Sometimes, less is more. Stick a handful of musicians on a stage, give them some instruments, and if they're good enough, they're liable to blow you away with nothing but brilliant live music. But a bit of showmanship can make a great show even better.
“The stage needs to be used,” Alice Cooper told Tom Snyder in a 1981 interview. “What’s wrong with gimmicks? As long as the music backs it up… if it were just gimmicks with no music, then it would just be a farce.” Known for his onstage antics (which all started with the infamous "chicken incident" of 1969), Cooper has mastered the art of matching music with theatrics, but he’s not the only one. Take a look at which memorable live performances made our list of the 10 Most Outrageous Stage Entrances.
Even if you’ve never seen KISS live, you can probably guess their shows are nothing less than spectacular. As if the makeup, the studded platform heels and Gene Simmons’ tongue weren’t enough, the band throws in bursts of fireworks, clouds of smoke and a moving platform that lowers itself onto the stage, emitting a trail of fire below. In the grand scheme of things, smoke and fire aren’t all that unusual in live sets these days, but KISS sure do make those stunts look good.
What do you do when you’re making one of the most anticipated comebacks in music history, and you’re about to take to a festival stage? Build up the anticipation just a little bit more. When Eminem stopped by Bonnaroo in 2011, he treated everyone to a Star Wars-esque introduction, just to make sure his entrance was as epic as humanly possible. “Seldom did he return to perform live”, the screen read. “Tonight, Eminem returns to the stage.”
Rammstein March to Their Own Drum
Imagine going to see your favorite band perform at a massive arena and discovering that you have the worst nosebleed seats in the house. Everyone on the stage looks like ants, so you’ll end up spending the entire night watching the big screen. But suddenly, as the lights fade away and the air fills with smoke, you look to your right, and there you see Rammstein eerily marching past you, down the aisle, to the beat of a drum. Then they light a torch (of course -- what would a Rammstein show be without fire?) and start right in on the music. Simple yet powerful, Rammstein know how to make an entrance. (And let’s not forget that they also know how to make an exit, as keyboardist Christian "Flake" Lorenz has been known to jump into a raft to go crowd surfing -- and he makes it look so very fun.)
Over the last few years, Pink has gained notice for her insane acrobatic skills, proving that she’s more than just a cool haircut and some killer vocal chords. Aside from that unfortunate accident she had in Germany a couple of years ago (she hit the barricade after her harnesses weren’t properly secured), her aerial skills have gone above and beyond what’s expected from a musical performer, as showcased during her 2010 Funhouse tour. Watch as a box filled with balloons slowly makes its way over the crowd, until the pop star drops right out of it, in a sea of balloons, as if she’s flying, and lands right on her feet onto the stage. That takes some serious guts, and if it's given her a few bruises in the process, it was totally worth it.
George Clinton Goes Galactic
In the mid-'70s, as if George Clinton weren't badass enough, he decided to kick things up a notch and bring his legendary Mothership to life. If you were lucky enough to catch the Parliament-Funkadelic during this time, you may have also had the chance to see Dr. Funkenstein land onstage and emerge from his mighty Mothership, fully equipped with lights and fire (which was pretty damn impressive for the mid-'70s). Sure, it took up a lot of space and cost a lot of money to pull off, but it looked amazing. It’s a shame the original Mothership is no longer with us -- a smaller mid-'90s version never compared to its predecessor -- but let us never forget how wonderful it was.
The Flaming Lips Bowl Us Over
David Bowie Freaks Out Arachnophobes
A lot of critics didn’t love David Bowie’s 1987 Glass Spider tour at the time, calling it pretentious and “overkill," but that’s the real beauty of David Bowie: Even his most over-the-top ideas are magical. So say what you will about that tour, but the moment he beamed down from that massive spider was rather remarkable. Also, considering how much time and effort went into building that set (and reconstructing it for each show), it’s nothing to be snuffed at. In fact, it helped pave the way for similarly theatrical concerts later on. And to think, after all that, he set fire to the spider in New Zealand at the end of the tour, calling it a “relief”. We can only hope Bowie will return to the live circuit one more time and show the world what other performance tricks he has up his sleeves.
It’s not uncommon for an artist to leave the stage temporarily for a wardrobe change. But when you go to see of Montreal (a band who’ve been known to douse their fans in glitter, feathers and even, at times, a bit of fake blood), you know nothing will ever be as simple as a mere wardrobe change. They surprised everyone in 2008 during their show at NYC’s Roseland Ballroom, where frontman Kevin Barnes disappeared, only to return to the stage wearing nothing but some gold underwear and sitting atop a white horse. A real, live horse. Now that is how you make a memorable entrance.
Alice Cooper Shares His Nightmare
The king of theatrics, Alice Cooper stages live shows full of mind-blowing, shocking surprises. Snakes, straightjackets, guillotines and decapitations, a 12-foot-tall Frankenstein version of himself, a baby doll speared on a sword: Nothing’s off limits. But that’s nothing compared to his 1975 ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ show. Everything about that opening number was flawless. Where else would you find a ballet performed by a black widow spider, a bat and some other creepy looking subjects? Cooper’s ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ stage show featured just the right amount of theatrics and never came close to being cheesy. The opening number served as the perfect introduction to his nightmare sequence. Live shows don’t get much better than this one.
Michael Jackson: 'Nuff Said
There’s no denying Michael Jackson was the ultimate live performer. But even before moonwalking or grabbing his crotch, he could drive fans nuts with his mere presence, as this video of Jackson’s 1992 Dangerous World Tour entrance illustrates. We see him shooting out from the stage, high up into the air, as fireworks go off on stage, and then he just stands there, perfectly still, staring right into the crowd. He slowly takes his sunglasses off, and the crowd goes even wilder. The fact that he could induce such a state of madness with such a seemingly simple entrance spoke volumes about his talent and his stage presence, and this video footage captures it perfectly.