Pity the poor, put-upon, unappreciated species that is the support band. Chucked on to the bill as an afterthought, or to make the main act look cooler than it actually is (witness the wholly unedifying scene of Ash losing nearly all their credibility by opening proceedings for those ridiculous pomp rockers The Darkness), they play to half-empty, uninterested concert venues.
Possibly, they might play a song some people have heard before, although it will be difficult to tell because the sound will be ratcheted down to make the headliners seem even more impressive. Half an hour later, they’ll say, “enjoy the rest of your night”, and shuffle off to half-hearted applause, drowned out by the sound of everyone rushing to the bathrooms.
Yes, the lot of a support band is a depressing one. It doesn’t always have to be this way – it is possible to happen across a hitherto undiscovered band and find that not only are they grabbing their chance for exposure, they sound pretty good too. But it’s not surprising that there have been two high-profile support acts recently who didn’t really fancy it, after all.
Last week, ahead of her UK and Ireland tour, the pop princess Katy Perry tweeted that “@CalvinHarris will not be joining in on the fun and has cancelled last minute”. Oh, the joys of Twitter. Whereas in the past we might have been treated to a hastily scrawled sign on the doors of the venue announcing Harris’s no-show, shrugged our shoulders, and made do with an unknown tour DJ playing reggae (why do they always play reggae?) before the show, now we get a spectacular insight into the goings-on back stage.
Harris, whose first album, I Created Disco, has a song called, aptly, This Is the Industry, responded by tweeting that Perry’s people had “made it impossible”. “I was to appear on stage with no production,” he told his followers. “Trust me you would have been more disappointed seeing the show than u are with me cancelling.”
Perry couldn’t resist responding in kind: “Funny the goalpost seems to be perfectly fine for New Young Pony Club, Yelle, Robyn, Marina & the Diamonds to name a few... or how bout Janelle Monae and her 16-piece band.”
In the end, as has become the way with Twitter spats, Perry’s fans bombarded Harris with bile, and he was forced to admit: “Her show is awesome… the whole KP stuff should never have been on Twitter.”
At least Harris got pretty close to playing with Perry. Last week, Britney Spears announced plans for a huge tour with Enrique Iglesias to promote her new album, Femme Fatale. But the very same day, Iglesias pulled out, despite his “great respect for Britney”. It might also have had something to do with the fact that sold-out signs are being hung up across Europe’s arenas for Iglesias’s own tour – he probably doesn’t need the hassle of being on someone else’s.
It was an odd choice, anyway. The huge egos present in pop music mean it’s always better to pick a support act from lower down the food chain. Sometimes, that can mean a satisfying “I was there” moment, like the incredible sight of Radiohead supporting, ahem, The Frank And Walters on a UK tour in 1992. Well, incredible in hindsight. At the time, Thom Yorke looked distinctly bored.
Of course, sometimes bands actually like playing for their heroes. Primal Scream, whose career has been pockmarked with barely disguised Rolling Stones tribute songs, ended up joining Jagger and co on a European tour. “We were just like kids in a toffee shop, man,” band member Gary Mounfield told Q magazine. “They were brilliant. Absolutely awesome people.”
No doubt the feeling was mutual – but such love-ins are rare. Dressing rooms are separate. Riders aren’t shared. So it’s not surprising that support acts get the hump – or indeed that the main event likes to wield its power now and then. Morrissey kicked Kristeen Young off his tour after she made “profane comments” about the singer on stage in 2007, though she maintained she had done nothing of the sort. The Eagles of Death Metal managed one provocative show on the Guns N’ Roses charabanc of 2006, before Axl Rose decided they weren’t his cup of tea and gave them the boot.
The response from Eagles of Death Metal? “Although Axl tried to November rain on our parade, no sweet child o’mine can derail the EODM night train. We say live and let die.” Now that’s a better come-back than a 140-character tweet bemoaning the production, isn’t it?
Follow us on Twitter and keep up to date with the latest in arts and lifestyle news at twitter.com/LifeNationalUAE