Not all live sets are created equal. Some artists just take it that extra step further to leave a lasting imprint on fans, shock crowds and make history in the process.
Witnessing someone truly embrace their own path and break ground with whatever they’re doing is nothing short of inspiring. It’s what shapes culture and shakes up art for generations to come – like street art, skateboarding, or even a pair of beat-up Vans Old Skool‘s; there’s nothing more inherently punk than a live performance that does not GAF.
Now, I know I’m not alone in saying that I’m absolutely dying to be overcome by that feeling right now. I just want to stand in a huge crowd and be shook by the power of an artist doing their thing.
Luckily for us, we have the internet at our disposal, and we can delve into music history whenever the heck we want, so, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most controversial live performances of all time to rustle your jimmies and get you embracing your inner rebel.
At The Drive-In – Big Day Out, 2001
There were countless iconic performances at Big Day Out over the years, but none are talked about quite as much as At The Drive-In’s 2001 appearance. Fresh off the hype of their widely critically and culturally acclaimed record Relationship Of Command, the band took to the stage and rocked Australian festival history to its very core.
The searing heat during a summer festival is honestly enough to send anyone insane, and frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala was well revved up and ready to take aim at overly-zealous moshers. Three songs in, he launched into a rant that questioned everyone’s individuality and identity in the crowd, calling them out for being ‘sheep’.
“I think it’s a very, very sad day when the only way you can express yourself is through slam-dancing,” he said. “Are you all typically white people? Y’all look like it to me. Look at that, you learned that from the TV, you didn’t learn that from your best friend. You’re a robot, you’re a sheep.”
He then made sheep-esque noises into the mic and left the stage in a total flurry – I feel the phrase King is a total understatement here.
Hole – SWU Festival, 2011
It would not be a list about controversy without including the absolute Queen of it all, Courtney Love. Courtney has copped it at the hands of sexist media and vulture-y industry types throughout the entirety of her career, despite being incredibly talented, influential and a total icon in the rock world.
Now, there are tonnes of memorable/controversial onstage Hole moments – but this one from 2011 sees Love calling out a disrespectful crowd member for throwing pictures of Kurt Cobain onstage. It’s pretty empowering to watch as she absolutely shuts them down for their behaviour before storming off stage.
Rage Against The Machine – SNL, 1996
Everything Rage Against The Machine have ever done has been politically charged. They literally introduced an entire generation of alternate ways of thinking.
When they hit SNL in 1996, the host for the night was a billionaire and then-Presidential candidate, Steve Forbes – not exactly on-brand for the band.
The band wanted to make sure their opposition to him was heard, hanging American flags upside down from their amps as they performed ‘Bulls On Parade’. The band mightily peeved off the show’s producers and were escorted out of the building as soon as they played, blacklisted forever.
You can suss out a few snippets of the show in this vid:
Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock 1994
Nine Inch Nails are a world unto themselves. Seriously, everything they’ve done has been boundary-pushing and a little contro in some way, so you never know what you’re going to get with a festival performance from them. Frontman Trent Reznor has never been one to keep his mouth shut, so when the band took to the stage at Woodstock 1994, he made an effort to ensure everyone knew his disdain for how commercial the event was.
The OG Woodstock instalment in 1969 ended up turning into a massive mud bath, so the band paid homage to it by rocking up on stage covered head-to-toe covered in mud in an attempt to give the thousands of conservative Americans tuning in on live tv a bit of a scare.
Controversy aside, this is honestly one of the most visceral and searing live performances all time – you can literally feel the vibration and energy through the screen, and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that proves legendary status.
Sinead O’Connor – SNL 1990
This is undeniably one of the most talked-about SNL performances in music history – and for a good reason.
Sinead O’Connor took to the coveted SNL stage in 1990 to perform a cover of Bob Marley‘s ‘War’. It’s a chilling performance all the way through but the controversy didn’t stir up until the very end when she went ahead and tore up a photo of the Pope.
She did it in an attempt to speak out for those who’d faced abuse at the hands of the church and ended it all by saying, “Fight the real enemy,” directly into the camera. Heavy.
M.I.A – Superbowl, 2012
M.I.A is the definition of punk. Her whole career she’s spoken her mind, carved her own path and pushed musical boundaries – her absolute smash ‘Paper Planes’ features a sample by The Clash, if you need that little bit of info to solidify her punk cred.
Anyway, when she took to the stage at the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2012, she wasn’t going to let millions of viewers, advertisers and corporates stop her from being 100% her.
The NFL sued her after she stuck the middle finger up during her performance with Madonna, claiming she breached her contract and tarnished the game’s ‘wholesome’ reputation. They tried to assert a whopping $16.6 million for damages, which is pretty dang OTT.
Limp Bizkit – Woodstock, 1999
Limp Bizkit are one of the most divisive bands of all time. You either love them or despise them with a burning passion. There’s no in-between.
At Woodstock ’99 the band came in hot, fresh off the success of their record Three Dollar Bill, Ya’ll, and they were at the height of their nu metal game. Insanity basically ensued the second the band hit the stage – seriously, look at the chaos in that hundred-thousands person thick mosh pit.
The band’s boofheaded-style of music was the perfect recipe for disaster as the crowd grew rowdier – kids were tearing down pylons, starting circle pits left, right and centre, and even starting fires.
The band was criticised for not doing enough to diffuse the crowd and potentially egging them on with their performance – take a look for yourself.
Suss the entire range of Vans’ Old Skool classic collection here.Image: Getty Images