The 10 Most Legendary Whisky a Go Go Shows
For a club with a capacity of only 500, the Whisky a Go Go holds a stadium’s worth of rock & roll history.
The Whisky’s widescreen legacy runs from ’60 folk-pop and psychedelia into ’70s punk and new wave, through ’80 heavy metal and hard rock and ’90s alternative. In 2006, it became the first venue inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (A year before Van Halen, one of many Southern California stars who cut their teeth at 8901 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, was inducted.)
The Whisky opened in 1964. Early this May, Mario Maglieri, owner of the Whisky a Go Go and the equally storied Rainbow Bar and Grill, died at the age of 94. Tributes from large-font rockers poured in on social media. Guns N’ Roses guitar legend Slash posted on Instagram, “Lost dear old friend Mario Maglieri today. Owner of Rainbow Bar & Grill & The Whisky, he kept RnR alive in Hwd. We will never forget you. RIP.”
With so many historic performances having taken place at the Whisky, it’s a challenge to narrow down the 10 most legendary. But we like challenges, so here they are.
Jan. 5, 1969
As raw as Led Zeppelin were when they played the Whisky, the nascent band were already exuding dynamics and metallic magic that would later help them fill multiple nights at the Forum. The band played three nights with a young Alice Cooper's band opening. The first of these performances, Jan. 2, was only Zep’s fifth show in the United States. The Jan. 5 show has been immortalized via bootleg live recordings, with drummer John Bonham’s kick drum, guitarist Jimmy Page’s wah-wah and singer Robert Plant’s bluesy wail high in the mix. Songs performed included numbers from Zeppelin’s self-titled debut, including “Daze and Confused” and “Babe, I’m Going to Leave You,” as well as covers of songs by The Yardbirds (“For Your Love”) and Garnet Mimms (“As Long as I Have You”).
Aug. 21, 1966
The Doors usually ended their sets with their snaky epic “The End.” But on this night, frontman Jim Morrison, who'd missed the first of two sets that night because he was at the Tropicana Hotel tripping on LSD, wanted to play it earlier in their performance. The rest of the band obliged. Deep into the song, Morrison began a dark, hypnotic vocal ad lib that would become the song’s hallmark, but it was performed for the first time this night. Time stood still inside the Whisky. Waitresses stopped serving. The go-go girls stopped dancing. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore followed their Lizard King, backing the singer with jazzy improvisation. Finally, Morrison finally belted out an Oedipus Rex couplet about killing his father and fucking his mother. The Doors finished their show, their first after inking with Elektra Records, but got sacked from their Whisky house-band gig immediately afterward.
April 23, 1977
Early 1977 was an eventful time at the Whisky for New York new wave act Blondie. In mid-February, the band played a series of shows with “American Girl” jangle-rockers Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers opening. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone was in the audience for at least one of those shows and the following week his band, punk torpedoes The Ramones, would open for Blondie. But April 23 was extra special. The Runaways guitarist Joan Jett hopped onstage with Blondie to play covers of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.”
Sept. 29, 1994
Sometimes shows become legendary because they’re spectacularly great. Sometimes it’s because they’re spectacularly messy. Brit-pop bad boys Oasis played their first U.S. show at the Whisky; unfortunately the band had been up doing crystal meth for days. Comically captured on video and included in the excellent 2016 Oasis doc Supersonic, a setlist mixup resulted in the band playing different songs at the same time. Singer Liam Gallagher offered un-charming lout-isms between songs. There are some sparks, though, including a snarling “Cigarettes & Alcohol.”
Dec. 31, 1977
Of all the ways to ever ring in a New Year’s Eve, seeing Pasadena supernovas Van Halen slay the Whisky as 1977 turned to 1978 is surely near the top. As evident in bootleg audio recordings, the band were, to borrow one of their song titles, “On Fire.” Van Halen were still a couple months from releasing their mighty eponymous debut LP. But the quartet delivered songs that would end up on Van Halen, such as “I’m the One,” with a machine-gun precision that hints they would soon end up ruling high-school parking lots everywhere. The band also played potent originals “Here's Just What You Wanted” and “No More Waiting,” which remain unreleased, as well as future Van Halen II thumper “D.O.A.” And, oh, to have been in the Whisky that night to hear then-21-year-old Eddie Van Halen’s universe-rearranging guitar showpiece, “Eruption.”
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