It's never easy being the opening act on a major rock tour. Many fans resent the fact that you're coming between them and the act they've paid to see, and you usually play to rows of empty seats. Still, it's often worth it to convert a tiny fraction of the large audience. Most of the biggest names in rock – from Guns N' Roses to Queen – cut their teeth opening for the major names of their time. Since it's now the height of the summer concert season, Rolling Stone recently asked you to vote on your favorite opening acts in rock history. Click through to see the results.
In the summer of 1995, Trent Reznor hit the road with his lifelong hero, David Bowie. It was an interesting time for both artists: Nine Inch Nails were at their absolute peak and David Bowie had been on a steady career nosedive for a decade. Nine Inch Nails were drawing much larger crowds than Bowie, but Reznor still opted to open up the show. Fearful of the young fans leaving in droves, Reznor decided to bring Bowie onstage towards the end of the Nine Inch Nails set for a few duets that led directly into Bowie's headlining set. Making matters even more complicated, Bowie had sworn off performing his greatest hits earlier in the decade. He still played older songs, but they were relative obscurities like "Joe the Lion," "Andy Warhol" and "Teenage Wildlife." Despite Reznor's best efforts, many fans left before the show was over.
At the time, the tour seemed like a bit of a disaster; in hindsight, it was an absolutely stunning show that suffered only from bad timing. When Bowie went back on the road in 1999, he brought the hits out of retirement. Nowadays, of course, both acts have retired from touring altogether, making this 1995 tour seem all the more amazing.
This 1972 American tour captured two of the greatest live acts in history at their absolute creative peaks. The Stones were touring in support of Exile on Main St., while Wonder had just dropped Music of My Mind and was months away from the release of Talking Book. Rock audiences weren't very familiar with Wonder's genius at this point, but this tour changed all that. Some shows ended with an amazing medley of "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and the two songs (released just months apart in 1965) blended perfectly into one another. Check out a video of the medley here.
When Guns N' Roses first hit the scene in 1987, some critics derisively labeled them a cheap Aerosmith knock-off. The fact that Guns featured Aerosmith's "Mama Kin" at many of their early shows – and on their debut EP, Live Like a Suicide – didn't do much to shatter this idea. Needless to say, Guns N' Roses eventually forged their own identity and, in the summer of 1988, they hit the road with Aerosmith on their Permanent Vacation tour. Aerosmith was touring in support of a monster comeback album, but the tour was almost overshadowed by Guns N' Roses, since Appetite for Destruction had been flying off shelves all summer long. Despite Axl's chronic misbehavior, the two groups formed a close bond and many of the guys are tight to this day. Check out this video of both groups performing "Mama Kin" in the early 1990s.
It's often said that when Guns N' Roses took off, they instantly obliterated all the Sunset Strip hair-metal bands. In reality, they opened for Mötley Crüe in the fall of 1987 on the Girls Girls Girls tour, and the bands got along pretty well. "At the time, there wasn't a more debauched double bill than Guns and Motley," Slash wrote in his memoir. "And as much as we lived up to it, that reality quickly became business as usual…Motley was the only band from L.A. that came out of the glam metal scene that was 100% genuine." The tour helped promote Appetite for Destruction, which slowly climbed the charts through 1987. But Motley just got bigger and bigger as the 1980s went on; things didn't turn south for them until they parted ways with Vince Neil in the early 1990s.
When Pearl Jam hit the road in late 1991 on a triple bill with the Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, their debut album Ten was just beginning to blow up across the country. Even though Pearl Jam played first on the bill, they rarely played to anything but packed crowds. "The crowd on the tour was insane," former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese said in Kim Neely's Pearl Jam book Five Against One. "They were there to see the Peppers, but when we played, it was crazy. We'd play for thirty minutes, and it was like the Smashing Pumpkins had to earn their thirty minutes, and the Peppers had to earn theirs. By the end of that tour, it was almost like they were our audience in a lot of respects."
It's not an easy task to open for the Rolling Stones – especially when you're a largely unknown guy wearing bikini briefs and singing a song called "Jack U Off." This was two years before "Little Red Corvette" and most rock fans had never heard of Prince, who opened up a pair of shows at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The fans just wanted to hear "Start Me Up" and "Gimme Shelter," and they pelted Prince with vegetables and yelled out homophobic slurs. He left the stage 15 minutes into his set on the first night, but he had the balls to return for night two. (There's no video of the sets, but check out this 1981 complete show from New York that same year.)
In 1974, Queen were an up-and-coming British band, and Mott the Hoople were a British band on their final legs. Glam rock was ending, and Mott frontman Ian Hunter was quickly losing interest in the group. But Mott the Hoople were far more famous at the time, and when they toured together, Queen was the opening act. The group formed a tight bond on the tour, and Queen referred to the tour in their 1975 single "Now I'm Here" with the line "Down in city, just Hoople and me." Later that year, Queen would drop "Killer Queen" and watch their career take off, while Hunter would leave Mott in December.
Robert Plant never forgot Led Zeppelin's first gig in America. "It was right in the heart of Denver on the 26th of December, 1968," he told Rolling Stone in 2005. "I remember pulling up to the theater and the marquee said, 'Vanilla Fudge, Taj Mahal and Support.' I thought, 'Wow, here we are: Support!'" Fans at that show hadn't even had the chance to buy Zeppelin's debut album, since it wouldn't hit shelves until January 12th, 1969. Once that album dropped, no venue played for the rest of their career ever said "Support" again.
The Who's 1982 run was billed as a "farewell tour." Now, they've toured about eight times since then, but the shows were (completely by accident) some of the last times that the classic lineup of the Clash ever performed together. "We played Shea Stadium with the Who and it was fun to play 'Career Opportunities' in a place like that," Joe Strummer said. "Six years earlier, we'd written it in Camden Town. It's things like that, though, which make the world so interesting." At the time, "Rock the Casbah" was all over MTV and radio. The Clash were at a commercial peak, but the strain blew them apart and Mick Jones left the following year.
Shortly before Jimi Hendrix broke through with his single "Purple Haze" in the summer of 1967, he agreed to open up a series of shows for the Monkees, who were then at their absolute commercial peak. It didn't go well and he quit after just seven shows. "They gave us the 'death' spot on the show – right before the Monkees were due on," Hendrix told NME shortly after the tour. "The audience just screamed and yelled for the Monkees! Finally, they agreed to let us go on first and things were much better. Then some parents who brought their young kids complained that our act was vulgar. We decided it was just not the right audience. I think they're replacing me with Mickey Mouse…There's no tension between us whatsoever. And all the rumors about being segregated on the plane were just nonsense. I got on well with both Micky [Dolenz] and Peter [Tork] and we fooled around a lot together."
Check out this amazing radio promo for the Monkees/Jimi Hendrix show in Detroit.