one hand he has Molson Canadian and in the other a mitt full of quarters. Quite drunk. He asks “can you help me put these quarters in that phone so I can call my mom in California…”. I obliged.

    Later, as Guns are still wrapping up their final sound check, Axl is standing in the middle general admission to get a sense of the sound and the general admission gates are opened. The crowd comes crashing in and runs right by him to get primo spots on the rail. Axl hightails to the right side of the stage as everyone does a collective head turn to go “holy shit, it’s Axl”. He makes it to the fence but realizes he has left his jacket draped over the fence center stage. Just as a fan grabs the jacket, Axl runs over, kicks him in the head (the boy clearly had some martial arts training), grabs the jacket and disappears backstage.

    First impression of Guns was pretty wild.

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  • January 29, 2019 at 10:40 pm
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    I’d pay good money to see Nickelback blow up today. Literally.

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  • January 30, 2019 at 4:25 pm
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    The first time I saw the Australian artist Xavier Rudd in the early 00s, he was busking in the hallway of the University of Calgary. My gf at the time and I stopped to listen to him for a few minutes. We were the only ones who did. My gf bought one of his CDs.

    I don’t know that he ever blew up commercially (maybe in Australia?) but in 2015 he released an album in conjunction with the United Nations, so he definitely pulls a lot more weight than he did back then.

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  • January 30, 2019 at 8:41 pm
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    The Cure at the Convention Inn South in Edmonton early eighties. They played the entire 17 Seconds album and several from Boys Don’t Cry (if memory serves). The audience consisted of me, my friend (who didn’t like them) and three guys from Student Union Records. Staff out numbered the audience about 5 to 1. I stood about 15 feet away from the band as they played. To this day 40 years hence the best show I’ve ever seen/heard.

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