Remember When: Judas Priest Fans Caused Mayhem at Madison Square Garden and the Band Was Banned for Life

June 18, 1984 is a day that will live in heavy metal infamy. British metal legends Judas Priest were near the end of the first leg of their latest world tour, headlining Madison Square Garden in New York for the second time in their career. Hollywood upstarts Great White were opening up for them. Priest were riding high off the success of their previous album Screaming for Vengeance and the positive reception to their latest work Defenders of the Faith. Additionally, metal was cresting in 1984 and it would be a pivotal year for the genre.

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The energy at Madison Square Garden was palpable as fans geared up for a rowdy show. It ultimately became too rowdy. During Great White’s set, a few people ripped the foam padding off their seats and tossed them in the air or passed them around. It was an omen of things to come because when Judas Priest hit the stage, the audience roared into high gear. Near the end of their set during “Living After Midnight,” the fans’ exuberance and energy led to a more destructive form of expression.

White with Foam

Hordes of fans, many inebriated or stoned, ripped up the foam from the seats and tossed them in the air and onto the stage. Frontman Rob Halford later joked Priest became the world’s first heavy metal trampoline act. Who knows how many hundreds of seats were damaged. Other seats were torn up but not fully destroyed. The lower part of the stage was entirely covered in foam, making it tricky for the band to navigate during the last two numbers, “Hell Bent for Leather” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Listening to the bootleg below, one can hear loud fireworks going off throughout the show, including as Halford is revving up his Harley for “Hell Bent for Leather.” Many fights reportedly broke out as well.

Priest fan John Erigo was there that night and noticed that a couple of members of the group getting caught up in the mayhem, specifically Halford and guitarist Glenn Tipton.

“The band was actually encouraging fans to throw the cushions on stage without using the mic,” Erigo recalls to American Songwriter. “They kept waving, like ‘bring it on’! I remember Tipton jumping up and down on them. It all started during Great White’s set. You could see maybe five foam cushions floating around the Garden. By the time Priest came out it started again. Towards the end of the show it looked like it was snowing gigantic flakes. Truly insane and a wild memory, for sure.”

“A Metal Meltdown”

Halford acknowledges to American Songwriter that he and Tipton got caught up in all of the craziness. “The MSG event which has become legendary was something of a blur because it all happened so fast spontaneous and crazy at the end of our set,” the singer remembers. “The room was an electric frenzy so something was bound to happen one way or another.

“Glenn and I got caught up in the insanity of the moment for constructive destruction, he continues. “We’ve always said a Priest show is where you come to let off steam, but this night turned into a metal meltdown.”

Photographer Bob Leafe captured the mayhem on film, and he told Ultimate Classic Rock a few years ago, “Afterwards, Priest had a party at the Limelight. When I finally walked in, [guitarist K.K. Downing], who had seen me half-buried by cushions in the pit, yelled out, ‘You’ve survived!’”

A Lifetime Ban

In the end, Priest not only shelled out $250,000 for the damages incurred to the venue, but they received a lifetime ban that has never been rescinded. Weeks later, Tipton and Downing returned to MSG for a sporting event, trying to look as incognito as possible and avoid the press that was there.

“Me and Ken went there to watch [John] McEnroe play tennis in some indoor tennis championship,” Tipton told Loudwire in 2014. “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.’” So not everyone was upset by the mayhem.

Funnily enough, another strange event took place just 23 days earlier at Priest’s show at the massive Tacoma Dome near Seattle on May 26. “It was bizarre,” Downing recalled to me in 1998.  “Everybody threw their shoes on the stage, and we couldn’t walk on.  There were bras and knickers and three live snakes—there were a lot of things thrown on stage that night.”  He said the stage was a foot deep in shoes, but the band soldiered on with the concert.

Halford actually returned to Madison Square Garden in 2000 with his band Halford to open for Queensrÿche and Iron Maiden, and then again in 2010 supporting Ozzy Osbourne. So he managed to play that stage again even though Priest never did. However, it feels like the lifetime ban should be revoked because a majority of Priest’s fans are no longer at an age where they’re likely to do anything as reckless or stupid. But for those attending at the time, it was a sight to behold.

“We’re still banned as Judas Priest, I believe,” Halford tells American Songwriter. “Worn with pride and guilt.”

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Photo by Pete Cronin/Redferns/Getty Images

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