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Were you there ?

The truly memorable rock shows many Winnipeggers claim to have seen... but far fewer actually witnessed

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IF half the things your paunchy Uncle Dave claims are true, any rock 'n' roll show in the late '60s or early '70s dripped with enough excess to be considered outrageous by today's standards.

Back in the days before international corporations and professional security services tamed rock 'n' roll, anything and everything could happen at a concert -- and usually did. But as rock begins to age, so has its infamy -- hip-hop shows or raves are more likely to inspire scandalous headlines than boring, old-school rock shows.

But that doesn't mean historians still have to dredge up the same old stories from three decades ago, like the mass exuberance at the original Woodstock or the disaster at Altamont.

Winnipeg alone boasts enough tales of hedonism, violence or anarchy to fill a scrapbook or two.

After sifting through the archives and conducting an informal poll of several generations of promoters and fans, we offer here the not-so-official 10 MOST INFAMOUS GIGS IN WINNIPEG ROCK HISTORY:

1. THE MENTORS
Wellington's, Dec. 12, 1986

A controversial and violent gig by a now-obscure L.A. garage-rock trio easily wins the prize as the most infamous rock 'n' roll show in Winnipeg history.

On a cold December night, an appearance by The Mentors spawned a feminist protest, a massive bar brawl featuring stabbings (and at least one case of billiard-ball stoning) and an aborted public hearing into the debacle.

Incensed by gig posters depicting women eating out of dog dishes underneath cartoon drawings of band members El Duce, Papa Sneaky Spermshooter and Sickie Wifebeater holding dildo-shaped drumsticks, about 50 members of local women's groups held a demonstration outside the Albert Street club.

Trouble started before the music, when one punk rocker who tried to join the protest was beaten off with his own placard by demonstrators who didn't realize he was on their side.

Inside, the club was swollen to capacity with a scuzzier-than-usual crowd, thanks to newspaper stories describing The Mentors as "masters of rape rock." Also present were several members of Metallica, in town to play Pantages Playhouse the following night.

At the end of The Mentors' set, one regular, disgusted with El Duce's woman-bashing shtick, walked on stage and walloped the executioner's mask-clad drummer in the head. The attacker was then dragged outside and beaten by fans as the melee spread across the bar.

The Metallica guys were ushered out a back entrance before police showed up to clean up the mess. In the aftermath, a second Mentors show slated for the following night was cancelled, while bar owners were called before a disciplinary hearing by the Liquor Licensing Board.

While that investigation was abandoned -- police failed to show up at the February hearing -- the controversy led Wellington's owners to shut the bar down.

"This is the best time we've ever had," bassist Spermshooter told a local newspaper at the time. "We've never been front-page news before."

2. THE TRAGICALLY HIP
Diamond Club, March 14, 1988

The Garden City club now known as Silverado's has the dubious distinction of being the only bar in Canada to ever fire The Tragically Hip.

Playing its first dates outside its native Ontario, the future Can-rock superstars had a week of shows booked at the newly opened Diamond Club and fellow Hospitality Corp. nightspot Night Moves.

But The Hip's stripped-down rock 'n' roll sound proved unpleasant to the ears of Diamond Club management, who fired the band for being too uncommercial.

At that point in the band's career, it might have been the best thing that ever happened to The Hip. Spurred on by publicity, The Hip's shows were moved over to a Fort Rouge bar called Corner Boys (now a Thai restaurant), downtown's Portage Village Inn (now record store A&B Sound) and the University of Manitoba.

"I would almost prefer to play a place just for the beer or the door as long as it's a cool place," frontman Gord Downie told the Free Press at the time.

"There's nothing more tiring than playing to a room full of people who would rather be listening to piped-in disco music -- the kind of place where they get down on you because you don't have a crease in your pants."

3. MARILYN MANSON
Walker Theatre, July 28, 1997

More than 10 years after social activists paraded outside The Mentors' show, demonstrators from the other side of the sociopolitical spectrum came out en masse to protest a concert by the leading purveyor of shock-rock in the 1990s.

Marilyn Manson, despised by the Christian right for his "Antichrist Superstar" shtick, was already having trouble with protesters in other cities when two Winnipeg venues refused to host his shows. After the city-owned Winnipeg Arena and Winnipeg Convention Centre balked at Manson, the makeup-clad mischief-maker found a home at the Walker Theatre.

Despite protests by Christian groups, the toughest security regimen ever seen at a Walker show and an immense amount of hype, nothing of any consequence happened at the show.

4. LED ZEPPELIN
Winnipeg Arena, Aug. 29, 1970

Paid the princely sum of $50,000 US to play the Man-Pop festival, British rock gods Led Zeppelin almost refused to go on stage at the end of a publicly funded rock festival that was already beset by problems.

Earlier in the day, the 13-band show -- which also included Iron Butterfly and Chilliwack -- was moved from Winnipeg Stadium after more than five centimetres of rain fell on the soggy stadium turf in less than two hours.

Inside Winnipeg Arena, bands complained the sound system wouldn't work. Fans grumbled there wasn't enough room for all of them and one radio station compounded the issue by mistakenly broadcasting the entire show was for free.

Eventually, the headliners went on stage but their managers began to grumble about cash. One band in particular, The Youngbloods, refused to stop playing until they got paid, delaying the show even further.

According to one account, Led Zeppelin outright refused to play because of some contract stipulation regarding rain. According to others, the band members merely got too wasted as they partied in their International Inn hotel rooms.

Eventually, Zep took the stage after midnight and played until 3 a.m.

5. THE SKYDIGGERS
West End Cultural Centre, Oct. 21, 1995

Gentle folk-rock band The Skydiggers makes the infamy list thanks to the sheer level of destruction, however unwitting.

Only one song into the Skydiggers' set, the dance floor beneath the capacity crowd gave way as a main support beam crumbled into the basement of the old converted church.

In a foreshadowing of future label problems, the floor nearly toppled on top of the representative for Warner Music, who was in the band's dressing room at the time.

6. NEIL YOUNG
Blue Note Café, June 27, 1987

This one is infamous not because of any wild antics, but because so many Winnipeggers were kicking themselves after the fact.

Young, who once rode a horse through the halls of Kelvin High School, made an unexpected visit to Winnipeg in '87 to attend a reunion by his not-quite-alma mater. While in town, he hooked up with several members of one of his teenage bands, The Squires, to perform a few songs from their community-centre days at the Blue Note Café.

At the time, the Main Street coffee house was at the height of its clout. The Squires' set was short and reportedly unremarkable, but it had a profound effect on the former Winnipegger, who named his band The Blue Notes on his next studio album.

7. GUNS 'N ROSES
Winnipeg Arena, March 24, 1993

Winnipeggers got an early look at the long decline of this once-great rock band when Axl Rose had one of his famous hissy fits in Winnipeg.

This arena show was supposed to be a double bill with Brian May. But after the former Queen guitarist took ill, promoters were left with nothing but dead air between local opening act The Deadbeat Honeymooners and G'nR.

The Honeymooners were off the stage by 8:30 p.m. After that, fans waited and waited... and waited, while frontman Rose refused to leave his hotel room and make his way to Winnipeg Arena.

After almost three hours of downtime -- during which an increasingly unruly crowd had nothing to do -- Guns 'n Roses finally took the stage at 11:20 p.m., led by a clearly disinterested Axl Rose.

The once-wiry frontman spent most of the set sitting on a drum riser. When he did stand, he stared at his shoelaces. From all accounts, he hasn't gotten it together since.

8. DEAD KENNEDYS
Le Rendez-Vous, Oct. 14 , 1984

Punk rock in Winnipeg dates back to the late '70s, but the phenomenon truly arrived at this appearance by the Bay Area's most outspoken band.

About 1,100 people packed into the 725-seat St. Boniface club to see The Dead Kennedys confound local concert promoters that had never dealt with a crowd like this before.

"It was full chaos, from the drummer refusing to go on until someone scored him some heroin, to the singer (Jello Biafra) claiming our monitor sound guy was a racist to word filtering down from the crowd that they were going to destroy the room because we were considered the establishment promoter," says Winnipeg Enterprises honcho Kevin Donnelly, recalling his first gig as a head promoter.

"In the end, none of that happened but I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't scared."

9. THE ROLLING STONES
Winnipeg Arena, July 14, 1966

The generational divide between freewheeling Baby Boomers and their uptight parents was exposed dramatically by differing accounts of this classic appearance by The Stones near the apex of their creativity.

The dear, departed Winnipeg Tribune ran two reviews: A negative dismissal by a classical music critic who trashed the concert as being nothing but noise, to a glowing account by a copy boy outraged by the staffer's comments.

10. SOUL ASYLUM
Verna's, Nov. 10, 1986

This show makes the list as arguably the best local example of a great performance by a little-known band that would later go on to stardom.

Only three days after a blizzard devastated Winnipeg, Minneapolis rock band Soul Asylum played a loud and by all accounts perfect show in front of less than 100 shell-shocked winter storm survivors at Verna's, a Caribbean restaurant that used to stand at the corner of Broadway and Maryland.

This is one of those gigs where the actual attendance was dwarfed by the number of people who later claimed to have witnessed it.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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