How Bad Brains Almost Opened U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ Tour
Wild Gigs is a new series where David Castillo, owner / talent buyer of Saint Vitus Bar, gets behind-the-scenes stories on the craziest shows from scene heads, band dudes, managers, venue staff and anyone / everyone who attended said show. In the first in the series, we examine Bad Brains' appearance at a former roller rink in 1987, and how they could have toured with U2.
By the late '80s, everyone in the hardcore scene knew that Bad Brains were THE fucking band — tons of people were coming out to shows, and the music industry at large was beginning to take notice. New Music Seminar was a NYC-based music festival where the the industry used to get together to check out bands, do insane amounts of drugs and sign a lot of deals. Think SXSW in its heyday. In July 1987, Bad Brains were asked to headline a showcase packed with hardcore luminaries. Many thought that they were poised to cross over to superstardom after this invitation, but it never really happened, despite the band delivering a crushing performance.
Anthony Countey (Bad Brains manager)
We’re doing some gigs around the time of I Against I in 1987, and Chris Blackwell wanted to sign the band to Island Records. There may have even been a discussion with Chris about H.R. portraying Bob Marley in a movie as well, but I’m not 100 percent sure.
Earl Hudson (Bad Brains drummer)
I think there was a bidding war going around, trying to get the Brains signed, and I even heard that Chris Blackwell wanted H.R. to play Bob in a movie, but it never came to be. I think Island and Chrysalis wanted to sign us, and Joe didn't want to sign. It had a lot to do with the management, too, 'cause the manager dude was kind of, you know, we love him, but dude is still kinda shady from our perspective and not being up front about a lot of things and not accounting for a lot of things.
Michael Gibbons (Leeway guitarist)
I remember thinking when Leeway came on, "Man, they sound much more metal than on the demo." It was due to the addition of Gordon Ancis (second guitar). I loved the band since the original drummer sold me the first demo in high school. But it was a killer gig. (PA was going in and out at times. Probably using a lot of its amperes, if not all, in the room's circuit board.) Hardcore grooves / metal sound. I was totally way more into this live appearance than the demo sound. Bad Brains came out and, well, just crushed it, as always. Lots of movement on the floor. Huge dance circle / mosh pit. Definitely a memorable night. Crushing performance by both bands.
Howie Abrams (author)
I was amped up for this show at 1018, and truth be told, I ate a bunch of mushrooms with Danny Lilker (Nuclear Assault, S.O.D.) an hour or so before the doors opened. We walk into this huge club, which used to be the notorious Roxy Roller Rink, and the shrooms are kicking in big-time. Almost immediately, I run into A.J. [Novello], the guitarist from Leeway, and he tells me that his roadie isn’t going to make it, and asks if I can watch his gear for him while they play. I’m like, “Sure.” I was praying that nothing broke and that his guitar wouldn’t need tuning, because there’s no way I could have handled much of anything at that point. All I remember from their set is seeing snakes and worms slithering around on the stage at the band’s feet. Oy! Anyway, Bad Brains absolutely killed! One of the best shows I’ve ever seen them throw down, although I recall half the PA system crapping out a couple of times during the show. That said, it was the Bad Brains, so neither they nor the huge crowd missed one beat. I also remember the PA not being particularly high, so there was a lot of PA-diving throughout the show. It was one of those gigs [that] reminded everyone that Bad Brains was simply the greatest band on earth, and H.R. was an incomparable frontman.
Corey Glover (Living Colour singer)
That show was the biggest continuous mosh pit I had ever seen up to then. It was electric, and the Brains were on FIRE.
We played a show at 1018. It was the big show for the New Music Seminar that year in 1987. 1018 had 3,500, 4,000 people there. It was packed. They played a great set and Chris was there to meet the band. We weren't going to get anything done there necessarily, but it would have been good to at least have gotten to introduce H.R. to Chris Blackwell. H.R. was, like, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” It was right after the show and the place was emptying out, so there were crowds going out of this big club. He walked right out the door. He was gone, just gone. We were going to open up for U2. They had just released The Joshua Tree, and that was on Island, so it was going to be the U2 Joshua Tree tour with Bad Brains. The record would have been Quickness, I guess, but it didn't happen. H.R. wouldn't sign. He didn't trust Chris Blackwell at all.
H.R. (Bad Brains vocalist)
I had moved toward Jah, but I wished I could have gotten better professional advice about the situation, and taken a more responsible and professional approach to what was going on in my life and in my career at the time.
H.R., Anthony Countey and Earl Hudson excerpts taken from the book, Finding Joseph I: An Oral History of H.R. From Bad Brains by Howie Abrams and James Lathos.