Adele’s lucky escape: the elaborate stage props that went very wrong

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A python opening its bowels on stage (and on Alice Cooper) made members of the crew throw up - Splash News
A python opening its bowels on stage (and on Alice Cooper) made members of the crew throw up - Splash News

A muddle over a puddle is reported to have contributed to Adele’s decision to defer her Las Vegas residency at less than 24 hours notice. Covid outbreaks and “delivery delays” were the reasons for the postponement provided by Adele in a tearful Instagram post last week. But it has since been claimed the 33-year-old Londoner also clashed with set designer Es Devlin over an artificial lake that was to have been the centrepiece of the dates at 4,100-capacity Caesar’s Palace Coliseum

“When she saw the finished design, she refused to take part,” a source told reporters. “Adele described the pool as a 'baggy old pond' and refused, point blank, to stand in the middle of it. The intention was to fill it with water on the set as she was lifted up on a crane-type mechanism, creating the illusion she was floating on water.”

Adele is no stranger to water features. Her 2016 world tour saw her sing from beneath a waterfall, much like Take That in the Back for Good video. However, Adele could now be gone for good amid reports Caesar’s Palace may not be able to accommodate her rescheduled run of gigs until 2023 – or beyond. That’s assuming they want to ever see her again.

The singer has long suffered from stage fright. Indeed, the set Devlin created for Adele’s 2016 tour was designed explicitly to put the star at ease. The stripped-down affair celebrated Adele’s smoky diva image whilst creating a “safe space” in which she could natter like the audience’s best mate.

But as Adele and her team mop up the Vegas fallout, it’s worth remembering she isn’t the first A-lister to come a-cropper when a stage prop fails to live up to expectations. From charging buffalo to uncooperative lemons, rock ’n roll has a rich history of technical disasters. Here are some of the more glaring examples.

Sour taste: U2's citrus mishap - Reuters
Sour taste: U2's citrus mishap - Reuters

1. U2 in a pickle over a lemon

U2’s Pop-Mart tour had the impossible task of trumping their zeitgeist-swallowing Zoo TV show – a cyberpunk extravaganza that skewered the information age and the sensory overload that the internet was soon to inflict on all our brains. Pop-Mart, by contrast, took a potshot at the entire edifice of consumer capitalism. This would have been a tough proposition for any group and was a near impossibility coming from U2, waggling their noses at “the man” while charging top dollar for concert tickets.

And U2 became stuck in moment they couldn’t get out of when the giant mechanical lemon from which they were supposed to emerge during the Pop-Mart encore proved less than reliable. As the tour kicked off in 1997, guitarist The Edge realised they were in trouble when the lemon became clogged with dry ice. With his vision obscured, he could not locate the pedal required to open the contraption. In Norway, the biggest rock band in the world were able to crawl, on hands and knees, out the back. In Japan, though, they had to sit there as crew came to the rescue.

2. Katy Perry’s bra goes rogue

Touring the world in 2012, Katy Perry honoured her music’s candy-cane exuberance by donning a bra with rotating peppermint wheels. Alas, long tresses and rotating brassieres are not the smoothest match and one night her hair inevitably caught in the whirring spool, forcing her to lean closer and closer to the malfunctioning hosiery.

"My hair got caught in the wheels of my spinning peppermint bra and began to coil around and around,” she said. “I’m forced to just go with it…. What a girl does for her art”. Her insurers weren’t quite so stoic, and banned the bra for the rest of the tour for fear a repeat mishap put Perry out of action.

Banned: Katy Perry's spinning bra - YouTube
Banned: Katy Perry's spinning bra - YouTube

3. Robbie Williams’s grisly gondola

Williams has always been the ultimate contradiction: a preening pop star beset by insecurity. And he developed a sudden terror of live performance when playing to an 80,000-capacity crowd at Croke Park, Dublin in 2006. The low point came when he was above the crowd and the “gondola” designed to drop him on to the stage refused to budge, leaving him high and dry. He offered to come back and play for free – and was more or less true to his word, returning to Ireland for a charity show in 2012.

4. AC/DC’s arresting development

The Australian heavy rockers tried to embellish their bad boy reputation by hiring actors to dress as policeman and “arrest” them on stage in Sydney. Alas, the crowd got the wrong end of the truncheon and assumed the police were real – and duly rioted. The real police then showed up and when a constable approached singer Bon Scott he received a punch to the jaw for his troubles.

5. ZZ Tops’s buffalo stance

Touring their 1976 album, Tejas, the whiskery Texas blues warriors proved they were born to be wild by shepherding a menagerie of animals on to the stage. Each night they would perform against a backdrop of real rattlesnakes and buffalo. What could possibly go wrong? ZZ Top found out when one of the buffalos cut lose and smashed into the tank holding the snakes. Mayhem ensued and faster than you could say Gimme All Your Shovin’ band and crew were forced to jostle their way to safety.

A buffalo behind-the-scenes of the ZZ Top's tour - YouTube
A buffalo behind-the-scenes of the ZZ Top's tour - YouTube

6. Yes’s tunnel troubles

Seventies prog pioneers Yes were famed for their over-the-top productions. But the crew required to lug around their heavy sci-fi props wasn’t always so appreciative. On tour in America, the roadies decided to play a joke and diverted the giant “Slinky” that was supposed to convey Yes on stage.

“We had this immense tunnel based on a giant Slinky that we would march out of on to the stage,” recalled keyboard player Rick Wakeman. “The crew hated it. It was impossible to cart around. One show, they took revenge. We strode along it, half noticing the sound of the audience was getting further away. Finally, we came to a halt by a large green exit sign. The crew had directed the tunnel away from the stage.”

7. Alice Cooper and the putrid python

Decades before Britney Spears’s notorious snake dance, horror show rocker Cooper’s favourite stage prop was a real life python, which he would carefully dangle around his neck. Or at least he did until the night the snake emptied its bowels everywhere. Cooper’s dancers – dressed as clowns – dashed on to clean the mess, Alas the stench made them throw up. Through it all the trojan Cooper kept singing

8. Black Sabbath’s monumental miscalculation

The famous Spinal Tap scene in which a miniature Stonehenge is lowered to the stage was actually inspired by a real life muck-up by Black Sabbath, when their prop designer confused “feet” with “metres”

“We had Sharon Osbourne’s dad, Don Arden, managing us. He came up with having the stage set be Stonehenge. He wrote the dimensions down and gave it to our tour manager,” recollected bassist Geezer Butler. “He wrote it down in metres, but meant to write it in feet. The people who made it saw 15m instead of 15ft. It was 45ft high and we just had to leave it in the storage area. It cost a fortune to make, but there was not a building on Earth that you could fit it into.”

9. Tommy Lee’s inverted world

Soon to be seen in fictional form in Disney +’s Pam & Tommy, Pamela Anderson’s ex-husband has long been renowned for his pyrotechnic drumming. But in 2015 a deafening set piece at the last ever show by his band, Mötley Crüe, went south as Lee was soaring over the crowd. The rollercoaster to which his drum kit was attached shuddered to a standstill, leaving the unfortunate percussionist hanging over the LA Staples Centre, and forced to awkwardly banter with fans upside-down as roadies clambered to the rescue.

10. Britney Spears’ frond farewell

Long before Adele and her controversial pool, Britney Spears was the big star lighting up Vegas. But she had her setbacks, too. Performing in January 2016, she became entangled in a plastic tree when her harness stuck in the faux foliage. A stagehand quickly scaled the structure and set her free, allowing Britney walk carefully down the steps – all while belting out Toxic.

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