Rock Stars vs. Fans: 18 Times Things Got Ugly
The relationship between rock stars and their fans is designed to be symbiotic: One pours their heart out onstage, and the other cheers along and is entertained. Yet, things don’t always adhere to the plan.
Hecklers have existed since the dawn of music. Some concertgoers seem hellbent on climbing onstage with artists, security be damned. Other fans take joy in throwing things at performers.
Such antics have led many of music's biggest stars to lose their cool, verbally berating members of the audience or – in extreme cases – getting into physical altercations with fans. While many of the incidents can be blamed on unruly attendees, performers can be at fault, too, as you'll see in the below list of Rock Stars vs. Fans: 18 Times Things Got Ugly.
Not surprisingly, given his reputation, Axl Rose has exploded at fans on several occasions. Arguably the most infamous example took place on July 2, 1991, in St. Louis. The Guns N’ Roses singer became irate when he spotted an audience member taking photos and instructed security to stop him. When staff didn’t move fast enough, the singer took matters into his own hands. "I'll take it, goddamn it!" Rose exclaimed as he launched himself into the crowd. He then tackled the photographer and grabbed the camera, striking a few innocent bystanders in the process. After returning to the stage, Rose insulted the “lame-ass security,” threw his microphone down and stormed off the stage. The concert was over and angry fans soon began rioting, leaving dozens injured.
When fans engage in childish antics, artists suddenly find themselves in the role of disciplinarian. Such was the case for Roger Waters during Pink Floyd’s 1977 performance in Montreal. Waters was just beginning the acoustic Animals song “Pigs on the Wing” when a couple of concertgoers decided to light off some firecrackers. “Oh, for fuck's sake. Stop setting off fireworks and shouting and screaming. I’m trying to sing this song,” Waters announced. “I mean, I don’t care if you don’t want to hear it. Fuck it. I’m sure there are a lot of people here who do want to hear it. So why don’t you just be quiet? If you want to let your fireworks off, go outside and let them off out there.”
As the Rolling Stones were wrapping up their performance in Hampton, Virginia, on Dec. 18, 1981, an unexpected guest joined them onstage. The group was making its way through a rendition of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” when a fan suddenly appeared next to them. Keith Richards responded by bludgeoning the stranger with his guitar, hitting him multiple times before security whisked the intruder away. Richards then proceeded to return to playing as if nothing had happened. Details around the story differ; in one version, the fan was allegedly trying to take some clothing the guitarist had tossed aside. Still, Richards insisted he acted the way he did to protect Mick Jagger. “The only reason I did it was because the security was not there. They were two steps behind,” Richards recalled. “I am watching Mick’s back. I don’t know where this guy is gonna go. … You know it’s a kind of automatic, instinctive thing. … I just watched my man’s back.”
David Lee Roth
In 2012, Van Halen hit the road in support of their 12th album, A Different Kind of Truth. During a performance in Manchester, New Hampshire, singer David Lee Roth brought things to a halt just as the band was playing “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” Roth turned his attention to one unruly person in the crowd. “Knock off the fucking fighting. Fuck you!” Roth screamed. “What do you think this is, a fucking mosh pit? You've got all the best-looking women on the fucking East Coast here and all you can fucking think of is fucking fighting?” The rest of the audience gave Roth a loud applause. And, with the offender sufficiently embarrassed, Van Halen started “(Oh) Pretty Woman” once more from the top.
Even the nicest guy in rock can be pushed too far. In 2011, Foo Fighters were touring in the U.K. While performing the acoustic song "Skin and Bones" – which, it should be noted, is not an aggressive song – Dave Grohl spotted a fan fighting in the crowd. He immediately halted the show and called out the instigator. “You don’t fucking fight at my show, you asshole,” Grohl declared. “Let me see him. It’s that fucking guy in the striped shirt right there. Hey, motherfucker, look at you. … Get the fuck out of my show right now!” Grohl’s words were cheered by the audience as the unruly fan was led away. “You don’t come to my show and fight. You come to my show and fucking dance, you asshole.”
You expect to see a certain amount of theatrics at a Kiss concert. Lasers from the stage? Sure. Lasers from the crowd? Not so much. During a 2009 performance in Portland, Oregon, frontman Paul Stanley stopped what he was doing to call out a fan who was shining a laser pointer on his face. “If y’all want to see me shove a laser pen up some motherfucker’s ass, it’s that guy right there,” he declared, pointing into the upper level of the crowd. Stanley addressed the disrespectful fan directly, saying, “Go back home, turn on your XXX channels and pull out your Playboy magazines, but don’t come back to see us again.”
During his 2023 Live and in Person tour, John Mellencamp made it clear that he didn’t want fans screaming from the audience. One person in particular didn’t take the warning to heart. “Play the fucking music” the man yelled following a comment from Mellencamp criticizing the United States. In anger, Mellencamp addressed the rest of the audience. "Listen, hey, you guys, if these people don't shut the fuck up, I'm just going to leave, OK?" Mellencamp said. "Because I'm not used to this crap. Look, guys, if I wanted to play in this type of drunken environment, I'd play outside or I'd play in an arena."
During a 2008 festival performance in Oslo, Norway, Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme snapped when he was hit by a bottle thrown from the crowd. “Do me one favor: Don’t throw any shit at me,” Homme, who was battling an illness during the gig, announced to the audience. “If you throw something at me, I’m not so sick that I can’t go down there and beat the fucking shit out of you.” True to his word, Homme then called out the man in the audience who had allegedly thrown the bottle. The frontman went on a tirade, using extremely vulgar language. When the audience member was brought close to the stage, Homme threw a bottle back at him and had the fan removed. "Go back to your mom’s house, you 12-year-old dickless fucking turd," the singer yelled as security escorted the concertgoer away.
Here’s a crazy idea: Maybe fans should stop throwing stuff at bands. A projectile was the ignition to a 2000 incident with AC/DC guitarist Angus Young. The book AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll detailed how it all went down. “At an AC/DC show in Phoenix, Arizona, a fan throws a glass of beer at guitarist Angus Young halfway through the breakdown of 'Badboy Boogie.' Angus walks over and points the guy out to security. Another drink then drenches Angus, who furiously takes his guitar off and lowers himself down to the fan.” While it certainly seemed like Young was going to punch the fan in the face, he instead grabbed the guy’s nose and twisted it. After “a few choice words” the fan was escorted out, while Young returned to his guitar playing.
Bruce Dickinson has been known to rip up posters asking for show requests - not exactly the kindest of audience interactions. Still, the Iron Maiden singer adores his fans and will come to their aid when needed. Case in point: At a 2013 Maiden show in Las Vegas, the band was mid-set when Dickinson began screaming down at a man in the front row, who’d purportedly been harassing one of the female fans. “Hey, fat boy!” the singer boomed. “Yeah, the big fat white Anglo motherfucker here. You're outta here. Yeah ... why don't you fuckin' pick on someone your own size instead of picking on girls, all right?”
Much has been made of Kurt Cobain’s struggles to deal with Nirvana’s rapid fame in the early ‘90s. One of the singer’s most significant issues came with watching his fan base change. Cobain was liberal, a staunch feminist and a supporter of the LGBTQ community. As Nirvana became the world’s biggest rock band, Cobain watched many of the types of people he’d formerly raged against now standing in his audiences. “If any of you hate homosexuals, people of different colors or women, do us a favor and don’t listen to our music,” he memorably wrote in the liner notes to the band’s outtakes and B-sides compilation Insecticide. He was also known to call out misogynists at Nirvana’s shows. At a 1993 concert, he saw a female fan getting sexually assaulted near the front of the stage. Cobain immediately put down his guitar, rushed over and stopped what was happening. He then had the man kicked out. The other members of Nirvana then publicly humiliated the assaulter as he was being led away.
Performances by Jim Morrison were rarely drama-free, especially toward the end of his career, and on multiple occasions, the Doors singer clashed with fans. On March 1, 1969, things got especially unruly during a stop in Miami. “You’re all a bunch of fucking idiots, letting people tell you what you’re gonna do!” the singer screamed at the crowd. “You’re all a bunch of slaves, letting everybody push you around.” Morrison’s tirade continued on and on, eventually eliciting boos from the audience. The night would prove notorious for Morrison. At the same show, he allegedly exposed himself to fans and was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and public drunkenness.
Maynard James Keenan
Tool’s brand of impassioned prog-metal has fostered one of the most dedicated followings in music. But that doesn’t mean their fans’ decisions are always wise. In 1997, one man made the dubious choice to jump onstage and attempt to hug frontman Maynard James Keenan while he was performing the song “Pushit.” For those keeping score at home, Keenan is an Army veteran who practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so he’s probably not the best guy to approach uninvited. Sure enough, Keenan then body-slammed the fan to the ground and wrapped his arms and legs around him in a defensive hold. He performed the rest of the song like that.
The Gallagher brothers have enough history of turmoil between them that they don’t need fans getting involved. During a rare point when Liam and Noel were on speaking terms, Oasis hit the road for touring throughout 2008. During a stop at the Virgin Festival in Toronto, a fan somehow got onstage and tackled Noel as the group was performing “Morning Glory.” The man then lurched at Liam but was restrained by security before he could get to the singer. Liam went to punch the attacker but was held back by staff members. Oasis walked off the stage and seemed to be done for the night, but remaining fans lured the band back by cheering “Fuck that guy!” Oasis finished their set, but Noel was later diagnosed with a fractured rib as a result of the incident.
Messing with an artist while they’re performing is one thing; messing with their family is another. In 2014, Sebastian Bach stopped his set in the middle of a song after witnessing someone in the audience pushing his elderly mother. “Hey, you wanna fucking stop the show?” the former Skid Row singer yelled. “That's my fucking mother right there, you jack-off! I'm gonna fucking beat your fucking face in! Don't fuck around with my fucking mother if you fucking wanna get out of here alive! Don't anybody fucking touch my fucking mother or I'll jump right the fuck in here. Fucking Google that shit.”
The Black Crowes
If you’re still not convinced that jumping onstage is a bad idea, here’s another exhibit of what can happen, courtesy of the Black Crowes. During a 2022 stop in Melbourne, the band was performing "Stare it Cold” when a man climbed onstage and started running toward the band. Security tried to intercept him, but the burly intruder knocked one person off the stage and spun away from another. Singer Chris Robinson then jabbed the fan with his microphone stand. When that didn’t stop him, Rich Robinson bludgeoned the man in the chest with his guitar. “Throw that motherfucker out, right? You get the fuck out of here!” Rich declared before the Black Crowes started back up.
Even at the best of times, Courtney Love has been somewhat wild. Still, certain things seem to rile up the Hole frontwoman. One of them is her late husband, Kurt Cobain. During a 2011 concert in Brazil, Love was incensed to see a fan near the front of the stage holding up a picture of the Nirvana icon. “Oh, shit, this is fucking hard,” she declared. “You know, I don’t need to see a picture of Kurt, asshole. And I’m gonna have you fucking removed if you keep throwing that up. I'm not Kurt. I have to live with his fucking shit and his ghost and his kid every day. Throwing that up is stupid and rude, and I’m gonna beat the fuck out of you if you do it again.” With a few more f-bombs and a middle finger in the air, Love stormed offstage.
The Cult frontman Ian Astbury is a practicing Buddhist, and given the religion’s pacifist nature, it’s rare that he gets tangled in confrontations. Still, an exception happened in 2022 when he threw down his mic and ventured into the crowd to break up an altercation between fans. After admonishing one audience member and hugging another, he returned to the stage. “Brother, never ever put a chokehold on somebody,” Astbury announced, eyes still fixated on the man in the crowd. “It’s not fucking cool. That’s what the pig does! We don’t want to see that.” The fan was reportedly removed from the show soon afterward.