LOS ANGELES What System of a Down had planned as a "thank you" to their hometown fans ended in violence and mayhem Monday night when city officials called off the band's free outdoor show before it even began.
Angry concertgoers wreaked havoc on the streets of Hollywood, destroying thousands of dollars worth of band equipment, breaking store and car windows, and generally trashing a seven-block area. Six fans were arrested, according to Sgt. John Martinez of the Los Angeles Police Department. Several officers and fans were treated for minor injuries.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Brian Humphrey said the fire department and police made a joint decision, with concert organizers' cooperation, to nix the Labor Day show after deciding the crowd of an estimated 7,000 fans was too large and unruly.
System of a Down's publicist, Heidi Robinson, said the band, whose second album, Toxicity hits stores Tuesday, fought to let the show go on and tried to compromise with officials by proposing to play a clipped, 20-minute set, but was turned down. "From the band's perspective, this is something that did not have to happen," Robinson said. "It could have been peaceful."
Some 3,500 fans were allowed into the Schrader Boulevard parking lot where System of a Down were to play, while police estimated an additional two to three thousand fans were outside the gated-off area.
Shortly before the band's scheduled 5 p.m. show time, a large group of fans rushed the security staff and broke through the gates into the parking lot. That marked the breaking point for police and fire officials already concerned about crowd control, Humphrey said. "Jointly [they] determined it would have been too dangerous to let it go on."
Robinson said the band's management tried to convince officials to allow System frontman Serj Tankian to announce onstage that the show had been called off, but the request was denied. Instead, fans waited for nearly an hour after show time, with still no formal announcement that there would be no performance.
Humphrey said it was unclear why no announcement was made from the stage, but speculated that onsite officials may have feared it would have caused chaos in dispersing the crowd. Beginning at the back of the lot, police and security worked their way through the crowd, telling fans to go home because the show was off. Still, most concertgoers were unaware that System wasn't going to play until a banner bearing the band's name was pulled down from behind the stage. At that moment, the crowd snapped. Dozens of fans rushed the stage, toppling over stacks of speakers and destroying the band's
equipment, including John Dolmayan's new drum set. One group even attempted to make off with a speaker before being stopped by police. A security guard and a fan engaged in an onstage fistfight, and multiple other fights broke out in the crowd. Others knocked over barricades and stormed the streets, knocking over Porta-Potties and destroying seemingly everything in their path.
Humphrey called the melee a "social insurgence," not a riot.
"They were breaking every window in sight, just tearing the place apart," said 16-year-old fan John Greenham. "No one knew [System] weren't coming out until they took the sign down. I totally understand why people freaked out. Some people waited here overnight. You don't just let people wait like that and expect everybody's gonna be cool and just go home."
SWAT teams and police on horseback were called in to help security disperse the crowd, but the chaos continued for about two hours. The six arrests included charges of assault with a deadly weapon as well as vandalism and theft, police said. One of the arrested suspects was caught on local news cameras hurling a traffic barricade at a police car. Police are still looking for other suspects.
Robinson said System of a Down will immediately begin to replace their destroyed gear so they can kick off their tour as scheduled on September 14.
Representatives for the show's sponsor, Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM, were not available at press time.
The melee led Tower Records in neighboring West Hollywood to cancel the band's in-store appearance scheduled for Tuesday afternoon (September 4), according to Jay Smith, the store's general manager. Smith said the in-store would have presented a situation "a little too volatile," given the previous night. "We didn't want to fuel a fire that had already been burning," he said. "It's a safety issue."
For a full interview with System of a Down, check out the feature "System Of A Down: Toxic Avengers."