Police Blame Promoter for Riot at Concert

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Authorities on Tuesday blamed poor planning by a promoter for a bottle-throwing melee in Hollywood after a free Labor Day rock concert was called off because too many people, about 10,000, had shown up and were unruly.

Six were arrested for a variety of offenses, including assault on a police officer, and several minor injuries were reported. Property damage was estimated at about $30,000, limited mainly to the band's instruments, some of which were stolen, and sound system.

Capt. Michael Downing, the commander of the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Station, who was in charge of the police response, said organizers had failed to get city permission for the Monday performance by the band System of a Down, set for a parking lot off Schrader Boulevard just south of Hollywood Boulevard.

Downing said the promoter of the concert had vastly underestimated the size of the crowd. Instead of a predicted street audience of 1,000, thousands more came, partly because the show was free and billed on the radio. In addition, he said, security arrangements were inadequate.

"It was a poorly planned event," he said.

The promoter, Phil Blaine, could not be reached for comment Tuesday and executives at radio station KROQ-FM (106.7), the event's sponsor, did not respond to several telephone calls seeking comment.

The band's Web site on Tuesday carried a long explanation about the event, saying that the fire marshal and police should have at least allowed the group to explain the cancellation to the crowd.

"We believe that all of this could and should have been avoided had the band been allowed on stage. We also believe that there is lack of understanding and communication dealing with such events between promoters and the LAPD. We strongly suggest the creation of a communications forum and an officer training program between the LAPD and KROQ, as well as other promoters/radio stations," said the statement attributed to Serj Tankian, the band's singer.

"People came to the show to have a good time, in peace. Someone needed to give them the respect that they deserved to let them know what was going on, especially since they would not allow the band themselves to do so," the statement continued.

Officers at the Hollywood Station, less than half a mile from the event, didn't know that it was going to take place. Merchants in the area only learned of the concert from news accounts of the disturbance that broke out about 4:45 p.m.

"That was the first I had heard about it," said the owner of a nearby auto-repair shop.

Downing said that Blaine had sought the proper city permits, but that the review process was not completed by Monday.

"I would not have recommended approval," Downing said, saying the low crowd estimate was obviously wrong since the concert would take place on the last day of a three-day holiday weekend.

The Hollywood Station commander quickly added that police had encountered no problems with past events staged by Blaine. "This was not reflective of his good work," Downing said.

Trouble began after police and fire officials decided to cancel the concert because of the crowd's size. Some in the audience, which started gathering early in the day, burst through fences erected for crowd control and rushed the stage, vandalizing and looting band equipment.

A tactical alert was called and it took 160 riot-equipped police officers about three hours to restore order and clear the area.

The concert had been billed as a "fan thank you" by the band on the eve of the release of their second album, "Toxicity," which hit stores Tuesday and is expected to debut high on U.S. pop charts next week.

A System of a Down autograph session scheduled for Tuesday at the Tower Records store on the Sunset Strip was canceled.

The up-and-coming group, formed in the early 1990s, is known for its intense heavy metal assault, howling vocals and politically charged lyrics, attributes that have earned frequent comparisons to a more famous L.A.-based quartet, Rage Against the Machine. The group's sound meshes the intensity of punk and thrash metal with some of the vocal cadences of hip-hop

System's members--vocalist Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadj and drummer John Dolmayan--are of Armenian heritage and they have become a passionate cult favorite in the Los Angeles area, home of the world's largest Armenian community outside of Armenia.

Their heritage laces through their political music, such as the song "P.L.U.C.K." ("Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers"), an attack on Turkey's campaigns against Armenia.

System will return to Southern California on Sept. 29 as part of the Pledge of Allegiance tour bringing some top metal bands to the Great Western Forum.

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