THE RUDE N' ROWDY GUNS TOUR
- Steve Morse, Boston Globe, 3.12.93
THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS HITS BOSTON GARDEN
Complain if you want about Guns N' Roses, but don't call them lazy. While they're still filling gossip columns with their antics, they're also on the longest rock 'n' roll tour in history -- a grinding, 2 1/2-year marathon that won't end until this summer.
"We started the tour the day the Iraq War broke out," Guns bassist Duff McKagan said this week. "That's when we played the Rock in Rio concert. And we won't end until July 15. We're going back to Europe soon for the fifth time on the tour -- and we're going to play Moscow and Tel Aviv.
"But I've given up on itineraries and stuff. I just get on the plane and go," added McKagan, a Guns charter member along with singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash. "All I know is that we're going to be in Boston on St. Pattie's Day."
Yes, indeed. Last year, U2 played Boston Garden on St. Patrick's Day. Wednesday, Guns N' Roses -- heirs apparent to Aerosmith's bad-boy tradition -- play a sold-out show at the same site.
Expect a night of rude 'n' rowdy rock, but also a different look from the Gunners. They've dropped the huge stage production of last summer's stadium dates in favor of a stripped-down version they call the "Skin N' Bones" tour. They've also dropped their backup singers and horn players.
"It's just the basic band again, playing on a small stage," McKagan said in a phone interview from Hartford. "It's great, man. Right on, we're a punk- rock band again. We're doing a lot of the early hard core stuff, like 'Nice Boys' and 'Reckless Life.' It's really sparked energy in the band. We'd be pretty dragged down by now if we were still doing the big production thing, because that really started to get strenuous."
Another new look is an acoustic set. "It's kind of like what Led Zeppelin used to do," said McKagan. "Not comparing us to Zeppelin or anything, but Slash will sit out front with a 12-string guitar; and we got a grand piano that's rolled out for Axl. We do songs like 'Crazy,' 'Used to Love Her,' 'You Ain't the First,' 'Patience' and 'November Rain.' We're having fun with it."
The new format is reportedly working so well that the band has no further interest in the oversized production they used on tour with Metallica last summer, when they played Foxboro Stadium.
"We got that out of our systems. That's gone. I'm glad we did it, but it's over. Never again," said McKagan. "There was just too much to keep up with. There would always be something that somebody would forget to do. Or one of us would fall through part of the stage. Or the monitor system wouldn't work.
"Every night you'd worry about something -- whether the big inflatable monsters on the side of the stage would go up without popping, whether the three Diamond Vision video screens were working, whether the 250,000 watts of PA were OK, and whether the 125 members of the crew had all made it there. It was too much. And me and Slash and Axl were the eye of the hurricane, because we paid for all this stuff. So you had all that on your mind and you still had to play the gig."
The high expenses also took their toll. "We lost so much money on the big production tour," McKagan admitted. "We had to cart that whole circus all the way through Europe, and then on through Tokyo and Australia and New Zealand."
Nor has it been easy to deal with various off-stage headaches along the way. Wherever they go, Guns N' Roses are the center of controversy (sometimes well-earned because of Rose's famed temper tantrums), but they had all they could handle on a recent trip through South America.
"There were some scary moments," said McKagan. "We escaped a coup in Caracas by two hours. The airport was bombed two hours after we left it. We were in Bogota, Colombia, and somebody bombed the hotel we were at. In Chile, they tried to plant drugs on us. My wife was in the hotel room when we were playing the gig. She was naked on a bed and all these men in suits came in the room and she screamed and they left, but who knows what they were trying to do. It just goes on and on.
"In Argentina, there was a rumor we had burned an Argentinian flag and that we wouldn't buy Argentinian boots because we didn't want them to touch American soil. So we had all these right-wing skinheads, like Nazis, after us. They were all out in front of the hotel -- hundreds of them -- yelling and chanting. And we even had a guy who went in front of us to every city, because he knew who to pay off. I'm serious. We had to have a grease money float. It was scary."
With so many pressures, it's a wonder that Guns N' Roses haven't self- destructed. There were signs of trouble last year when Axl Rose continually insisted on starting gigs an hour or two late, but he's since been much better. He's apparently become more reliable since he entered therapy to deal with being an abused child during his Indiana boyhood, much of which led to the vitriolic nature of many Guns N' Roses lyrics.
"Axl is just a happier person these days," said McKagan, who grew up in Seattle before moving to Los Angeles to form Guns N' Roses. "We all go through our stuff. He just vents it sometimes the wrong way. The only thing I can say is that people vent it in different ways -- some people beat their wives or some wives beat their husbands. I personally don't deal with things the way he does, but I'm not him."
Rose's latest temper flareup was justified, McKagan said. During a show in Birmingham, Ala., Rose fired a sound engineer because the latter forgot to turn the stage monitors on, causing Rose to sing so hard that he blew out his voice and had to cancel two shows. "I don't blame Axl for that. I can blame him for other things, but not that."
When Guns N' Roses finally complete their tour, they'll take a "long, long hiatus," McKagan said, but will release an album of punk-rock cover songs during the interim. The album will include tunes by the Damned, Fear, Steve Jones and the Dead Boyz (all early influences on the band). McKagan will also have a solo album out in August -- with backup from Rose, Slash, Guns drummer Matt Sorum, Jeff Beck and Sebastian Bach of Skid Row.
Then guess what? McKagan will go back on tour to promote his album. After that, who knows, maybe he'll finally get to enjoy the cabin he and his wife have bought in Lake Arrowhead in the mountains outside of L.A.
"I've only been able to get home for five days at a time," he said. "You get a little tease -- oh, my house, my dogs! And then you wake up in the morning, pick up the phone and call room service. You think, wait a minute, I can't do that, I'm home! So you get that little tease and you feed your dogs and drive your car to the store. Then it's time to go again.
"The only upside to it is that I'm getting an addition to my house put on and I won't be there. But I can't wait to get back. My cabin is the coolest place in the world. I'm right on the lake and I love to fish. And there's an old man who is my fishing buddy. I call him and he misses me. He doesn't care who I am. We're just fishing buddies. He doesn't care that I have long hair and tattoos. If you like fishing, that's all that matters there."