Until Bickering Do Us Part : On-the-Road Marriages of Stars, Openers Often Strained

When veteran punk-rocker Iggy Pop went on the road last October, his agency arranged for the upstarts The Jesus and Mary Chain to be his opening act.

The third date on the tour, Oct. 6, was at the California Theater in downtown San Diego. Shortly before the show, the two acts began bickering. And David Swift of Avalon Attractions, the show promoter, was caught in the middle.

“The Jesus and Mary Chain was being very demanding about using Iggy’s lights and wanting more stage room,” Swift recalled. “Logistically, Iggy couldn’t do that for them, and as the promoter, it was up to us to smooth things out.”

The very next day, The Jesus and Mary Chain was taken off the tour. Swift wasn’t surprised.


“Just from their attitude, it was apparent that they thought they were a lot bigger than they actually were,” Swift said. “If you’re an opening act, you can’t think that way. You have to remember it’s not your show.”

Things like this don’t happen very often. Most big pop acts that go out on tour choose their own traveling companions--either directly or through their managers or booking agents.

As a result, the acrimonious relationship that developed between Iggy Pop and The Jesus and Mary Chain, both of whom are represented by the same agency, is the exception rather than the rule.

“A lot of times, the headliner and the opener are friends, or else they share the same management, the same agency, the same record company,” Swift said.

“There’s almost always some sort of pre-existing relationship,” added local concert promoter Bill Silva. “Sometimes it’s strictly business; other times, it’s just a musical attraction. Earlier this year, Guns ‘n’ Roses was widely believed to be uncontrollable and unruly. They had lost tours with David Lee Roth and AC/DC, and when they finally completed a tour with Iron Maiden, there was a lot of friction between the two groups.

“So, no one would have thought that they would hook up with Aerosmith, whose two key members had just gone through an extensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. But because both bands were fans of each other, it worked--and the result was one of the most successful tour packages of the year.”

Still, at times even the best-laid plans go awry. Iggy Pop and The Jesus and Mary Chain began the tour as friends and parted company, just three dates later, as enemies. And when Bryan Ferry appeared at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater last September, it was without his original opening act, French rock band Loup Garou.

“It’s usually a case of the opener developing a big ego and forgetting that people buy tickets to see the headliner,” said Avalon’s David Swift. “On the other hand, I’ve heard of instances in which the opening act is taken off the tour because he’s putting on a great show and the headliner doesn’t want to risk getting shown up by the new guys.”

Occasionally, outside forces are behind the disintegration of what would appear to be a perfect on-the-road marriage.

“Last year, Depeche Mode was getting ready to tour the United States with a new band from London called Nitzer Ebb,” Bill Silva recalled. “But because of a tightening in U.S. immigration regulations, Nitzer Ebb’s application for a work visa was turned down on the grounds that they hadn’t had a sufficient number of hit singles or gold records.”

Some touring pop acts, particularly those playing nightclubs and smaller concert venues, travel by themselves. In each city they appear, they let the local promoter select the opener.

“In the rare instances when it’s up to us, we try to tap into the local music scene,” Swift said. “There are plenty of good bands right here in San Diego that deserve more exposure than they normally get in clubs--like Colours, Flyweil, the Mighty Penguins, and Borracho Y Loco.”

When Kevin Morrow of North County’s Falk and Morrow Talent agency books national acts into the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, he, too, tries to cast local bands in the opening slot as often as possible.

“Number one, they’re inexpensive,” Morrow said. “Number two, the three local bands we use a lot--the Mighty Penguins, the Forbidden Pigs, and the Rhumboogies--each have strong followings and are worth maybe an extra 50 to 100 tickets per show. “And number three, by exposing a local band to lots of people on a concert night, you can build them up to the point where they can draw enough people to headline on a non-concert night.”