Axl sticks to guns as `band' plays on
- Bob Gendron, Chicago Tribune
When Guns N' Roses plays Allstate Arena on Monday, it will mark the group's first Chicago concert since it performed a marathon show at the same facility, then known as Rosemont Horizon, in April 1992. Back then, George Bush was president, Saddam Hussein was first on Bush's hit list and Billy Corgan was toiling in an indie rock band. So have things really changed?
For Guns N' Roses, absolutely. It has been nine years and counting since the group released a studio album, a span that has witnessed the departures of lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. Save for reclusive vocalist Axl Rose, the sole holdover musician is keyboardist Dizzy Reed, either the most patient or bored person on earth. The Guns N' Roses that fans will see Monday is a completely different lot.
Rose, who is not granting interviews, has spent the last nine years rebuilding the band, frustrating his record label and purportedly recording upward of 80 songs. Ostensibly, perfection requires time--and plenty of it. After auditioning a slew of drummers, guitarists and producers, Rose finally debuted the new Gunners in concert on New Year's Day 2001, his first show in 7 1/2 years. Three other dates followed, but the group reneged on a scheduled European tour -- twice. Last August, GNR managed to honor several Asian and European commitments and, in September, announced a full-scale tour that launched Nov. 7 at GM Place in Vancouver.
Show didn't go on
Well, not really. The show never happened. In its place, a riot ensued. If this sounds familiar, it's because it's the third such insurgence associated with the band. Chicago fans have twice suffered the consequences. Due to a now-famous St. Louis melee, precipitated by Rose's hastily diving into the audience to take a prohibited video camera away from a fan, GNR's July 4, 1991, show at Tinley Park's World Music Theatre was canceled. So was the second night of its April 1992 stand at Rosemont Horizon, after Rose fled the country in order to postpone his arrest stemming from the St. Louis incident. Neither show was rescheduled.
This time, however, a perplexing decision by facility management may be to blame. While initial media reports reprimanded Rose as a no-show, the matter is more complex. GM Place's gates were never opened, leaving thousands waiting outside. Then, upon hearing that Rose hadn't yet arrived in town, at 7:40 p.m., 10 minutes after the first opening act was to have taken the stage, GM Place managers canceled the show. By 8 p.m., angry concertgoers were smashing windows, glass doors and ticket kiosks. Shortly thereafter, police reinforcements arrived, and the blood started to spill. Meanwhile, his band already inside the venue, Rose was en route aboard an airplane and estimated to be running an hour late. (By comparison, GNR took the stage nearly 2 1/2 hours late here in April 1992 and proceeded to play for three hours.) The band's spokesman said mechanical and weather problems grounded the singer's plane, forcing a late takeoff.
The second attempt at opening night, held in Seattle on Nov. 8, actually took place. Aside from the venue's infamous echoey acoustics, which were aggravated by a half-capacity crowd, and problems with Rose's microphone feeds, the band received positive reviews. In soap-opera fashion, Rose allegedly damaged some vocal cords while overcompensating for the technical glitches, though no additional fallout has resulted -- yet.
To Rose's credit, he has assembled an outfit of mercenaries for this tour that, thanks to a triple-guitar attack, has a bigger, tighter sound and more musical proficiency than the first incarnation. If nothing else, GNR II is a veritable freak show.
New band members
First, there's Rose, who has traded his long, stringy red hair, Charles Manson T-shirt, and workout shorts for braided dreadlocks, an Oakland Raiders jersey and baggy pants. Some implied Rose opted for loose clothing to conceal his girth, but recent paparazzi photos reveal he's not fat; he's just not as lean.
Buckethead, an avant-garde guitarist who has worked with everyone from Iggy Pop to Bootsy Collins, spells Slash and likely will play an interlude with nunchucks. Tall, lanky, and mute, Buckethead claims to have been raised by chickens in a chicken coop, conceals his face with a white Michael Myers "Halloween" goalie mask and wears an inverted Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket atop his head. He's also fond of yellow raincoats. (I'm not making this up.)
Flanking Buckethead on guitar are ex-Nine Inch Nail Robin Finck, whose pale face and gothic dress make him look as if he has been dead for five days, and Richard Fortus of the Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love, whose outward appearance, by comparison, is lackluster.
Rose enlisted one of Minneapolis' formative punks in ex-Replacement bassist Tommy Stinson. Brian "Brain" Mantia, formerly of Primus, mans the drums. Allegedly, Mantia's attraction to the project was the opportunity to jam with Buckethead. Rounding out this circus are keyboardists Reed and Chris Pitman, who have recorded with Tool.
The band's highly anticipated "Chinese Democracy" album has yet to surface, but a plausible rumor pegs its release for February 2003. Don't hold your breath, but hey, at least it's got a title. Though many believed Rose was heading in an industrial direction on the new album, all but one of the five new songs introduced on tour sound like classic GNR. Still, it's anyone's guess what the final product will resemble.
Despite its prolonged absence and lack of a new album, GNR is playing large stadiums, giving Rose the opportunity to prove his skeptics wrong and attempt a near-impossible ascent -- complicated further by the Vancouver riot -- back to the top. It should be exciting, but if you go, please remember that Axl still hates cameras. Some things never change.
Lafayette's Axl Rose heads back to fame
- Tim Brouk, Lafayette Journal and Courier
Greater Lafayette has national recognition for a few things -- Purdue University, the Tippecanoe Battlefield and Fort Ouiatenon.
And Lafayette is significant to rock 'n' roll fans as the birthplace of W. Axl Rose, lead singer for Guns N' Roses and one of the most famous rock stars in history.
People who pass through or move to town often wonder if any remnants of Rose, who was known as Bill Bailey during most of his Lafayette years, still linger in Lafayette. Rose moved from Lafayette to Los Angeles seeking a change in 1982.
"Some friends and I would joke 'Where's the big, gold Axl statue at?' when we would come to Lafayette," said John Wekluk, a senior English major at Purdue who is originally from Portage.
Wekluk has tickets to see Rose live at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. The current tour is Guns 'N' Roses' first in about 10 years.
While Guns N' Roses hasn't performed in Indiana since a July 1992 concert in Indianapolis, Rose, 40, has made almost annual sneak visits to Lafayette to visit family and Arni's on Elmwood Avenue. Arni's owner Brad Cohen said Rose's last visit was a little over a year ago to pick up some pizzas to go. Cohen said he more often ships pizzas out to Rose's home in Malibu, Calif. Sometimes it's a couple pies while other times Arni's has catered parties hosted by Axl.
"I tease people that I'm one of the few that has access to Axl's credit card number," Cohen said.
Just after Guns N' Roses performed at the 1992 Indianapolis concert, Rose took a table in the Toys in the Attic Room at Arni's with an entourage of body guards. A crowd of about 30 fans formed as Rose was leaving in a limousine. Rose smiled and waved at the crowd before he departed. The excitement from the strawberry blond, headband sporting singer's sighting did not die down for awhile.
"Weeks after his visit, we had cute little college girls come in and want to sit in the actual booth Axl sat in," Cohen said. "They wanted to be close to his blood and sweat so to speak."
Cohen, who owns Guns N' Roses' first two releases Appetite for Destruction and Lies, added that no one could remember which table he sat in and would point to any open table in the room and tell customers "That's the one."
"My dad (the late Arni Cohen) wasn't a big listener of Guns N' Roses, but we had fun with the celebrity status Arni's got by his visits," Cohen said. "I appreciate the fact that he's an Arni's fan. I respect his choice in pizza."
Amused Clothing manager Jay Buck recalled one memorable night in 1988 when Rose was eating dinner with family at Arni's. Buck was only 15 working at his first job at Arni's, but he was picked to serve Rose's table.
"I wasn't a big fan of Axl Rose. That's why they sent me out there," Buck remembered. "Everyone else would have been 'Hey, can I have your autograph?' "
The night was even more memorable as Buck tripped over a purse that was sitting in the aisle that belonged to Rose's mother. Buck was carrying a large tray full of sodas that landed all over Rose and his family. Buck said the sticky and drenched rock star wasn't mad as he saw the guilty purse was in the way, but most of Buck's co-workers thought he did it on purpose.
Buck attended Jefferson High School when Appetite for Destruction hit the scene, and its singles "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" were all over the airwaves. Rose also went to Jefferson and would have been in the class of 1980 if he had not dropped out.
"A lot of teachers said he didn't do well so don't look up to him," Buck said.
Fifteen years later, Buck still isn't a big fan of Rose's.
"I'll listen to it when someone is singing at karaoke," Buck said.
As the 1990s started, a series of events further propelled Rose as a household name and into the media spotlight. In the summer of 1991, Rose incited a riot at a St. Louis amphitheater when he jumped into the crowd to attack a photographer and then ended the set prematurely. During the 1992 mega tour of Guns N' Roses, Metallica and Faith No More, Rose started another riot in Montreal when he refused to take the stage. Another Canadian riot erupted at a Guns N' Roses concert on Nov. 7 when the band were no-shows in Vancouver.
Charges were pressed for Rose's actions in the St. Louis incident. Rick Mummey was a DJ at WKHY 93.5 FM when Rose was being sought by St. Louis authorities, and he offered a $1,000 "bounty" for Rose to be brought to the classic rock station to explain his actions. Rose did not appear, but Mummey, now a DJ for WGLM FM, received a large number of calls when Rose seemed to be making news everyday from people claiming to know singer. Some calls were legit while others came from "brother's uncle's mechanic's third cousins."
The early '90s also saw Rose distance himself from the band. Soon after the 1991 release of the Use Your Illusion albums, original rhythm guitarist and fellow Lafayette chum Izzy Stradlin (aka: Jeff Isbell) left Guns N' Roses. Rose also spoke out to the press and in concert about his thoughts on Lafayette and Indiana. A review of the 1992 Guns N' Roses Indianapolis show in the Journal and Courier included the statement that Rose "blasted Indiana for being the conservative, backwards state the sent Dan Quayle to the vice presidential office," and "he referred to Indiana as a state that produces corn and drugs and is overrun by Japanese car factories."
"I wish he wouldn't be so down on it (Indiana), but, hey, that's his right," Buck said.
Around this time, another Lafayette native was making some noise in the rock world. Shannon Hoon provided back up vocals on the Use Your Illusion hit "Don't Cry," and his band Blind Melon was starting to get noticed. Lafayette guitar virtuoso Michael Kelsey was in a band with Hoon called Styff Kitten in Lafayette, and he said the band covered an early demo version of the song. Kelsey went with Hoon to Los Angeles for awhile and met Rose at the Rainbow Room on Sunset Strip. Kelsey said Rose was nice and the two made small talk for a few minutes. Kelsey was a big Axl Rose fan.
"When Appetite for Destruction came out, it raised the bar for rock 'n' roll," Kelsey said. "It wasn't the candy-like stuff that was out before then."
Soon after Guns N' Roses released The Spaghetti Incident?, a 1993 album of cover songs, Rose fell off the map. Drummer Matt Sorum, original guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan left the Guns N' Roses camp. Rose, who retained the rights to the name Guns N' Roses via a signed contract from the rest of the band, started work on a new album and he is still putting final touches on it. The current Guns N' Roses still features keyboardist Dizzy Reed who joined for Use Your Illusion and now includes guitarists Buckethead and Nine Inch Nails' Robin Finck, former Primus drummer Brian Mantia, and former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. Musicians who appeared on sessions for the upcoming Guns N' Roses release include Josh Freese, Moby, Dave Navarro, and Brian May. Guns N' Roses looked close to releasing the album, titled Chinese Democracy, in 1999 when the track "Oh My God" appeared on the End of Days soundtrack.
Guns N' Roses once again grabbed headlines, this time positive, in late August when the band made a surprise appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards. At the end of the program, host Jimmy Fallon jumped like a pogo stick with excitement as he introduced the band. An explosion of confetti engulfed the stage as the band launched into the familiar chords of "Welcome to the Jungle." Rose looked to have filled out to a normal build instead of his emaciated Appetite days, and he had his hair in hundreds of tiny braids.
"They're probably not real. His hair was thin before," Wekluk said.
Rose introduced the slower, new song called "Madagascar" before closing with "Paradise City." Wekluk thought "his voice was a little goofy just for that performance," but Wekluk has heard bootleg recordings over the Internet from Guns N' Roses' European tour and found Rose's voice to be as good as it was in the '90s.
Kelsey and Mummey are one of the millions of fans who are anxiously awaiting the new Guns N' Roses release.
"I'm sure he's settled down over the years. It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with," Mummey said. "After 10 years, it should be interesting."
Kelsey added, "I don't know who could do that in their career -- to be on top of the world and then have so much bad stuff go on and then still be popular. A lot of other people's careers would have died."
If you go
WHAT: Guns N' Roses with Mix Master Mike and CKY
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Allstate Arena, Chicago
HOW MUCH: $35 to $65
ON THE NET: www.gnronline.com