The 11 Biggest Onstage Rock Star Meltdowns
Photo: Mick Hutson/Redferns (Getty)
Getting up on stage in front of thousands of people is a real emotional experience, and when your adrenaline is surging, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it. Throughout the history of rock and roll, musicians have been freaking out on unsuspecting audiences and even their own band mates when things go wrong. In this feature, we’ll share the stories of the most epic rock star meltdowns of all time. From all-out riots to career-ending fistfights, these are some seriously sour notes.
Guns N’ Roses, 1991
Axl Rose is probably the most meltdown-prone rock star of all time, so it’s only proper to start the list off with what might be his most epic freakout ever. When a fan in the audience in St. Louis had the gall to take a picture of the singer on stage, Rose lost his mind and jumped into the audience to try and wrestle his camera away. A melee erupted, with the singer punching security guys and audience members indiscriminately. When Axl got back on stage he threw his microphone down and told the assembled throng he was leaving. Naturally, a riot ensued in which dozens were injured. The city of St. Louis prosecuted Rose for inciting a riot, but he was found innocent.
Sly Stone, 2010
Legendary funk singer Sly Stone emerged from exile in 2010 amidst rumors that he was homeless and penniless. A gig at the Coachella Music Festival seemed to be the perfect place for Sly to bring his groove to a new generation, but the reclusive artist instead turned the event into a bizarre disaster. As his band gamely ran through the hits, Stone ranted about manager Jerry Goldstein, forgot words, and lay in the middle of the stage. After about a half an hour of this dismal and depressing performance, Sly simply disappeared. It was a depressing end to what was one of the most anticipated musical comeback stories of the decade, and to this day nobody knows exactly what spurred Stone into his meltdown.
Green Day, 2012
The transformation of Green Day from snot-nosed Oakland punks playing for pennies at Gilman St. to grown-ups with their own Broadway musical is pretty amazing, but you can never take the punk fully out of the man. At the 2012 iHeartRadio festival, lead singer Billie Joe interrupted his set to complain about the short time his band had left to play. He then smashed his guitar and launched into a profane rant against Justin Bieber and the “lazy” crowd before storming off stage. Face it, dude: the crowd was ready to see Rihanna up next, and bragging about being “around since 1988” didn’t cut a lot of mustard with them. Billie Joe checked into rehab soon afterward.
San Diego indie band Wavves proves that you don’t need to be a pampered multi-millionaire to throw a hissy fit onstage. When the group traveled to Spain in 2009 for the Primavera Sound Festival, they were barely able to get through their soundcheck without arguing. After 15 minutes of that, they began a set that flirted with coherence at points but was punctuated by singer Nathan Williams insulting Spain and telling the crowd he was on ecstasy. Eventually, this all got to be too much for drummer Ryan Ulsh, who dumped a beer on Williams’s head, threw his sticks at him and left the stage. Williams then launched into a profanity-filled tirade as the stage crew dismantled his setup around him.
Notorious B.I.G., 1995
Some of these onstage temper tantrums are at least partially justified. Case in point: when Biggie Smalls was trying to rock the 1995 KMEL Summer Jam, his flow was stymied by the myriad screwups coming out of DJ Big Kap’s turntables. It wasn’t 100 percent Kap’s fault, either — the weather in Southern California was so hot that it was actually melting the records, causing Biggie’s instrumentals to go out of time. Biggie took to the live mic and berated the DJ in front of the audience, climaxing by chucking a water bottle at him. The pair apparently made up backstage, but it was a pretty tense moment.
Puddle of Mudd, 2016
It’s a real mystery who still goes and sees concerts from nu-metal leftovers like Puddle of Mudd in 2016, but the sold-out audience at their show in Doncaster, England, was treated to a meltdown for the ages. Lead singer Wes Scantlin took the stage shirtless and staggered around, barely able to get songs out in between meandering monologues about being high on crack cocaine. By the end of the set, the rest of the band had abandoned him, and Scantlin sat down on a chair and mumbled into an inactive microphone as the crowd jeered and threw things at him.
Billy Joel, 1987
The Piano Man isn’t the type you’d expect to throw a tantrum in the middle of a set, but at his 1987 show in Moscow, things got a little wild. A film crew was documenting the concert, and Joel started to get upset whenever they’d shine their lights into the crowd. The guys working security got confused and thought the audience members themselves were pissing Billy off, so they started removing them. That triggered Joel into literally flipping his piano onstage like the Hulk, grabbing a microphone stand and trying to beat the living crap out of one of the cameramen. Like a true pro, though, he somehow still managed to sing on key while doing all that.
The Ataris, 2012
Playing live music is a team effort, and if one member of the team isn’t pulling their weight, things can get ugly. When B-rate pop-punk band The Ataris played a show in Asbury Park, NJ, drummer Rob Felcetti was notably behind the beat. Singer Kris Roe didn’t take things that well, and responded by hurling his guitar at the hapless drummer before chasing him off the stage with a tirade of profanity. Roe then took apart Felcetti’s drum kit piece by piece and threw it at him as well. The band issued a halfhearted apology and claimed that Felcetti was drunk, which he denies. The Ataris haven’t released a record since 2007, though, so it might have been the final nail in the coffin.
Courtney Love, 1995
Courtney Love has basically made a career out of losing her mind both publicly and privately (remind me to tell you the story about how she used to call my old office at 2:30 a.m. and leave long rambling voicemails about how we stole her phone number), but one of her greatest meltdowns came in 1995 when she was touring Brazil with Hole. Midway through the set, Love stopped performing and said the show was over. When the crowd (quite naturally) reacted with anger, she launched into a bizarre tirade against fans, calling out one for being a “fat goth” and threatening to beat up another for holding a picture of Kurt Cobain for some reason.
Screeching Weasel, 2011
There are a lot of pogo punk bands on this list for some reason. It’s weird that people who play super-dumb, three-chord tracks for tweens would be so crabby, but it appears they are. One of the nastiest incidents came in 2011 at SXSW, when perennial scene fixture Screeching Weasel played a gig that would go down in infamy. Frontman Ben Weasel grew tired of a woman in the audience throwing ice at him and charged at her, punching her in the face. When a female employee of the club tried to calm the situation down, Weasel attacked her, too. The day after the incident, every other member of the band quit in protest.
This final onstage meltdown was so bad that the audience actually sued the band. In 2002, Christian nu-metal group Creed was already on the decline. Frontman Scott Stapp’s substance abuse problem had reduced him to a gibbering wreck, and when the group rolled into Chicago’s Allstate Arena, he was in no condition to perform for the 15,000 fans in attendance. The show must go on, though, so as the rest of the band gamely soldiered through the hits, Stapp rolled around on stage, tried to mumble out the few words he remembered, and eventually passed out. Several concertgoers actually filed a class action lawsuit against the band demanding their money back.