Do critically-acclaimed musicians ever make mistakes in concert?

For example… has Eric Clapton ever hit a wrong note on his guitar while playing live?

Do critically-acclaimed musicians ever make mistakes in concert?

They’re not quite in the same league as Clapton, but I heard at least one misstep on Dream Theater’s live recording of Master of Puppets. I’d assume it’s quite rare.

There’s a famous recording of Elvis cracking up in the middle of a live performance of Are You Lonesome Tonight? This has become known as the “Laugh Version”.

Constantly. Part of being a great professional musician is knowing how to cover it and keep the momentum going so the crowd doesn’t know or care.

I am not classically trained, but I suspect that even classical musicians make mistakes they must cover for.

The one I always notice is Cobain’s honker at the beginning of the solo for The Man Who Sold the World - or whatever the name is - on the Unplugged in New York CD…

I don’t know if this counts or not, but I was at a concert (tom petty maybe) when someone broke a guitar string and just switched it with a new guitar without anyone really noticing. Or course I’m sure Mike Campbell had no problem picking up the slack for a few seconds. Also on Stevie Ray Vaughn on Austin City Limits, he broke a guitar string and made (IMO) the smoothest switch ever to a new guitar, don’t think he missed a note.

Saw Gregg Allman once - he was so drunk all he did was make mistakes. He had to be helped to his piano bench and couldn’t even remember the words to half the songs. Between the lousy show and the level of smoke in the place, I left before the show was over.

Since going to rehab, James Hetfield has forgotten half the words to every song he ever wrote. He still doesn’t know the words to anything on the St. Anger album. Also, he can no longer carry a tune to save his life.

ultrafilter: I can think of a couple of mixups. They got the end of Master of Puppets wrong, and the Battery solo is a little off.

Absolutely. Completely.

I’ve got recordings where top soloists play some howlishly-amateur stuff. Wrong notes abound. Rather rocky moments are familiar in every orchestra. However, what a ‘mistake’ constitutes is hard to define - if every note has to be in tune, and every rhythm precise, you need a computer playing it.

Having something break down to the point where they have to stop is an extreme rarity - one of Tippett’s symphonies notoriously was so difficult that its first performance had to be restarted.

Of course–they’re only human. Hell, there’s plenty of recordings out there–from Thelonius Monk to the Beatles to Led Zeppelin–that have flubbed notes, mispicks, missticks on the drumming, etc., but the takes were kept because the energy and feel was there. I mean, seriously listen to anything before the advent of ProTools and you’re likely to find a minor flub here and there.

One somewhat obscure example that always makes me giggle is the live recording of “Drain” on Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” single. I can’t remember offhand if it’s the bass or guitar, but when the whole band kicks in someone is off by half-step and you can hear him quickly recovering my sliding up to the next fret.

The song title should be “Drain You,” not “Drain.”

I always thought that little goofs here and there were what made live versions of songs charming.

Absolutely – one thing my music tutor, who performs and tours professionally, emphasises to us is never, ever give away that you’ve just made a mistake through a facial expression – chances are the audience will be so wrapped up in the music, the moment might be noticed, and then forgot as you go on.

And yes, he’s made mistakes during performances!

Possibly, but there’s one wrong note (I think in Leper Messiah or Disposable Heroes) that really stands out.

One of the sayings I’ve heard mentioned by fellow musicians from time to time is “Wrong but Strong”. The idea being that even if you mess something up, do it with confidence and act like it was supposed to happen that way. Also, don’t look back. If you have made a mistake, one of the most sure-fire ways to make more mistakes is to dwell on it, rather than just let it go and move forward.

We used to joke that the best way to undo a mistake is to repeat it three more times. Then it becomes part of the piece.

And to answer the OP, I’ve never seen a musician, even the greatest, that didn’t make mistakes. It’s one of the inevitable aspects of being a human, the ability to err. :slight_smile:

I saw The Boss forget the words right in the middle of a song at a concert some years ago. He just laughed, said that it had been a long tour and a long week, and started over.

It’s very rare to have a mistake free show. Just doesn’t happen that often.

One of my favorite stories is about Andres Segovia. A friend of mine, Dave, went to see Segovia. Dave was classically trained himself and was working on his masters in music. Anyway Segovia starts playing, makes a mistake stops and said ‘Excuse me, she’s a little out of tune’, then continues playing WITHOUT retuning the guitar. Apparently it is a well known trick in the classical world. When you flub a note, you just stop, say the guitar is out of tune, act like your are tuning it for a minute then go back to the performance. Well, Segovia did that except he forgot the whole ‘act like your tuning’ part.

There can also be a serious disconnect between what the audience hears and what the musicians hear. My band played one show and absolutely blew the whole set. I was just off all night. The rest of the band wasn’t much better. When I got off stage I had a bunch of people come up after the show and make comments about how well we played. Now, you always get some of that no matter how bad you play. What really freaked me out was our friends who knew our stuff were saying the same things. These were the people who would usually say things like “Great show but you missed the lead break on <insert song>.” After about 4 or 5 people made comments like “It’s the best show you ever played” me and Pete, the bass player, just burst out laughing. The next day a good friend, Adam, came up by our practice and said the he wished he could have seen the show because everyone was talking about how good it was. Once again the whole band burst into laughter. We came to the conclusion that either A) we had a hell of a sound guy or B) everyone had WAY too much to drink. We settled on a little from column A and a little from column B.


Slee - I can completely relate to that. Same with Club 33’s “Wrong but Strong”…

He flubs a note in the Unplugged version of Layla.

And of course there’s Ella’s famous live recording of “Mack the Knife” where she forgets the whole third verse. Ditto what everyone else is saying on “knowing how to cover is half the battle”.

Yes, I’m dating myself, but…
I saw Mama Cass in one of the last series of concerts she did before England. She confessed the only song see know by heart was “Dream A Little Dream”. She said blame the teleprompter if she got the words wrong. :smiley: :smiley: :smiley: