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.
His performance left Rose’s bandmates in an awkward predicament, leaving Slash to think on his feet which, admittedly, wasn’t a great idea as he panicked and informed the crowd: “He just smashed the microphone. We’re out of here.” This understandably infuriated the audience who then set off on a mass three-hour riot in which resulted in dozens being injured.
Rose later claimed to have seen a biker from a local gang called the Saddle Tramps taking photos on a contraband camera which is why the security let it slide. “The security guys knew exactly what was happening and they were doing everything they could to let that guy go,” the singer recalled before adding: “Which fuelled my fire to make sure that didn’t happen.”
Local journalist Daniel Durchholz was in attendance that night and would discuss the catastrophe with Billboard, divulging: “A fire hose was rolled out on stage, the idea being to blast anyone who dared try and break the cops’ perimeter. Unbeknownst to them, there was almost no water pressure. One man jumped onstage and stepped into the ineffective stream, then pulled down his pants and waved his penis at the cops.”
Adding: “We watched as revellers swung from cables underneath the 60-ton sound and light rig, which lurched sickeningly from side-to-side. A tech told us, ‘If that rig comes down, there will be massive death’.”
Fortunately there would be no fatalities unlike that horrific night at Donnington in 1988 when two fans of Guns ‘N’ Roses wouldn’t return home from the concert. This tragic memory was at the forefront of guitarist Izzy Stradlin’s mind who later stated: “When something like that happens, you can’t help but think back to Donington. What’s to stop us having some more people trampled, because the singer doesn’t like something?”
The band would then be banned from St. Louis and made their thoughts on the place clear when they released Use Your Illusion I and II‘s artwork that featured a message in their ‘Thank You’ notes that simply read: “Fuck You, St. Louis!”
Guns ‘N’ Roses would finally make their long-awaited return on July 27, 2017, on the Not in This Lifetime… Tour following their ban now being an ancient memory.