From The Rolling Stones to The Cure: 10 concerts that ended in riots
We’re all still pining for a taste of live music and while the pandemic continues to keep us out of our favourite venues watching our favourite bands, there’s a huge part of us wishing to feel the buzz of the amplifiers, the electricity in the air and the spark on the stage sooner rather than later. However, sometimes things can go a little awry and crowds of adoring fans can quickly turn to mobs. Below, we’ve got 10 times that legendary shows have ended in riots.
Watching live music can sometimes be a tetchy thing to do. Not only is there a lot of jostling for position, a lot of close contact dancing and a serious amount of giddy abandon, usually they’re all fuelled with alcohol and excitement—a very potent cocktail. It’s easy to see how the odd explosion can occur, and it’s not just bands who have had a bad day at the office who can feel the wrath of a crowd turned mob, sometimes being a party-starting fire-breathing rock band can incite a riot just as easily, just ask The Rolling Stones.
We’ve got some huge names in music who have all felt the growing tempest of an angry crowd and make up our list of shows that have ended in riots. While not all of the artists mentioned can have the blame for inciting the mob squarely laid at their feet, some of them certainly had a hand in turning a free-loving concert into a rage-filled nightmare.
So, while we may be still hoping for concerts to return soon, we can all be glad that we weren’t in attendance at some of these terrifying shows.
Below we’ve got ten shows that ended in riots.
Bill Haley in Hamburg (1958)
Before London was really swinging in the 1960s there was one city in Europe that attracted some of the classic bands of the era, Hamburg. In 1958, Bill Haley & His Comets were performing in the city when violence erupted.
Midway through the band’s set, a group of teenagers began fighting with one another. It welcomed about 100 police officers to the venue in an aim to deter the band but any attempts to curtail the teens from scrapping fell short. The group continued to fight and now also began chucking objects at the officers.
In that same year, when Haley and the band visited Berlin and performed at the Sportpalast, they were again involved in trouble. A riot erupted in the venue and five police officers were badly injured in the fracas with six fans hospitalised. The riots were condemned widely across West Germany and in East Germany Haley was called a “rock and roll gangster,” who had an anti-socialist agenda.
The Rolling Stones in Blackpool (1964)
The Rolling Stones are one of those bands who in the early sixties welcomed a heavy amount of attention. The increased attention meant that their teen fans were often nearing hysterical states when they were finally given the opportunity to see Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards and the rest of the band in the flesh. However, sometimes the fans weren’t so appreciative.
On July 24th in 1964 the crowd turned and began spitting at the band. Keith Richards took exception to the flobby insult from a particular member of the crowd and trod on his hands before delivering a swift kick. Violence quickly erupted.
Angry fans, now brand new to these cocky Londoners, went berserk and began smashing the crystal chandeliers in the venue also tearing up the seats and even destroyed a grand piano. All told, 50 people ended up in the hospital with police with dogs having to calm the situation down.
The group were banned from ever performing in the city for four decades before the leader of Blackpool Council exonerated the Londoners: “Some sections of the crowd were outraged at the performance – they found it suggestive. Nowadays it would probably seem very normal, but back then the Rolling Stones were very new to the scene and it wasn’t something the fans were used to. A lot of people got very wound up. The crowd were hysterical and they went wild and trashed the ballroom.”
The Rolling Stones at Altamont Speedway (1969)
Often regarded as the moment the free love and creative spirit of the sixties died in front of our eyes, the riots that erupted at The Rolling Stones performance at California’s Altamont Speedway are an infamous reminder of concerts gone wrong. Things didn’t start off well for the group.
When they arrived at the event, a huge outdoor free festival put on by the band to kick start their next promotional run, Mick Jagger claimed they stepped off their helicopter to be confronted by a fan who screamed in his face: “I hate you!” and then punched him square in the mouth.
Things got much worse after the security team the band hired, a group of Hell’s Angels who were recommended by the Grateful Dead, began to take violence to new levels. Their way of controlling the crowd wasn’t to hold a strong line but to viciously beat the audience back with broken pool cues and their bloodied fists. There are many different accounts of what happened next but what we do know for sure is that a teenager by the name of Meredith Hunter was murdered by Hells Angel Alan Passaro who stabbed and killed him while The Rolling Stones performed for the huge crowd.
As the realisation of what had transpired broke out across the crowd as a wave and the death of the sixties went with it, The Rolling Stones escaped via helicopter and the free festival burned with rage below them.
Frank Zappa in Montreux (1971)
December 4th 1971, Frank Zappa and his mercurial band The Mothers of Invention were performing at the famous Montreux Casino in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Things were going as they usually did with Zappa shows, a myriad of different ways when during their encore a member of the crowd shot a firework at the band.
What may have been conceived as a family-friendly prank took a wrong turn when the Roman candle lodged in the ceiling of the venue and a canopy hanging from the balcony was ignited and the crowd were soon surrounded by flames. The balcony collapsed and as flames spread further, the crowd panicked.
As the temperature in both the crowd and the venue steadily increased, the need to escape grew ever more desperate. Zappa’s roadies smashed through a plate glass window to escape the blaze and helped the audience escape through the backstage. Thankfully, nobody was killed in the event and only a few had minor injuries, it had another true story attached too.
Among the escaped audience members was the band Deep Purple who, during the harrowing experience, were given the idea for the band’s biggest hit ‘Smoke on the Water’.
Suicide & Elvis Costello in Brussels (1978)
After punk had exploded in the mid-to-late seventies, the dynamics of performing live had shifted. No longer was the expectation so fully placed on the artist to entertain their audience. It had become a little bit more accepted that some band’s stage shows were a piece of performance art in their own right. One such event was when Alan Vega’s band Suicide opened up for Elvis Costello in Brussels back in 1978.
Suicide is certainly one of the more avant-garde bands to have ever graced the stage. The duo pulled no punches in 1978 when they performed with no guitars or drums, instead, they used repetitive synth loops with Vega delivering a monotone vocal performance that incensed the crowd. The audience responded with boos and heckling, eventually ending as the crowd stole Vega’s microphone.
When Costello took the stage for his headline performance he was just as angry with the crowd as they were with Suicide. He played a fast and furious set which he prematurely ended, clearly enraged by the audience. He walked off stage with venom and the crowd turned violent. Police soon arrived with tear gas to calm down the audience while Suicide would later release a bootleg titled 23 Minutes Over Brussels.
The Cure in Brussels (1982)
It would appear that there may be something in the wat in Brussels as The Cure have also fallen victim to the city. While all of the other entries on this list see the crowd losing their cool, in this case, it was The Cure who were certainly at fault. At the end of their now-infamous Pornography tour of 1982, Simon Gallup quit the band as an on-stage fight erupted in front of the audience.
Things had been difficult between Gallup and frontman Robert Smith for some time with a few incidents along the tour becoming part of the band’s iconography but they erupted in Brussels. They attempted to conclude their tour with a fourteen-minute jam titled ‘The Cure Is Dead’ when a member of the band’s entourage Gary Biddles grabbed the mic and let go a tirade of abuse aimed at Smith and Lol Tolhurst.
Smith reacted badly and three his sticks at the singer (he was playing the drums at the time) and a fight between pretty much all the members of the group ensued. It was enough to force Simon Gallup out of the band until he rejoined the group 3 years later.
The Jesus and Mary Chain at North London Polytechnic (1985)
“People were waiting for something to react to,” remembered The Jesus and Mary Chain frontman Jim Reid of the March performance at North London Polytechnic in 1985. “There was nothing around at the time: the early-80s was probably the lowest point in musical history. People wanted a bit of nastiness, trashiness. We kind of knew what we were up to. Some people were going to see what we were doing as genius, and some people were going to see it as an insult.”
It meant that the band ere ready to cause havoc whenever they stepped out on stage, often performing with a heavy dose of sardonic corrosion in their tone, sometimes even playing with their backs to the crowd. It was a facet of the group’s image and by the time they arrived at North London Poly, the scene was set for something to kick off.
The crowd lost their collective shit and began trashing the venue almost as soon as the band began their set. As they were whipped into a frenzy the fury continued and the PA was ripped down. Soon enough, violence engulfed the venue with a 40-man fight soon becoming bloody. The show cost an estimated £8,000 worth of damage.
It fast-tracked the band into the mainstream consciousness and made them a huge name overnight. It built up to the release of the band’s seminal album Psychocandy and marked out the Mary Chain as big stars for the future.
N.W.A. in Detroit (1989)
When N.W.A., one of the most incendiary groups to have ever existed, were due to perform at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit the tensions between the band and the local police was already at fever pitch. The group, which included Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and MC Ren, had just released their protest song ‘F*** tha Police’ and the furore around the song was growing each day.
Local police prohibited the song being performed in Detroit, suggesting doing so would incite a riot. As one might imagine, N.W.A. were never going to give in to those demands and performed the song anyway. The crowd bounced and swelled with heavy intensity and as a ‘gun’ went off (it was actually a firecracker) the police shut the venue down and arrested the group as soon as they arrived back at the hotel.
Straight Outta Compton the band’s biopic depicts the moment it all transpired with a dose of Hollywood glean, but the majority of facts are right. The film’s director, F. Gary Gray, told Buzzfeed: “It’s a pivotal moment because it’s one of the many moments where they stood up and they had the courage to say, ‘Freedom of speech applies to everyone in America, and we are not going to take this abuse. We’re just not going to do it.'”
Guns N’Roses in St Louis (1991)
Guns ‘N’ Roses brought their raucous show to St. Louis on July 2nd, 1991, and found themselves being banned from the city following a performance that is down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. Now, on reflection, the incident is known simply as the ‘Rocket Queen Riot’ which would see Axl Rose being arrested.
The notorious LA legends had already garnered a reputation for being unparalleled hell raisers and their show in St. Louis was about to be their most outrageous yet. The planned performance would lead to 65 people injured—which included 25 police officers—and saw an arrest warrant made for Rose. The warrant was later delayed until he returned from the European tour dates when he settled on two years probation as punishment.
The set had actually run smoothly—albeit by Guns ‘N’ Roses somewhat distorted standards—but that all changed during the fifteenth track of the night at the Riverport Amphitheatre during ‘Rocket Queen’. Rose’s temperament completely snapped when he clocked a fan filming the band, he furiously pointed his finger at the crowd and barked to security: “Wait, take that! Take that! Now! Get that guy and take that!”
The maverick frontman then took things into his own hands as he seized the camera, proceeded to assault members of the audience as well as the security team before being pulled out of the crowd by crew members. Rose then grabbed his microphone and said: “Well, thanks to the lame-ass security, I’m going home!” before slamming his microphone on to the stage and didn’t return.
The venue erupted into violence and turned what should have been a rock show into a bonafide nightmare. The crowd lost their mind but they were certainly pushed over the edge by the singer.
Pavement at Lollapalooza (1995)
Lollapalooza ’95 was a mess. The line-up hosted a strange range of artists from different walks of the musical landscape for an eclectic travelling circus. It saw the likes of Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Pavement, Sinead O’Connor, Beck and Coolio make their way around North America for six weeks. The wild-on stage antics of the Stephen Malkmus led tribe, however, almost put a premature end to the whole tour.
Although Pavement are almost universally adored today and can headline pretty much any festival on the planet, it was a different story in 1995. While they were firmly in their pomp that year following the release of Wowee Zowee, they were remarkably still relatively unknown to most people in attendance and were having to win over audiences as they toured the country.
The audiences they were facing were staunch rockers and the band’s lo-fi buzz was not winning many hearts along the way. On August 3rd things went very wrong indeed. “This band Pavement takes the stage, that 20 per cent of the crowd’s heard of, maybe. And they’re like to hell with these guys,” band member Bob Nastanovich added. The scene got ugly fast when ‘fans’ had enough and started bombarding the band with mud bombs, rocks or anything else they could get their hands on.
Pavement tried their hardest to continue and get through the set, collect the paycheque then go to the hotel. However, frontman Stephen Malkmus was then struck square in the chest by an unidentifiable weighty object.
Guitarist Scott Kannberg was fuming that his bandmate had been targetted so cruelly and his anger got the better of him when he not only flipped off the crowd but began mooning them before the band emphatically exited the stage. “Quite frankly, I think it could be safely said that Pavement is the band that effectively did in Lollapalooza,” Nastanovich defiantly stated