Stage effects gone wrong

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by Swampish, Mar 21, 2018.

  1. Spidey2112


    Aug 3, 2016
    I give you all an A+, for effort... glad no one got hurt.
    Swampish likes this.
  2. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    We had tried to use dry ice fog in a few of our shows but could never get it to work very well (this was before such things as fog machines were available).
    Well, one of the "hangers on" of our band was this guy who fancied himself an "inventor" and was always making various gadgets in his workshop out behind his parents house, some of them were very cool (he built a flame thrower rifle like the one in "Alien" that was pretty awesome!) He had helped us build a basic stage light setup that was very primitive but worked.

    Anyway he took on our "smoke machine" challenge and soon had this crazy machine that was "far out, man!" according to him but we didn't have time to try it out before our next gig. He said not to worry he would set it up and run it for us and assured us it would "work great!".

    So....At the gig we are rocking out and get to the big moment and sure enough the fog starts rolling out from behind the drummer in a much more impressive display than we had ever been able to achieve, "far out" indeed! I turned back to the mic to sing, expecting the fog to roll past my knees and thinking how cool this must look to the audience and we are rock stars now!

    That's when the wall of fog completely enveloped me from behind like the shock wave in those old atomic test videos and plowed off the stage into the audience in front of me. I turned around to find that I could not see a single person on stage or anything else through the impenetrable, color-shifting cloud!

    The whole band shuttered to a stop as we each realized that in addition to being blinded, we were having a rather difficult time trying to breathe in the dense cloud of CO2!

    So was everyone else in the bar.

    Being a long, narrow room the machine was rapidly filling the entire place. This was aided by the fact that our friend had turned on the machine and confident in his design had stepped out front with the audience to revel in his mighty contraptions performance. Meaning, he wasn't near to turn it off and with the entire room obscured by fog and the band trying desperately to leave the stage (and the audience the bar) it was a little while before he was able to deactivate it.

    He finally managed to turn it off, they aired out the bar and we finished our set.

    We never did play that club again.
  3. shortscalesrule

    shortscalesrule Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2017
    This is a great thread! Best story should be awarded the Spinal Tap Stonehenge Award. My bands have never gone in for special effects, so the closest we came was when my amp started smoking during a gig. (That was at the end of our set, fortunately.)

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    I almost fell off the stage a few times because of the smoke machines, but that's it so far.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
    Swampish likes this.
  5. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    South Bend, Indiana
    Mola.jpg No, we never had anything go wrong, effects-wise. Mainly 'cause we didn't have any. Stuff like that wasn't allowed in military enlisted/officer's clubs; which was where we played. Actually, one of these was about the only effect we had. This is a Mola, which are very elaborate quilty things made in Panama by the Kuna Indians. And that's where we were stationed at the time. We had one very much like this one, stretched over the open front of the kick drum. It hid the pile of olive drab GI blankets we had stuffed in there, to, ah, dampen our overly enthusiastic drummer. He occasionally got the idea he was Keith Moon - and our venues were waay too small for Mr. Moon impressions. The mola looked nice; hid the blankets; and we got a lot of compliments; for the nice mola, and for not playing way too loud...:cool:
    Swampish, Stumbo, stonetone7 and 3 others like this.
  6. Ahh, the teenage years. We were determined to be rock stars and nothing was going to stop us. Being short of funds was the norm, so we had to be inventive. The only real mishap we ever had was when a gust of wind blew over a portable tent/bandstand thing and tore out some power cords. Luckily no one was injured and no instruments were damaged. Our big fiascos included household appliance boxes and stove top panels (four burner electric stoves were the best, because the holes were the right size and in the right place) painted to look like stacked cabs, the little four color rotating Christmas lights (the ones that looked like a desk fan mating with a big lollipop) for our night time gigs, and the unforgivable penciled on makeup that only was visible under a black light. Woooo, spooky! I know, pics or it didn't happen. This one time can we please amend the rules to state: "pics are grounds for blackmail, getting you to admit you did this stuff is punishment enough"? :laugh: Great thread, by the way.
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2018
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  7. mikewalker

    mikewalker Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2017
    Canada, Eh!
    Hmm... 1977: flash pots, indoors in a school auditorium, the show was taped on one of those giant reel-tape betamax precursors - the song was "Suffragette City" :D

    It was the drummer's idea, his father was the school principal and he had encouraged his son to be a sort of a whiz chemist nerd in his spare time. I think the mix might have included phosphorus, gunpowder, and lots of bits of tinfoil. No fatalities, but all of the cymbals were speckled with some very deep burn marks...
  8. superdick2112

    superdick2112 Mile High Bassist Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2010
    The Centennial State
    Been there, done that, parent's back porch when I was only 17.
    Two soup cans, filled about 1/2 way with smokeless gunpowder, & ignited with an Estes model rocket launch controller.
    Our friend who set them off had eyes as big as pies when the cans lit up, and he fell backwards out of the lawn chair he was sitting in.
    Flames at least 8 feet high for 5 or 6 seconds. It was glorious...
    The cans were black & deformed from the heat, and we were lucky no one was hurt & that the patio overhang didn't catch fire.
    We also had our own homemade light show, consisting of 6 window planter-sized plywood boxes with 4 colored floodlights in each, controlled by 6 rotary light switch dimmers mounted in a plywood box.
    It was a beast to haul around, but it made us feel like rock stars at the high school patio parties we played.
    Ahh, grandiose memories of a misspent youth.
    Swampish, bholder, mmon77 and 6 others like this.
  9. superdick2112

    superdick2112 Mile High Bassist Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2010
    The Centennial State
    I just read this after I posted about my very similar lightshow!
    I remember hot burning smells emanating from the light boxes, and cool vapors rising from the grass when we played on damp & humid nights.
    Swampish and Stumbo like this.
  10. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    Two words: bubble machine.

    While not nearly as dangerous as all of the pyrotechnic mishaps already shared in this thread, what they don't tell you is that when the bubbles pop, they coat whatever's underneath it in a slippery film.

    Slick floors + drunk patrons = bad things. Thankfully we saved the effect for only the final two songs of the set and nobody was seriously injured.

    I believe the quote from the club owner after our set was something to the effect of: "Fellas, that was awesome. Don't you ever f***ing do that again".

    Edit: look what picture I just came across! :D
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2018
  11. shortscalesrule

    shortscalesrule Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2017
    As I mentioned before, I was never in a band that did this stuff. But when I was a younger person, the teenager who lived next door concocted such things for a local band. Not sure what became of the teenager, but the band he made stuff for was Van Halen.
    Jimmy4string, Swampish, Oddly and 2 others like this.
  12. biguglyman


    Jul 27, 2017
    Rochester, NY
    This story is hearsay so I can't be held legally responsible, nor will I admit ever having told it. Guitarist in my band used to play in the band Black Sheep. (the band that Lou Graham was in before Foreigner) They were opening for Kiss. The stage techs would set up all the pyrotechnics for the show, then call in the local fire marshal to sign off on it. As soon as he was gone, they would run around like crazy to put the inspection stuff away and set up the REAL effects.
  13. 2tonic


    Dec 22, 2015
    Ok.....First off, this was all very early 70's stuff, pre safety rules ( at least pre-dating our knowledge of them) and should my name somehow be connected to these events I shall disavow them in the strongest terms possible!!
    I mean, who the #$?& does UL think they are?

    Hard rockin' bar band, and the drummer worked in a grandfather clock factory, so he had tons of scratched counterweight covers laying around.
    Hey, those would be great for flashpots!!
    So we built some.
    Worked great, and the tubes gave them an impressive "FOOM" when they went off. Some was good, so more is better-er!! Til the LD set off 10 at once and over pressurized the club. Lifted almost every ceiling tile out of the grid and dropped them on the audience, who were busy wiggling their fingers in their ears and wondering what happened to their hearing!
    Oh well, live and learn. We made the LD promise to sequence them in the future, and that worked......for a while. The final straw was the time we were playing a prestige gig at a well known Detroit area club.
    The LD had entrusted his assistant (?) to replenish his supply of flash powder and load the pots! :wideyed:
    The subsequent debriefing would reveal that this genius not only substituted ffffg black powder for the flash powder, but grossly overloaded the tubes (so much for the LD's avowed pre flight check!). The LD ignited a dozen pots in rapid fire succession and...............:nailbiting:
    ~ The brass tubes shredded, sending shrapnel in all directions. Direct hits were scored on the kick drum, backline, several basses and guitars in stands onstage, the proscenium, as well as many lights in the overhead trusses. The heavy stage curtains looked like a shot up battle flag in a Civil war painting. Most demoralizing was the shotgun blast effect on the Hammond B3, which had a large mirror covering its front.
    ~ The cymbals and stands nearest the pots on the drum riser lifted off towards a low earth orbit. The drummer was thrown backwards off a 6' high riser, earning high scores for his half-gainer and splashless reentry.
    ~ A dense, black cloud rolled out of the stage area, headed for the back of the room, and enveloped the entire theatre. Fine, black, foul smelling particles rained down from the nascent thunderhead, which initiated coughing fits among the audience, who then disappeared from our view as the cloud descended in a 5 or 6 foot thick layer.
    Onstage, we were looking out above the cloud, which got down to the crowds head level before someone blessedly threw open some exit doors and vented it outdoors.
    But everything and everyone in the theatre was coated with an ash-like grime. The owner was decidedly not happy, but thankfully quickly decided to see the humor in the situation.
    The fact that no blood was spilled still strikes me as providential in the extreme.
    The pots, the LD, and his ass-istant were binned. It was that, or crucifixion, their choice.

    But we weren't done yet! :eek:
    In a breathtakingly stellar example of the colloquialism " You can always tell a musician, but you can't tell him much!" we bounced back with our next progression of Mark 1, Mod2 special effects.
    This involved serpentine shaped tubing (3x10' pieces) outfitted with nozzles every 12 inches. Connected to a pair of propane tanks, the NEW lighting director could remotely control the flow of gas and spark it into life.
    The tubing was shaped to curve around each musician in the front line in a 270° arc, then go partway back behind them before curving forward again.

    Worked great
    .......oh, the irony of those words. :unsure:
    Picture Wizard of Oz flame pulses when blipped, and wall of flame, Lynyrd Skynyrd album cover, when opened up for a few seconds.
    And that would prove to be the many is a few?
    When activated, because of the bends in the tubing, the flames appeared to surround us, but were in fact always 5 feet away, if you were standing on your mark.
    However, duration counts, and we had the singed clothing and charred guitar finishes to prove it (including, unfortunately, a '68 4001 I would cherish today).

    We could only use it in venues with adequate clearance overhead, obviously, as the flame bursts would rise to 15 feet or so before petering out. But, again, the problem was an overzealous LD who became progressively more impressed with the effect as the night wore on, or less judicious as his inhibitions wore off!!!

    Got us a lot of rep, owners seemed to dig it, for a while.
    Same results as before, scorched some property, sweated profusely, and startled the crap out of some patrons.
    Retired it unceremoniously and never looked back.
    For the remainder of my career I left the pyro to the pros, but I secretly envied their factory built, safety certified devices.
    Still think they're all a little squirrelly, though! :meh:
  14. I was really into electronics and built a lot of stuff in my youth. As a teen, I built a pyro system with a six circuit control panel and foot pedal with double keyed lockouts, in attempt at adding some safety features. I used thick pipe welded to some heavy plates and had them set up to do flames, a mushroom cloud or combination the two. I even experimented with additives for sparkle and color. It was really pretty impressive every time I used it. And as safe as I thought I was being, it only took a little too much humidity to compact my loads, one time, turning them into- you guessed it- pipe bombs. Minus the shrapnel, of course. After blowing a couple of three foot holes in the lawn at the party we were playing at, I dismantled those things, or what was left of them and the remaining loaded pots and destroyed the control system. Other than some ringing ears, no one was injured that day. I figured I dodged a pretty big bullet that day and vowed never to touch that stuff again.

    In a less dangerous incident, I built a low hanging fog generator and distribution system out of a 55 gallon drum, blower fan, some dryer hose and Y pipes to distribute to the stage. We had a gig at a second floor all ages club and took this thing upstairs and emptied their hot water heater into it (they weren't happy about that!) about a half hour before we played. Open the and drop in some dry ice. Thing worked like a champ and looked great. Nobody had seen an effect like that with a local high school band! Had a great show. When we got done I realized i had no way and no place to empty the dumb thing out. So I left it there. I think it sat up there for a couple of years, serving as an ashtray/garbage can. In retrospect, I probably could have siphoned it off to the street below, but I was probably on to the next thing anyway.
    Swampish, Stumbo, pcake and 1 other person like this.
  15. shortscalesrule

    shortscalesrule Supporting Member

    Dec 9, 2017
    I think you are the leading contender for the Spinal Tap Stonehenge Award! I almost hurt myself laughing at this!
  16. mmon77

    mmon77 Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2008
    Southern MN
    Luckily there were no injuries in these stories so far, and so they can be looked back on as being entertaining lessons.

    Another lucky aspect, is that they were all done in the past, when you could make this sort of mistake, and not end up charged with domestic terrorism, and thrown in prison.
  17. Never used stage effects aside from light racks and the occasional oil projector, but I’ve seen a fair share of electricity-related mishaps.

    The first and best came early: High school talent show, in the auditorium, and our “band” was up there to hack through “Talk Dirty to Me.” (This was in 1987, mind you. We also tied onions to our belts, which was the style at the time.)

    So! We’re poking along and reach the guitar solo. We had a little routine worked out where the singer, upon reaching the “CC! Pick up that guitar and talk to me!” intro, would run over and put his arm around the guitar player, who would the let out a loud WOO into the mic before doing his thing.

    Except the singer accidentally touched the guitar player’s lips with the mic. The unbeknownst-to-anyone bad ground shocked the hell out of him, causing cranial vapor lock, and momentary digital paralysis. We tried to soldier along for a few bars before the drummer gave up and stopped playing. Trainwreck, dead on the tracks, and to the general merriment and derision of our classmates, off the stage we went.

    Needless to say, I suppose, but we didn’t win. We did, however, learn a very important lesson.
  18. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    I gots nothing, as i didn't start playing until well into adulthood (although I don't claim to be exempt from all unsafe or boneheaded decision making processes before or after that time, either.)

    I'm just subscribing for more yuks, & glad nobody was grievously hurt or killed thus far, as I laugh my arse off reading thru this thread :roflmao:

    Please do carry on.
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  19. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Me and a friend built something like that in 1982 for another friends band that was playing at the school review. We were 16 and didn't have a clue beyond a schematic. Triac-based faders with spotlamps built into catering-size bean cans. Woefully under-rated cabling all into a breadboard - even the 240VAC. Needless to say it ran for about 30s before turning into a smoke machine.
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  20. Swampish


    Dec 31, 2015
    Quebec, Canada
    So that's where Alex Van Halen got it from!
    dbase likes this.
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