The Worst Live Performances by Great Rock Bands

Even the greatest of rock performers have their off nights. There are many reasons why musical train wrecks occur—lack of rehearsal, technical issues, intoxication, or when one or more musicians' playing or singing is off time or out of tune. Here are four live performances where great musicians' performances are simply not up to par with their previous work.

Led Zeppelin Reunion Playing "Whole Lotta Love" at Live Aid 1985

Led Zeppelin Live Aid
Photo: Ebet Roberts-Redferns-Getty Images.

Led Zeppelin decided to reunite for the first time since drummer John Bonham's death in 1980 for the July 13, 1985, Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Zeppelin performed for an estimated crowd of 100,000 people and an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion on television. There were many factors that made the performance a train wreck. Singer Robert Plant's voice was sore from playing three solo shows in the nights before Live Aid, guitarist Jimmy Page was handed a guitar that hadn't been tuned properly, and Phil Collins was added as a second drummer at the last minute and was noticeably unfamiliar with the material.​

To their credit, Zeppelin bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and fill-in drummer Tony Thompson (Chic/The Power Station) both played solidly. Most of the audience probably didn't initially notice the flaws in the performance. But Jimmy Page noticed enough to later excludes Led Zeppelin's performance from the Live Aid DVD set released in 2004. Unfortunately for Zeppelin that same year a new internet video service called YouTube made the performance viewable to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.

Watch Led Zeppelin perform "Whole Lotta Love" at Live Aid here. The worst train wreck occurs at the 1:50 mark in the song.

Red Hot Chili Peppers Play "Under the Bridge" on Saturday Night Live 1992

Red Hot Chili Peppers 1990
Photo: Michael Linssen-Redferns-Getty Images

On February 22, 1992, Red Hot Chili Peppers performed on Saturday Night Live. At the time the band was surging in popularity with their hits "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge" from their Blood Sugar Sex Magik album leading the album to sell millions of copies and propelling them to arena headliner status. Guitarist John Frusciante was so unhappy with the band's sudden success that he deliberately sabotaged the band's SNL "Under the Bridge" performance by playing slowly and erratically then screaming incoherently at the song's end instead of singing his outro backing vocals as he usually did. 

Of the SNL performance singer Anthony Kiedis stated in his Scar Tissue autobiography, "It felt like I was getting stabbed in the back and hung out to dry in front of all of America while Frusciante was off in a corner in the shadow, playing some dissonant out-of-tune experiment." In the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Behind the Music" rockumentary drummer Chad Smith said of Frusciante's playing during this time period, "John was just up there like he didn't give a f--- about anything. And you can't be in a group and not care, it's gonna show, and it did. A lot of the shows were terrible." Frusciante quit the band for the first time in May 1992.

Van Halen Play "Romeo Delight" at the US Festival 1983

Van Halen
Photo: Chris Walter-Getty Images.

In 1983 David Bowie became the highest paid solo artist at the time when he was contracted to play 1983's US Festival in Devore, California for 1 million dollars. Van Halen became the highest paid band at the time when their contract stated that the US festival had to pay them the same amount. Before and during Van Halen's performance singer David Lee Roth got drunk and repeatedly forgot the words to many songs including their opening song "Romeo Delight." Eddie and Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony gave stellar performances but Diamond Dave's wasted train wreck performance drags down the whole band. 

Watch Van Halen play "Romeo Delight" at the US Festival here.

Peter Gabriel, Sinéad O'Connor, Sting and His Band Play "Don't Give Up" 1990

Peter Gabriel and Sinead O'Conner
Photo: Michel Linssen-Getty Images.

Peter Gabriel and Sinéad O'Connor performed Gabriel's song "Don't Give Up" backed by Sting and his solo band at the 'An Embrace Of Hope' Amnesty International concert in Santiago, Chile in October 1990. Sting, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Wynton Marsalis, Sinéad O'Connor, Ruben Blades, New Kids On The Block, and others performed at the concert. From the start of the song, it is clear that Sting's band is clearly unfamiliar with the song and probably playing it for the first time using sheet music. Gabriel and O'Connor struggle to find their places in Sting's band's wacky arrangement. Gabriel initially stops singing the first verse because the band is out of time with his singing. This train wreck could have easily been avoided if Gabriel had played the song with his own band.

Watch Gabriel, O'Conner, and Sting's band play "Don't Give Up" here