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Great Balls Of Fire

A huge rubber Satan
Has started inflatin'.
He towers up over the drums.
Pyrotechnics and stuff
Give a blast loud enough
To rattle your teeth from your gums.
This incredible set
Is the best vision yet
Of our stage designer's craft.
And it helps to distract
The crowd from the fact
That the music is really quite daft.
Mitch Benn, "Never Mind The Song (Look At The Stage Set)"

Hard rock bands, and especially "Hair Metal" bands, with their aura of "Greek gods walking the earth," sometimes have a rather unfortunate tendency to rely heavily upon special effects such as fog, lasers or, more commonly, Impressive Pyrotechnics in their videos and stage shows. It's as much about the visual BANG as it is the music, sometimes more so — anything to perpetuate the notion that these beings are so far above and beyond us mere mortal music consumers that they actually alter the very nature of the universe.

This attention to visual detail can be partly blamed on MTV, which transmogrified music from an audio medium to a visual one in the 1980s. Suddenly everything bright and flashy was in, anything simple and straightforward was right out; and as MTV grew in influence, music video budgets rose accordingly, allowing bands to afford more spectacular effects. That meant more explosions. Woo-hooo!!!

Of course, nowadays we look back on those days long gone, and remember only the teased hairdos and the flashing lights and Roman candles. The music? Not so much.

Oh, but don't misunderstand. Special effects in hard rock videos are very much here to stay. Now with 100% more Bullet Time and less 80s-style spark factories!

Of course, not everything is about fire and bombs. Some bands, in an attempt to make a memorable video or concert experience, might take a trip into the outre with weird stage shows, odd props, or bizarre dramatizations with members of the band, roadies or even the audience. When it comes down to making sure you come back next year to see what they'll do, nothing is off limits.

Compare Rockers Smash Guitars.

Note: It should be emphasized that the presence or absence of theatrics or special effects does not necessarily equate with the absence or presence of musical ability, nor vice-versa; the two can co-exist quite comfortably. This article is intended to have a light tone; let's keep it that way, shan't we?
Examples:

Alternative Rock
  • The Butthole Surfers love using these kind of effects in shows for serious Squick. Naked dancer, drum with a strobe light in it, films of such things as penis reconstruction surgery and gory driver's education films... apparently, Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary even had sex on stage once.

Avante Garde/Misc
  • During her 2003 live tour, Björk used firethrowers as a musical instrument(!)

Christian Rock
  • If you want to see this trope embodied to the fullest in music video form, watch the one for Skillet's "Hero". It consists of two things: random closeup shots of cops, firemen, marines and social workers ("heroes", you see) and the band playing in front of massive explosion after massive explosion. Oh, and it's raining for over half the video as well, but that doesn't stop all those GBOFs from going off undoused. To top it off, after cycling through every type of pyro in the rock and roll inventory, the video ends with a fucking mushroom cloud.

Classical
  • Perhaps the grand-pappy of this would be the 1812 Overture where outside performances sometimes use real artillery pieces for the bit with the cannon fire. (Da-dadadada-da-da-BOOM!)
    • Well, the piece was *written* to have Cannonfire included. None of this "let's add the theatrics afterwards" pandering.
  • The Music for the Royal Fireworks by Georg Friedrich Händel is an inversion of this trope, with the piece especially composed to accompany a great firework in London's Green Park in 1749. It is today still often used as background music to fireworks performances.

Country
  • Garth Brooks's concerts had some very impressive pyrotechnics, particularly at the Live in Central Park concert in 1997, where they set a spotlight on fire. Understandable, as he counted Queen as one of his inspirations.

Electronic
  • E Nomine's "Die Prophezeiung" video is a huge dramatization of the entire disc's lyrics, which range from satanist cults to cursed souls walking the earth.

Folk
  • Aversion: Not to mention every folk singer ever, but special mention must go to José Gonzalez, whose performances tend to be so quiet and unobtrusive that a journalist once described them as "anti-gig"s.

Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
  • A similar effect in Whitesnake's Dress Rehearsal Video for "Here I Go Again." Interestingly, lead singer David Coverdale gave an interview shortly thereafter in which he forswore the use of pyrotechnics altogether, saying he didn't want an explosion to get a bigger cheer than his own performance.
  • Def Leppard's 1983 tour featured more fireworks than a Fourth Of July celebration in Washington D.C. Understandable, though, as the album was titled Pyromania.
  • Badlands' "Winter's Call" video features the band performing in the midst of a forest fire. Oh yes, and random explosions. In the forest.
  • Gene Simmons of Kiss is most famous for breathing fire during their shows.
    • How can we forget Ace Frehley of Kiss playing a guitar while it was on fire? Or his rocket launcher guitar?
  • Pretty much anything by Quiet Riot and Iron Maiden.
  • Poison videos utilized not only pyro, but also glitter and confetti.
  • Bon Jovi's video for "You Give Love a Bad Name" has GBOF all the way through.
  • Queensr˙che's "Building Empires" tour featured wall-sized twin projection screens on which relevant imagery could be displayed. These screens were a hold-over from the videos for their previous album, Operation Mindcrime, and were utilized in a presentation of Mindcrime in its entirety (this formed the basis of the Operation:Livecrime video and album set).
  • Most of Alice Cooper's repertoire is more about theatrics than the music. And he makes it work.
    • The main difference between an Alice Cooper gig and a Motorhead gig is that the blood your clothes get covered in at the former washes off in warm water...
    • By the way, Alice invented this stuff. He's vaudeville. Which is why Groucho was such a fan.
  • Korn's "Coming Undone" video comes to mind, in which they rock so hard the sky actually collapses.
  • Somewhere between the monster masks, blood/semen splatter and explosions, GWAR apparently plays music as well.
    • From Questionable Content:
      "[Drumming is like] counting with your whole body."
      "Yeah... well, not your whole body. Unless you want to, I don't know, fart on a gong every sixteenth measure... I think Gwar do something like that."
  • A Finnish band named Lordi. First of all every member of the band has an elaborate monster costume. When they participated in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 (which they won, by the way), there was some discussion about would their pyrotechnics be safe to use. They got to use them in the end. Videos of their song "Hard Rock Hallelujah" are easy to find on Youtube, though the compression quality is likely to render them as bloody vomit.
  • David Lee Roth's tour to support A Little Ain't Enough featured plastic moulded Pans (little half-man half-goats) on a Lazy Susan-type carousel; these Pans squirted booze out into the audience. I don't think I need to tell you where the booze squirted out from.
  • And then there was Mötley Crüe, with Tommy Lee's "flying drum solo."
  • Rammstein (ab)uses this one so much that lead singer Till Lindemann is a licensed pyrotechnician. Fans of the band have coined the motto "Other bands play, Rammstein BURNS!" The band have also added that they also do it because almost all of their songs are in German, and they have to hold the attention of the non-German speaking fans.
  • Manowar is no stranger to the magic of pyrotechnics.
  • In one of the smaller tragedies to strike Metallica on tour (i.e. no bandmates died) James Hetfield stepped too close to the pyro effects during a performance, and was burned on his arm and hand. He recovered eventually, but had to have a roadie sub in for his guitar playing for any remaining dates. The moral? According to the roadie, "Learn all the band's songs, because you never know!"
    • During a later Metallica tour, they would stage a fake-catastrophe where the stage would collapse on itself and a stuntman would run across the stage on fire. Then they'd come out onto the "wreckage" of the stage and keep playing. It can be seen near the end of the "Cunning Stunts" DVD.
  • In the mid-70s, there was a band called Thor, where the planned emphasis would be almost ENTIRELY on pyro and other stagecraft- to the point that the tour was to come before any album release. The touring company went bankrupt developing new special effects and stocking up on things like fireworks- the tour was scrapped and Thor disbanded without ever performing one of the shows, or releasing anything larger than an EP.
  • A central tendency of Metalocalypse is for Dethklok's concerts to typically wind up causing impressive body counts. In one episode, for example, the band's unnamed adopted child plays with the controls to the laser light show and winds up murdering a good part of the audience and the entire London Philharmonic orchestra. Other concerts included Dethklok's attempt at a blues concert (so depressing that it could be likened to the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark), and the episode where Dethklok accidentally summons a troll (which proceeds, of course, to go on a bloody rampage). One wonders how Dethklok has a fanbase considering that anyone becoming involved with them, in any way, has a tendency to die in an exceptionally brutal fashion.
    • Because they are so very metal. No, really.
    • "Accidentally" summons a troll? I'm pretty sure they were trying to summon it.
    "Now, we've never tried to summon a lake troll from the Finnish Necronomicon, so please bear with us. Here goes..."
    • That is the quote from the album, but in the original episode, they were merely attempting to apologize for a disastrous previous tour of Finland by writing them a new national anthem, with lyrics taken from the Finnish Necronomicon.
  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra has one of the most impressive light and pyrotechnic shows known to man.
  • JAM Project has a habit of spicing up their songs' instrumental introductions with fire and lasers when in concert. During the song, they prefer to rely on stage presence, Hot Bloodedness, and raw energy. The combination is a working formula.
  • Nine Inch Nails. The Lights in the Sky tour. Full stop. Killer performance. Stunning light show. Need more be said?
  • Slightly different direction, perhaps, but the Animusic rendition of "Pictures at an Exhibition" features fireworks.
  • Slipknot's bonus drummers are heavily involved with the design and creation of their custom pyro sets. Rather than a huge, glorious shower of sparks, it's an array of ugly, burnt-out steel cans spitting red flames.
  • In 2003, a band called Great White playing at a not particularly large nightclub in Rhode Island called The Station decided to use a fair amount of pyrotechnics on the very first song. Soundproofing foam around the stage ignited. 100 people were killed, including the band's drummer, and over 200 were injured. Kind of puts in perspective the comedic fictional use of people dying....
    • We should be fair - the band were exonerated, their management and the venue management were at fault for the tragedy.
  • Disturbed's tour's tend to one-up the last in this trope. The 2005-2006 tour used pyrotechnics, the 2008-2009 had their singer being lowered onto the stage from a giant medallion in the shape of their Believe album's symbol and the 2010-2011 went with a wall of video screens depicting scenes and images in time with the music and often relevant to the lyrics. All of this with the usual smoke and lights.
  • J-rockers Guitar Wolf had a flaming microphone in their in-movie concert in Wild Zero.
  • Abbath of Immortal would interrupt shows to fire breathe. Unfortunately, this was stopped at least in the U.S. after the Great White fire tragedy.
  • Shinedown does really like this trope.

Pop
  • Indian singer Daler Mehndi uses this in his "Tunak Tunak Tun" video. At one point, he even picks up a CGI fireball and throws it at the camera.
    • Conversely, some of his other videos (such as "Shaa Ra Ra") consist entirely of a still picture of him with the music playing in the background, and no movement at all.
  • In his video for "Just A Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody", David Lee Roth parodies many videos and video tropes, including a pyro going off and setting the guitar player on fire.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's intro song, the aptly named "Eternal Blaze" by Nana Mizuki, will always be accompanied by bursts of flames shooting all around her whenever she performs it on a live concert.
  • Michael Jackson was well-known for using pyrotechnics, as well as dance moves (obviously), costumes changes, and trap doors. At the end of each concert during the Dangerous Tour he switched places with a stunt double who flew off in a real jet pack. Never mind that in 1984, during the making of a Pepsi commercial, a loose spark hit Michael's hair and engulfed him in flames before crew members smothered it.

Rock
  • Pyrotechnics became so ubiquitous in the mid- to late-80s that at the 1987 MTV Music Video Awards, a bomb blast was used during the performance of Los Lobos' "La Bamba." "La frickin' Bamba," people!
  • And don't forget Pink Floyd's "flying pig."
    • Variations have included a flying hospital bed and an actual (model) airplane, which — yes — crashed into the stage and exploded.
  • Even Elvis Presley wasn't immune, and he died four years (almost to the day) before MTV.
  • All live Paul McCartney versions of "Live and Let Die" include explosions. What sort depends on the show: the pyrotechnics have ranged from smoke pots to huge rocket firecrackers. On occasion, the huge rockets had been placed dangerously close to the piano Paul was using—though clearly nothing's gone wrong on that front yet.
  • Muse. That's what we need to say.
  • Famous aversion: Dire Straits deliberately avoided on-stage theatrics during their shows. When they played small venues, they often turned the volume down so people could talk to each other.
  • In an early example, a 1967 performance by The Who on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was capped off by Keith Moon igniting a pyrotechnic charge he'd smuggled inside his bass drum. The charge, which Moon had made himself, proved so powerful that it temporarily blacked out the studio cameras and singed Pete Townshend's hair, and the sudden explosion caused Bette Davis to faint backstage.
  • Ok Go are the geeky subtrope. Pyrotechnics, no. Spectacular setpieces, oh yes.
  • While U2 have never used actual pyrotechnics, when your stages look like THIS, you don't need 'em.
    • Similarly, David Bowie's Diamond Dogs Tour (1974) and Glass Spider Tour (1987) each received a lot of hype for their huge sets. The former's set was so expensive that the cost figured into the choice to dispense with it halfway through the tour. The latter tour, with its mega-set combined with an eccentric dance troupe and stage antics that included Bowie flying about at one point, was seen as over-the-top even by the standards of The Eighties.
  • Just take one look at the "Famous Last Words" music video by My Chemical Romance. Wow.
  • In the movie biography of Jerry Lee Lewis (titled Great Balls Of Fire), he's depicted as setting a piano on fire during a performance of the eponymous song after finding out that Chuck Berry's contract stipulated that he, not Lewis, would be the closing act, then walking off and telling Berry "Follow that". However, this should perhaps be in the fictional category below: Lewis himself says he never set a piano on fire, though he did indicate that the idea appealed to him.

Fictional Examples
  • Parodied rather fiercely in the Discworld novel Soul Music, where most of the bands that spring up in the wake of The Band With Rocks In are absolutely dreadful, because they think Music With Rocks In is about the image rather than actually being able to play music. This is especially true of a quartet of teenagers known as Crash, Jimbo, Scum, and Noddy, who can't even decide on a name for their band for more than a day or two at most and don't even have the talent to be So Bad, It's Good.
    • Hell, they didn't even have the talent to rate as the other reaction. Horrible music would at least have been music.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones, whose concerts are so loud and overblown that they typically end up killing everything within forty miles, especially anybody unfortunate enough to be aboard the ship that crashes into the sun. In at least one case, a concert of theirs even turns a desert planet into a lush paradise. The Guide notes that real fans prefer to listen to the concerts from inside nuclear proof bunkers, 50 km away, underground while wearing ear plugs.
  • All of this is parodied, of course, by the titular band in This Is Spinal Tap.
    • However, their drummers blowing up are apparently not due to pyrotechnics, but rather to spontaneous human combustion. This has happened to at least two of them; the others died under equally bizarre circumstances.
  • The video game Brütal Legend combines this with Magic Music: Guitar solos cause cataclysmic events, stage lights burn people and pyrotechnics do damage in combat.
  • Invoked in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Klavier's guitar goes up in a blaze when he is playing, surprising everyone, including him. He is later heard angrily asking the staff why he wasn't told. It turns out that Daryan Crescend had rigged it with a remote incendiary trigger to destroy evidence of smuggling. It is also noted that the crowd felt the timing of the fire was perfect (It happened right at the lyric "Burn my love away")
    Klavier: I play new rock, not Great Balls of Fire!
  • The Midnight Riders from Left 4 Dead 2 are said to have the best pyrotechnics in the business. The survivors use the fireworks to signal a rescue chopper.
  • In Alan Wake, the band The Old Gods of Asgard were apparently quite fond of pyrotechnics, which turns out to come in handy for fighting creatures that are weak to light.
  • Classical example: in Mr. Holland's Opus, the school orchestra gives a concert with unusually many lighting effects (no pyrotechnics, but lots of flashing spotlights). Mr Holland is trying to help hearing impaired children, like his own son, to experience the music.

Finger On LipsMusic Video TropesHitler Cam
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Gravity Is a Harsh MistressThis Index Is Not An ExampleGrimmification
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