For a period of time in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it seems like a rite of passage for heavy metal bands to have a riot at one of your concerts; and Judas Priest was no exception to this rule. The group was banned from performing at Madison Square Garden after a tumultuous evening on June 18th, 1984 that involved assorted fireworks and enough foam cushion stuffing to reupholster the entire borough of Manhattan.
“The horrible thing is that if we did play Madison Square Garden, there would be some enthusiast who was there from the original riot with his pen knife out. It would start all over again! So, it’s probably best,” mused Rob Halford.
Judas Priest was on a whirlwind tour in support of Defenders Of The Faith, and one of the most anticipated dates was naturally in New York at the famed Madison Square Garden. Legend says that the crowd grew unruly while local DJ Perry Stone ran off an introductory announcement about upcoming concerts including decidedly non-metal acts such as Neil Diamond, which culminated in a series of harsh words and Stone being pelted by beer bottles and fireworks.
However, it’s important to note that this story is a point of contention among attendees. Concert photographer Bob Leafe has said on his blog: “I have no idea who the hell Perry Stone is, but he’s full of shit. I was in the pit to shoot opener Great White that night and I think I would have remembered if ‘firecrackers, M-80s, cherry bombs, and beer bottles’ were thrown at him because I would have been hit and the photographers would have angrily exited posthaste. You can bet we would have raised a HUGE stink if anything like that actually happened and we’d still be talking about it today.
You can also bet that I would have written pretty pissed-offedly about it on bobleafe.com when I launched the site in 2004, because I wrote about everything else I shot back then, including almost everyone on your classic rockers list. And I would certainly know who Perry Stone was. The problem is, it never happened.”
An unruly 20-song set ensued, culminating in two encores. Regardless if it was triggered by an obnoxious DJ or just pent-up excitement, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that the venue sustained serious damage. Fireworks can be heard in bootleg recordings and photographic evidence shows seat cushions littering the front of the stage. Rob Halford speaks of the incident in his book Confess: The Autobiography, saying: “It was a great, regular gig until the encore. As we came back on and I began wailing ‘Living After Midnight,’ I caught sight, out of the corner of my eye, of a flying object. Huh? What was that? And here came another one … and another one …. As the song ended, I glanced behind me and saw a pile of foam seat covers from the auditorium cluttering the stage. I looked out into the venue, and the air was black with more seats flying toward us. One or two of them appeared to be alight.
I ran offstage and jumped on my Harley for ‘Hell Bent for Leather.’ By the time I rode it onstage, it was like trying to motorbike through a floor-level soft-furnishings jumble sale. There were more seat cushions on the stage than in the arena. What the fuck? Two thoughts filled my head: a) This is fantastic! Our own riot! And b) They’re never gonna let us play this place again!
Glenn, Ken [Downing] and Ian [Hill] were by now bouncing on foam to play, as there was no bare stage left. Ken later said that it had been like playing guitar on a trampoline. After a quick ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,’ we scarpered offstage and hid.
Madison Square Garden later said, and the press repeated with great relish, that our fans had done $250,000 worth of damage. We didn’t do a thing to instigate the riot, but we got a lifetime ban from the venue. They figured we were more trouble than we were worth.”
In an interview with Loudwire, longtime Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton added a funny postscript to the story: “Me and Ken went there to watch [John] McEnroe play tennis in some indoor tennis championship. We went in hoodies, because we had been banned from Madison Square. Halfway through the tennis match, one of the ushers came down and he went, ‘Thanks for the new seats.'”
Halford added: “They wouldn’t have had new seats without Priest.”
The ban is still in effect…