The support slot, for a band with a lesser profile than the headlining artist, can be a real boon for a musician or band. But it can also be the kiss of death. A headlining artist wants a good support act that can help warm up the crowd but yet not overshadow the main act. The support act welcomes the opportunity to strut their stuff for an audience generally much larger than what they could pull on their own. Sometimes the support acts are carefully chosen and compliment the musical style of the headline act and at other times they can be so incongruous as to create an ambivalent or even impatient crowd.
Dark Fair, were an act I saw recently supporting They Might Be Giants. As They Might Be Giants are quirky New Yorkers who are all about servicing melody, a punk pop duo were a strange choice and were not enthusiastically received. In another context they may have had an entirely different reception. Others that I thought were a mismatch over the years include Machine Gun Fellatio supporting KISS and 80s one hit wonders the Allniters supporting fading 60s modsters the Troggs.
Sometimes though the story can be completely different. At the same gig where KISS were mismatched with Machine Gun Fellatio, Grinspoon proved a very apt choice. As did Jeff Lang with Eric Clapton and Josh Pyke and Clare Bowditch supporting Paul Kelly. Occasionally an act can be discovered through its support slot and some of the best examples for me were Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes supporting Mumford & Sons in Hobart this year and Bright Eyes when supporting R.E.M. back in 2005.
Rarer still is the double headline act where one agrees to support the other, like when AC/DC did a couple of gigs supporting the Rolling Stones, or where they swap each night as on the Powderfinger/Silverchair Across The Great Divide tour. Although a real bonus for the audience these types of gigs are most likely rare for a reason. Usually because an established act doesn’t want to play second fiddle to anyone but when it does happen it can be magic.