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12 Concerts That Ended in Pandemonium or Riots

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1. Daniel Auber, La Muette de Portici

Auber’s five-act opera (the title translates as The Mute Girl of Portici), regarded as the earliest French grand opera, was a revolutionary work in the most literal sense. It debuted in Paris in 1828, but it was its revival two years later that stirred the fires of freedom. In August, a month after the French Revolution of 1830, it was performed in Brussels. During the opera’s patriotic duet “Amour sacré de la patrie,” a riot broke out in the theater and became the rallying signal for the Belgian Revolution. Within four months, Belgium had seceded from rule by the Netherlands and been recognized as an independent nation.

2. Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring

The Parisian audience that turned out for the ballet on May 29, 1913, was accustomed to music and dancing that was graceful, pretty, and elegant. Stravinsky hit them with dissonant notes, strange harmonies, and weird choreography that had dancers striking angular positions, then hitting the floor in bone-jarring heaps. It was more World Wrestling Federation than Swan Lake. The audience fidgeted. They booed. And as arguments broke out amongst the crowd about the merits of Stravinsky’s work, punches were thrown. Police were called in, as the composer fled the theater in shock.

3. Erik Satie, Parade

A collaboration between Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, this ballet was about circus performers trying to attract an audience to a show. Given the authors, it was naturally an unorthodox presentation. Some of Picasso’s cubist-inspired costumes were solid cardboard, restricting the dancers’ movements. The orchestra included such non-instruments as a typewriter, a foghorn and a milk bottle. And the score incorporated a ragtime section. When it debuted in 1917, audiences booed and walked out of the theater. One critic penned such a harsh review that Satie sent him a postcard that read “Sir and dear friend—you are an arse, an arse without music!” The critic sued Satie, and at the trial, fellow author Cocteau was beaten by police for repeatedly yelling “arse” in the courtroom. Satie was sentenced to eight days in jail.

4. Hans Werner Henze, The Raft of the Medusa



Henze and writing partner Ernst Schnabel wrote this piece as a requiem for revolutionary Che Guevara. That should’ve been an indication that there was trouble ahead. During its debut performance in Hamburg, Germany in 1968, a student hung a poster of Che over the balcony. An official tore it down. Other students raised a red flag and a second portrait of Che. Then anarchists in the audience raised black flags. Scuffles ensued between the two groups. The police arrived. Students were hauled off, as was Schnabel. The premiere was cancelled.

5. Steve Reich, Four Organs

The constant shaking of a maraca. The stabs of repeating chords from four electric organs. Slowly, the chords are deconstructed, causing overlapping notes and dissonance. When modern composer Reich’s piece was performed at Carnegie Hall in 1973, some audience members yelled for the music to stop, while others applauded, hoping to end the piece prematurely. One woman walked down the aisle and repeatedly banged her head against the stage, crying, “Stop, I confess.”

6. Suicide and Elvis Costello

In Brussels in 1978, when Elvis Costello’s opening act Suicide took the stage, the avant garde duo had no guitars or drums. Instead, over strange repetitive keyboard loops, front man Alan Vega spoke and sang in a monotone voice. The audience booed, heckled, and eventually stole Vega’s microphone. Elvis Costello was so disgusted that he delivered an abbreviated set, then walked off stage. The crowd erupted in a riot. Police arrived with tear gas. Suicide later released a bootleg of their set, called 23 Minutes Over Brussels.

7. The Cure

Sometimes the riot happens on stage. In 1982, at the end of their Pornography tour, The Cure closed their show with a 15-minute freeform jam entitled “The Cure Is Dead.” During the song, one of the band’s roadies, Gary Biddles, grabbed the mic and unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade against singer Robert Smith and drummer Lol Tolhurst. Smith threw drumsticks at Biddle. A band fight ensued on stage. Bassist Simon Gallup quit the group that night. Later he rejoined, and 30 years later is still a member.

8. Hanatarashi

The name of this ‘80s-era band from Osaka translates as “snot-nosed,” which should give you an idea that they didn’t play pretty ballads and love songs. Their live shows included Molotov cocktails, machetes (used to cut dead cats in half), and circular saws (strapped to band members’ backs). And in their most infamous performance ever, nicknamed “The Bulldozer Show,” front man Yamantaka Eye destroyed part of a venue with a backhoe bulldozer. The band was banned from performing in Japan for years, but made a less destructive comeback in the ‘90s.

9. Pavement

In the summer of 1995, when the Lollapalooza Festival came to Charles Town, West Virginia, it was a hot, dry day. The audience was hosed down, and a gleeful, muddy mosh pit resulted. But Pavement, with their low-key shoegazey sound, was the wrong band to provide the soundtrack. The crowd got restless and hurled mud balls and rocks at the stage. The band walked off, but not before bassist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg dropped his trousers and mooned the audience.

10. Frank Zappa


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On December 4, 1971, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were playing Montreux Casino in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. During the encore, someone in the crowd fired a Roman candle into the ceiling of the venue. A canopy hanging from the balcony ignited. Flames spread quickly. As the balcony collapsed, the audience panicked. Zappa’s roadies smashed a plate glass window at the side of the stage and helped fans to safety. Fortunately, no one was killed and there were only a few minor injuries. But the venue burned to the ground. And as it did, escaped audience members Deep Purple got the inspiration for their biggest hit, “Smoke On The Water.”

11. Rolling Stones

In 1969, when the Stones arrived by helicopter at California’s Altamont Speedway for the huge free outdoor festival, Mick Jagger was immediately confronted by an angry fan who screamed “I hate you,” then punched him in the mouth. That set the tone for what unfolded. For the event’s security, the Hells Angels had been hired (either by the Stones, or on recommendation from the Grateful Dead). They had a violent way of crowd control, beating people with pool cues and punching them bloody. When audience member Meredith Hunter, 18, tried to get onstage during the Stones’ set, then pulled a gun, Hells Angel Alan Passaro stabbed and killed him. The Stones escaped the mayhem by helicopter. Passaro was later tried for murder but acquitted for acting in self-defense. Altamont is often cited as the death of the love and idealism of the 1960s.

12 Wavves

Wavves—the duo of young California musicians Nathan Williams and Ryan Ulsh—didn’t have much stage experience when they were invited to play Barcelona’s Primavera Festival in 2009. Mix that with alcohol, ecstasy, and valium, and it all made for Williams’s infamous YouTube viral moment (above, and not safe for work) where he baited the audience and berated the soundman. Wavves’ subsequent European tour was cancelled. Ulsh quit. Williams has since reformed the group.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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WWI Centennial: Battle of Mărăști

By summer 1917 the outlook for the Allies on the Eastern Front was grim at best, as Russia descended into chaos and a combined Austro-German counterattack routed demoralized troops on the Galician front following the failure of the Kerensky Offensive, while everywhere the once-great Russian Army was rapidly hollowed by mutiny and mass desertions.

Against this gloomy backdrop, late July brought a rare and unexpected bright spot on the Romanian front, where the Romanian Second Army (rested, reorganized and resupplied after the disaster of 1916) mounted a surprise offensive along with the Russian Fourth and Ninth Armies against the junction of the German Ninth Army and Austro-Hungarian First Army, and scored an impressive tactical victory at the Battle of Mărăști, from July 22 to August 1, 1917. However the larger planned offensive failed to materialize, and Romania’s isolated success couldn’t shore up the crumbling Eastern Front amid Russia’s collapse.

Map of Europe July 22 1917
Erik Sass

The Allied success at Mărăști was due to a number of factors, most notably the careful artillery preparation, which saw two days of heavy bombardment of Austro-German positions beginning on July 22, guided by aerial spotters. The Austro-German forces were also deployed on hilly terrain in the foothills of the Vrancea Mountains, meaning their trenches were discontinuous, separated in many places by rough terrain, although they tried to compensate for this with heavily fortified strongholds. Pockets of forest and sheltered gorges also allowed the Romanians to advance in between the zigzagging enemy trenches undetected; on the other hand, the hills and tree cover also made it difficult to move up artillery once the advance began (a task made even more difficult by torrential rain, the familiar companion of the First World War). 

After two days of fierce, concentrated bombardment, on July 24 at 4 a.m. the Romanians and Russian infantry went over the top, with the Romanians advancing along a 30-kilometer-long stretch of front behind a “creeping barrage” of the type recently adopted by the French and British on the Western Front. With three divisions from the Russian Fourth Army supporting them on the southern flank, 56 Romanian battalions advanced up to 19 kilometers in some places – a major breakthrough by the standards of trench warfare. Engineers followed close behind to create roads bypassing the most inaccessible terrain, but unsurprisingly it still proved difficult to move heavy guns as the new roads quickly turned to mud in the rain.

On July 25 the Romanians began to consolidate their gains, spelling the end of major offensive operations during the battle, although smaller actions continued until August 1. The decision was prompted by events elsewhere on the Eastern Front (above, Romanian civilians look at enemy guns captured during the battle). The Battle of Mărăști was supposed to be part of a larger pincer movement by Romanian and Russian forces, including an attack by the Romanian First Army and Russian Sixth Army to the southeast, which were supposed to outflank the German Ninth Army from the southeast. However the disastrous defeat of Russian forces further north in Galicia and Bukovina, widespread insubordination in the Russian Army, and political turmoil in the Russian rear all combined to derail the Allied plan, forcing them to go on the defensive.

The victory at Mărăști was not fruitless: along with an even bigger defensive victory atMărășești two weeks later, Mărăști seriously complicated the Central Powers’ strategy for the remainder of the year, which called for knocking Romania and Russia out of the war before returning to the Western Front to finish off France. 

But the big picture was bad and getting worse, as hundreds of thousands of Russian troops deserted or refused to fight, effectively paralyzing the Allied war effort along most of the Eastern Front, while in Galicia the Austro-German advance continued. Florence Farmborough, a British nurse serving with a Red Cross unit in the Russian Army, described a typical day during the Russian retreat in her diary entry on July 25, 1917 (and noted the growing hostility of ordinary Russian soldiers towards the foreign nurses, representatives of the Western Allies, whom the Russians accused of leaving them in the lurch):

And then there came again that peremptory voice we dreaded. It roused us as no other could ever do, for it was the voice of Retreat. ‘Wake up! Get up at once! No time to lose!’ We started up, seized what we could and helped the orderlies collect the equipment. We were told it was a proruiv [breakthrough] on the right flank of our Front and that the enemy was pouring through the gap. The Sister-on-duty began to weep… Troops were passing quickly by in the darkness; whole regiments were there. We were given a lantern and told to stand by the gate and await transport. Some soldiers entered the yard swearing; we hoped they would not see us. But they did, and soon they were shouting ugly things about us. I too felt like weeping, but we had to keep a straight face and pretend that we had not heard… The soldiers who had always been our patient, grateful men, seemed to have turned against us. Now for the first time we realised that our soldiers might become our enemies and were capable of doing us harm.

This was not an isolated occurrence, but rather one small incident in a rising tide of insubordination and sheer chaos. Later Farmborough noted another encounter:

More soldiers went by in the darkness. There were no officers with them, they too were deserters. Curing and shouting they made their way along the highroad. We were frightened and crouched low against the fence so that they could not see us, and we dared not speak lest they should hear… The night was very dark and the confusion great. Wheels creaked and scrunched; frightened horses slid forwards by leaps and bounds; cart grated against cart; whips twanged and swished; and agitated voices shouted and cursed in one and the same breath... All around us were fires; even in front of us buildings were blazing. My driver said that some of the soldiers thought that they were already surrounded by the enemy.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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