Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The very best fictional concerts

Illustration for article titled The very best fictional concerts

This week’s question comes from contributor John Semley: What fictional concert would you love to attend?


Marah Eakin
I’ve thought about this a lot, and while I’m not the biggest Aerosmith fan, I think I’d still have to go with Waynestock, the concert Wayne and Garth put on in Wayne’s World 2. I heard Crucial Taunt can wail live, and I’d be down with seeing Pearl Jam circa 1993. Plus, Van Halen and the Gin Blossoms? The lineup might not be my ultimate dream, but with laced red-rope licorice in the crowd, “excellent” vibes, and Rip Taylor floating around with his bucket of confetti, how could it be bad?

Tasha Robinson
Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind is my favorite Guest movie largely for the music. The songs featured in the film perfectly ride the line between being satirical songs, making fun of the excesses and the most ridiculous side of folk music, and actually being catchy and enjoyable enough to become earworms. So I’d like to attend the sold-out benefit concert at the end of the film, where all three highlighted groups share a stage and ham it up. The DVD catches a little of that action by presenting the raw footage of the concert before it was edited down for the film, but it’s still missing pieces—and presumably, it would feature songs not actually covered in the film. It’d be worth paying charity-event prices to hear more theoretical Mighty Wind songs.

Mike Vago
There are metal shows, and then there are metal shows. Sure, biting the head off a bat is pretty badass. Breathing fire? Always a thrill. And I’ll admit that canceling a tour because of the flesh-eating virus is pretty fucking metal. But can anyone top the absolute pinnacle? Spinal Tap’s comeback show in Japan at the end of This Is Spinal Tap, where drummer Mick Shrimpton spontaneously combusts on stage? No. Nothing will be more metal than that. Plus, the explosion happens in the middle of the song with the best title in the history of rock, real or fictional: “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight.” Even if the band had to play the rest of its set sans drummer, there’s no way that wasn’t going to be a good show.

Noah Cruickshank
There are metal shows, Mike, and then there are Dethklok metal shows. Yes, most of the concertgoers end up dying painful, bloody deaths, and the band rarely gets through its entire set list. But still, there’s a reason why they’re the biggest band in the world: They put on the best shows ever. If I had to pick a single concert from Metalocalypse, I’d probably choose theDeth Fair. Where else can I win stuffed teddy bears, hear Dethklok, and feel the desperate panic of someone in the midst of a massacre?

Rowan Kaiser
I’m going to go a ways off the expected path here and pick one of the strangest and most important moments in video games: the Opera House sequence from Final Fantasy VI (initially released as Final Fantasy 3 in the U.S.) At the climax of the first third of the game, the characters hatch a plan to steal an airship in the middle of an opera performance that, naturally, they have to organize and even star in. The opera’s story doesn’t connect to the main game; it’s neither prophecy nor history, and if it has a thematic tie-in, it’s not immediately apparent. This makes it one of the earliest examples of a game simply taking a few minutes and telling a cool, affecting story just for the hell of it, as well as straining the technology of the Super Nintendo. And then a giant, sentient, comically evil octopus jumps onto the stage to sabotage the performance. That’s really the part I want to see in person.

Phil Dyess-Nugent
As a fan of both Ornette Coleman and Thomas Pynchon, I’d love to check out a gig by McClintic Sphere, the Ornette-inspired jazz musician who wails on an alto sax made of hand-carved ivory in Pynchon’s V. If I have to specify a show, the performance at the V Spot that’s described in the novel will do. That’s the one where a fan whispers, “He plays all the notes Bird missed!” and the character sitting behind him mimes gutting the fan with a broken beer bottle. Sad to say, until I hear the music myself, I don’t really know which of those guys I’d most likely be.


Sonia Saraiya
Of all the things I love about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, the best thing about it is how intimate and accessible and awesome all the concerts in it seem to be. The music, the crowd, the venue, they all seem to line up in perfect harmony. I would kill to go to The Clash At Demonhead concert, where Envy Adams comes onstage in total darkness, lit up by smoke, to the throbbing opening guitar lines of Metric’s “Black Sheep.” All of the concerts in the movie look awesome, especially with added video-game visual effects, but Adams stands out as the movie’s true rock star, a charismatic performer with red leather boots and enviable chemistry with a mob of her adoring fans. Brie Larson’s version of the Metric song is a keeper, and I wish that we’d seen more of her performance, if only because I’ve watched that scene from the movie so many times it’s burned into my brain.

Jason Heller
Maybe it’s because I just saw Iggy And The Stooges play “Gimme Danger” at Riot Fest Denver, but I’d love to behold an entire concert of Wylde Ratttz, the so-thinly-veiled-it’s-not-really-veiled-at-all homage to The Stooges in Velvet Goldmine. Where the film’s other fictional band, Venus In Furs, is a luxuriously glam-tastic mashup of Bryan Ferry and David Bowie, Ewan McGregor’s turn as the Iggy-esque Curt Wild cuts right to the heart of glam’s proto-punk animalism. Don’t get me wrong: In real life, Iggy still rocks. But Wylde Ratttz would bring an extra dimension of persona-within-persona pastiche. And that’s what glam is all about.

Josh Modell
As a fan of both mid-’90s The Flaming Lips and most seasons of Beverly Hills, 90210, I wouldn’t mind showing up at The Peach Pit in 1995 to check out the show alongside Steve Sanders, Valerie Malone, and David Silver. It was an eyebrow-raising moment for fans of the once-very-weird band: The Flaming Lips and a dumb teen show didn’t seem like a great match. But “She Don’t Use Jelly” was a hit—or at least it recently had been—and the Lips were weird enough to make the show seem edgy. The other bonus, besides hanging out with the elite kids, would be The Flaming Lips lineup: In 1995, the band was peaking live, with since-departed guitarist Ronald Jones making beautiful insanity and Steven Drozd in his rightful place, the drum throne. (He mostly plays guitar now.) And presumably it wouldn’t have been a one-song show, and we would’ve been treated to “Halloween On The Barbary Coast” and “Oh, My Pregnant Head” among others. As Ian Ziering (Steve Sanders) says at the end of the segment: “I’ve never been a fan of alternative music, but these guys rocked the house!”


Annie Zaleski
Speaking of the ’90s: I’ve always had an absolute soft spot for Letters To Cleo and the band’s fuzzy power-pop, but I never had the chance to see it live. For that reason, I’d gladly brave the alterna-teens and intimidating cool girls to see their Club Skunk gig in 10 Things I Hate About You. By 1999, the band was less than a year away from breaking up, but they still sounded absolutely perfect. (Plus, at this show, they even played a non-album rarity, “Come On,” which rivaled any of its bigger singles in terms of catchiness.) The venue— a small, funky club with colorful décor, great sightlines, and a young Heath Ledger sitting at the bar—was also ideal. But even more than that, the concert’s vibe was positive and supportive in a way that’s hard to find these days. People were there to dance and lose themselves in the music, not take crappy cell phone video to stick on YouTube later. It was a refreshing reminder that seeing good tunes live can be a life-affirming experience.

Cory Casciato
Book my fictional ticket to the first ever Walpurgisnacht rock festival in Ingolstadt, Germany, with a stacked lineup of 200 bands. The larger-than-life (in every sense of the phrase) festival is one of the pivotal events in Robert Anton Wilson’s insane Illuminatus! Trilogy, where it’s all part of a plan to bring on the end of the world by an evil rock band who are also the secret leaders of a global conspiracy, but man, what a show. Where else can you see bands like King Kong And His Skull Island Dinosaurs, Left-Handed Monkey Wrench, and Peyote Woman? Not to mention Joan Baez, if you’re into that. Sure, you stand a decent chance of being part of a massive human sacrifice if the bad guys’ plan goes right, but then again, if the plan goes right everyone but the Illuminati’s select few dies, not just the people at the show. That being the case, why not catch the biggest festival of all before the lights go out for good?


Kyle Ryan
I’d kind of like to go to all the Spinal Tap concerts in This Is Spinal Tapwell, maybe not the jazz-fusion one—but if I had to pick, I guess I’d choose the one where they unveil their ambitious new stage show for “Stonehenge.” (“I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.”) The tour is starting to wear on them, making for some tension that could foster a good performance. Also, considering I couldn’t stop laughing for like 10 minutes the first time I saw that scene, it’d be pretty amazing to experience Stonehenge’s majesty in person. (“Can I raise a practical question at this point? Are we gonna do ‘Stonehenge’ tomorrow?”)


Todd VanDerWerff
This is stretching the definition considerably, but I would like to go to the town talent night on Deadwood. Okay, I don’t know if I’d sit through the whole thing. But I’d definitely hide in the back of the Gem to hear Al Swearengen’s surprisingly lovely singing voice.

Becca James
Very few things make me as happy as Jason Lee’s strained voice. That scene in Mallrats where he vehemently asserts that kids must be conditioned to “fear and respect that escalator” is a pitch-perfect example. That’s why I wish I could attend one of Stillwater’s concerts from Almost Famous in which Lee is “only the fucking lead singer!” I would want to take in the Peter Frampton, Cameron Crowe, and Nancy Wilson-penned songs in William Miller (Patrick Fugit) fashion, with access to all the offstage shenanigans and the pre-show huddle sing-along. Then, as that “incendiary” band began “Fever Dog,” I would hear Jeff Bebe’s (Lee) voice as I stood on the wings of the stage. I also wouldn’t mind a temporary character change so I could dance to one of my favorite artists—Cat Stevens—in the concert aftermath à la Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). You know, so I could avoid being lectured by Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Claire Zulkey
Once again I’m copying Marah: I too would like to attend a fictional Aerosmith concert, only in my case, it’s the concert the kids all head-bang to at the end of Dazed And Confused. Obviously, the concert itself would be fun, but more importantly, you know that going to that show with the coolest kids from Lee High School would be awesome. Beer will be flowing, joints will be passed, and school’s out, baby—we have the whole summer ahead of us to have fun and be young. I’ve never actually been to a hard rock concert (or gotten high at one), let alone been a cool, confident teenager, so I would cherish the experience of being as carefree and relaxed as those kids were in that movie.


Will Harris
Even though they’re a staple in just about any movie about struggling musicians, I’m a sucker for scenes where everyone in an audience underrates the abilities of a band, only to suddenly find themselves enraptured by an undeniably incredible performance and transformed into diehard fans by the end of the song. I can’t decide which of the two I like best, though, so I’m just going to offer up both of them. The first is at one of the performances in The Commitments, specifically the one where the titular band turns in that phenomenal version of “Try A Little Tenderness.” It gives me chills every time I watch it, and I’d love to have the experience of being in the audience while Deco (Andrew Strong) and the Commitment-ettes are belting it out. The other’s a bit more obscure, but I’d really like to be there for the gig by Strange Fruit in Still Crazy where they break out “All Over The World” and prove that, despite the world at large perceiving them as ’70s rock has-beens (and with all due respect to Jethro Tull), you’re never too old to rock ’n’ roll.

A.A. Dowd
I’d gladly climb into a cryo-tube if it meant I could attend the Bend-Aid benefit concert on Futurama. I’d even suffer through openers Wailing Fungus and Cylon And Garfunkel to get a front row glimpse of Beck’s disembodied head jamming with Bender. Sure, they only play one song (“Sexx Laws,” a selection usually absent from Mr. Hansen’s real set lists) and it lasts for a whopping three hours. But given Beck’s increasingly predictable, going-through-the-motions approach to performing—open with “Loser” or “Devil’s Haircut,” close with “Where It’s At” or “E-Pro”—a numbing psychedelic rendition of a rarely played favorite might actually pull the guy out of his perpetual, post-Sea Change funk. Anyway, I’m sure the parts where I’d be awake would blow my mind.


John Semley
Given that I posed the question only so I could answer it with this, I’m going to right ahead and say the Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds concert in Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire. Ever since I saw the film in high school, during my extended project to teach myself about “art movies” by renting whatever Criterion Collection titles my local Jumbo Video made available, I’ve regarded that concert as basically the epitome of what a musical performance is: gloomy, anguished, in a basement. While I’m no big fan of Cave’s “The Carny”—or any Tom Waitsian circus noir music—the performance of “From Her To Eternity” (the most pained song ever written, and my favorite) is incredible. Moreover, its function in the film speaks beautifully to its own theme and those coursing through Cave’s music. To be human is to feel pain, to be fundamentally tortured. Plus: look at his hair! What a cool guy.

Erik Adams
Since the finest recorded performance by Dr. Teeth And The Electric Mayhem—“Can You Picture That?,” from The Muppet Movie—is technically a rehearsal, I’ll go with the debut of Muppetland’s heaviest act: Riverbottom Nightmare Band, the sneering villains of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. No offense to the polite bluegrass preferred by the special’s protagonist (I’m surprised Emmet Otter hasn’t experienced a huge resurgence in these post-Mumford times), but the Nightmare blows Emmet and his buddies off of the stage with its pseudo-Edgar Winter Group theme song, a tromping ode to being a real putz. And though the Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug band deserves to be commended for its resourcefulness and generally positive attitude, a washtub bass doesn’t begin to match the inventiveness of a fish splashing water as a means of auxiliary percussion. The “Gift Of The Magi”-esque moral of the story is that Emmet eventually wins the true prize, but in terms of stage presence, hooks, and creative rhyme schemes, the Riverbottom Nightmare Band deserves to win the talent show (whether it fixed the results or not).

Kevin McFarland
I’m not sure which version of Jack Black’s band from High Fidelity I’d like to see more: Sonic Death Monkey, Kathleen Turner Overdrive, or the one that ends up playing the single release party at the end of the film, Barry Jive And The Uptown Five. Black and his Tenacious D bandmate, Kyle Gass, had already performed on Mr. Show and their own HBO series before High Fidelity was released, so it wasn’t a surprise when he absolutely rocked Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”—but the comedic buildup to the performance almost convinces me that it could be an all-time disaster. There’s a deleted scene of Cusack’s sad sack record-store owner begging and pleading with Barry not to perform, as he’s over 30 and owes it to himself, his parents, and his friends not to be in a band called Sonic Death Monkey. And though I remain curious about the potential for a Chicago hardcore band with German influences fronted by Jack Black—or the undoubtedly more new wave Kathleen Turner Overdrive—the soulful surprise of a tender and powerful “Let’s Get It On” is a just reward for a much-maligned character throughout the film, and a lovely catharsis after so much romantic and music consternation. That’s the kind of show I’d like to see.