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Five for Friday: Artists Involved in Mayhem

Rock n' roll has always held hints of danger, be they the Rolling Stones' dalliances the devil, the Velvet Underground's tales of urban depravity, or Kiss' villainous, comic-book-like approach. But sometimes, live music actually becomes hazardous. Twenty-six years ago this month, rock giants Guns N' Roses caused chaos in St. Louis. They weren't the first, and no doubt will be the last, to be involved in a riot-like situation. As the group prepares later this month to play its first show in St. Louis since the incident, we take a look back at five artists involved in mayhem. We'd also like to note that riots are nothing to celebrate, and left any event that resulted in true tragedy off of this list.

Guns N' Roses
In the summer of 1991, Guns N' Roses was not only one of the biggest rock bands on the planet but boasted a deserved reputation as one of music's most volatile artists. That's no slight: As the sextet geared up to release its third and fourth studio albums (Use Your Illusion I and II), GNR had become adept at concocting sonic mayhem. While leader Axl Rose seemed to many a loose cannon, he also proved enigmatic – a tightly wound lightning bolt that could strike at any time. He certainly didn't have a good time July 2, 1991, in St. Louis. Performing at what was then the brand-new Riverport Amphitheater (the GNR date was the venue's third show), Rose and company were on fire for the first 80 minutes of the show. But then, during an intense "Rocket Queen," Rose spied an audience member taking photos and opted to respond with his fists. After slamming security, Rose left the stage, the house lights came on, fans rushed the stage, and caused tens of thousands of dollars in damages. Check the Use Your Illusion liner notes for the band's feelings toward the city.

The Doors
Here's one for trivia: Who was the first rock artist to be arrested on stage? The distinction belongs to Jim Morrison, who during a 1967 performance in New Haven, Connecticut tangled with police on more than one occasion. While theatrically gloomy on record, the Doors could be more vicious live. As the legend goes, Morrison, before the show, became intimate with a friend backstage. But police didn't recognize him as the a bandleader and tried to kick him out. Morrison mouthed off, and the next thing he knew, had been sprayed with mace. Later, during the concert – specifically amidst the bluesy strut of "Back Door Man" – Morrison supposedly opted to regale the audience with the tale of his tussle rather than sing the lyrics. The cops were not amused, and took to the stage to remove the microphone from Morrison's hands. The audience wasn't smiling, either. Soon, wooden chairs went flying and a number of fans rushed to the police station to plead for Morrison's release. The Doors' funky, light-stepping "Peace Frog" was later inspired by the incident.

Jethro Tull
Near the start of Jethro Tull's June 1971 show at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside of Denver, multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Ian Anderson is said to have quipped, "Welcome to World War III." While an overstatement, the British progressive rock act's concert was indeed marred by helicopter activity and tear gas. Problems started long before the show began when an estimated 1,500-2,000 people without tickets arrived at the outdoor venue. Police directed them to a mountain overlook. That's when reports differ as to what happened next. Some of the ticketless, apparently, started lobbing rocks at police. Officials said fans themselves tossed tear gas. Nevertheless, the drama escalated. To calm the unruly crowd, and prevent people from rushing into the venue, authorities summoned a teargas-dispensing helicopter. The fumes wafted into the amphitheater, affecting the band and paid attendees. But Tull played on, with its blend of hard rock and spirituality soothing enough nerves to keep things from getting too out of hand.

Led Zeppelin
Mix unpredictable Florida weather (rain + heat + humidity) with 70,000 or so Led Zeppelin fans and a heavily truncated concert, and bad things can happen. Many fans heavily anticipated Zeppelin's June 1977 concert at Tampa Stadium, as diehards arrived when doors opened at noon for an 8:15 p.m. show. Midway into the thunderous, stop-and-start anthem of "Nobody's Fault But Mine," lightning flashes and a massive thundershower forced the band to leave the stage. Singer Robert Plant promised a brief, weather-related intermission, but by 9:15 p.m., the quartet had left and the clouds had parted. A half hour of pandemonium ensued. Fans rushed the stage and got into a melee with overmatched police officers. Nearly three-dozen concertgoers were treated for injuries at a local hospital. But police didn't blame the fans. "What happened last night was the fault of the Led Zeppelin," a Tampa police spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times. "We tried to tell them the rain would blow right over. They didn't treat this area or the people here very well and they (the fans) are going to remember that."

Kanye West
When Kanye West's appearance at New York festival Governor's Ball in 2016 got rained out, the superstar rapper perhaps had his best intentions in mind when he wanted to immediately schedule make-up gig. In hindsight, West and his team should have slept on such plans. Word started leaking in the early evening that West was due to perform selections from The Life of Pablo at a surprise gig in the early morning hours. Just after 11 p.m., representatives confirmed West would appear at the 1,500-capacity Webster Hall at 2 a.m. It wasn't meant to be. A reported 4,000 fans descended on the blocks surrounding the venue. Confusion ensued. Some said the show was sold out. Others insisted West would play on city streets. While a riot never transpired, the crush of fans proved dangerous. Many later noted they were unable to move – or were nervous about being able to breathe. Sometime after 2:30 a.m., West showed up, met with some fans, and drove off.

July 14, 2017

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