Fueled by more than 20 consumed kegs of beer, one bathroom, cops with guns and an abruptly shortened headline act, the Iggy Pop Halloween concert held Oct. 31, 1981 in the Mosque (now Altria Theater) basement could be considered a true VCU riot.
The problems started at the door; admission with a VCU ID and one guest was $7, so many non-students simply paired up and signed in with unescorted students.
“If you don’t have a VCU ID, find someone who does,” cried a concert committee member to the horde of bizarrely-dressed patrons clamoring to see the rock king of weird, Iggy Pop.
A local band, the Deprogrammers, opened with an entertaining set, followed by a band called Dirty Looks. During a very long intermission things started turning ugly, exacerbated by 1,200 sweaty people in a closed space, endless bathroom lines and the slow realization by servers that at 50 cents a cup, the beer was going to run out.
Finally around midnight, Iggy took the stage in a garter set and leather jacket, launching into “Houston is Hot Tonight,” “Dum Dum Boys,” “TV Eye,” and more as the inebriated 30-deep crowd swarmed toward the stage only to be shoved back by beefy security officers. One young lady who passed out in the churning mob had to be passed across the stage — there was no other way to get her out.
Around 12:30 a.m., and after only seven songs, the band abruptly left the stage. The venue’s assistant manager announced “the concert is over,” as the house lights clicked on.
The crowd went nuts. Violent and vulgar shouts were accompanied by thrown cups of beer at the helpless organizers, many of whom were as clueless as the crowd. Backstage, concert committee chairman Jimmy Saal begged to let Pop perform one more song to diffuse the crowd. Suddenly the house lights clicked off and the band came back on stage and performed “I’m a Conservative” before leaving again for the second and final time.
This time the crowd went berserk. Three Richmond police officers appeared on stage and were pelted by any projectile the crowd could find. When a broken broom handle whizzed by one policeman’s head, he drew his billy club and hurled it into the crowd, striking student David Powers in the temple and sending him in an unconscious heap to the floor. The officer then drew his service revolver and pointed it into the chanting, frenzied crowd, but he was quickly subdued by concert committee members and other officers, and manhandled off-stage. Powers went to the hospital, and the party was over.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” stunned Pop manager Henry McGroggan told the Commonwealth Times in the Nov. 1, 1981 issue. “I’m totally disgusted by the police’s behavior.”
An unfortunate combination of factors contributed to the Iggy Pop riot: a cumbersome sign-in procedure, confusion of the concert start and end times, too many people in too small a space, no food and the consumption of far too much cheap beer. Still, everyone got to (briefly) see a rock legend.