Gund Arena, Cleveland, OH
November 24th 2002

Guns N' Roses finally sees a new album on the horizon
- John Soeder, Cleveland Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic

Mark the words of keyboardist Dizzy Reed: The new Guns N' Roses album will see the light of day - finally! - in 2003.

It's called "Chinese Democracy." But a more fitting title may have been "Appetite for Procrastination."

The oft-delayed project has been in the works for years. It should be in stores by June, according to Reed.

"There are just a few odds and ends left to do - a couple of finishing touches, a couple of vocals - and we need to mix it," he said.

In the meantime, GN'R - long MIA, except for a handful of one-off gigs - is mounting its first North American tour since 1993. The hard-rock group, fronted by enigmatic live wire Axl Rose, performs Sunday at Gund Arena.

Speaking by phone last week from a Chicago hotel, Reed said it feels "utterly fantastic" to be back on the road.

"It's the right time to get out there and to let people know there's still rock 'n' roll to be played," he said. "People seem to be having fun. And so are we."

Granted, neither the band nor its fans had much fun at General Motors Place in Vancouver, B.C., where the tour was supposed to get under way Nov. 7. A riot ensued when the venue canceled the opening-night show at the last minute because there was no sign of Rose.

"Axl was en route," said Reed, who was backstage with other band members in Vancouver before all hell broke loose. Disgruntled concertgoers pelted police and security guards with rocks and smashed windows at the arena.

"It had little to do with us and everything to do with the owners of the building," Reed said. "They panicked and pulled the plug."

Rose & Co. did perform the following night in Tacoma, Wash. Two weeks into the tour, they've been getting mixed reviews, with some accounts mentioning half-full venues.

"Some shows weren't sellouts, but I wouldn't call them half-full," Reed said. "The people who were there were having a great time. They were losing their minds. That's what counts to me."

Rose, who co-founded GN'R in the mid- '80s, and Reed, who joined in 1990, are the only holdovers from the band's pre-grunge heyday left in the lineup.

They're joined by drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia (formerly of Primus), bass player Tommy Stinson (Replacements), keyboardist Chris Pitman (Replicants) and three guitarists: Richard Fortus (Psychedelic Furs), Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead, a masked man who sports a KFC bucket on his head.

"It's funny - if you took any pair of us, none of us would've started a band together," said Reed, 39. "We've had to work hard at the chemistry. But everyone is so talented, it works. You add Axl and it works even better.

"In the old band, I came along a bit later, when the chemistry was already established. It grew out of playing clubs and bars in Hollywood. I used to go to all the shows. I saw it happen."

In a separate interview, Stinson said the motley new members of GN'R have at least one thing in common: They want to make rock 'n' roll history.

"This has never been done before," he said. "The lead singer takes the band name, for something as big as Guns N' Roses was, and continues with an entirely different lineup - no one has really done it, certainly not with any success. So there's a lot riding on this."

Four ex-members of GN'R - Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Izzy Stradlin - have been auditioning singers for a new band of their own, although Rose holds the rights to the Guns N' Roses name.

"I wish them the best," Reed said. "If they want to go out and hit the road, cool. No one can stop them. They're great players in their own right."

Stinson, 36, was brought into the GN'R fold four years ago.

"I was doing a session with a friend of mine who played drums for GN'R at the time, Josh Freese," he said. "He was joking about them needing a new bass player. I laughed and said I'd play bass. The next day, they called. I learned about four or five songs. A day or so after the audition, they called and said, 'If you want it, you're in.' And I took it.

"I wasn't much of a GN'R fan . . . when I was making [Replacements] records. We were a different breed. But you couldn't help but hear the GN'R stuff on the radio and on MTV every 10 minutes because it was the flavor of the day."

GN'R burst out of Los Angeles in 1987 with the debut album "Appetite for Destruction," which sold 15 million copies in the United States alone. It spawned the No. 1 hit "Sweet Child o' Mine."

The group hasn't released a batch of all-new original material since 1991, when GN'R simultaneously unloaded two full-length efforts, "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II."

Whether or not "Chinese Democracy" proves worth the wait remains to be heard. At any rate, it promises to be a bit of a departure.

"For a GN'R record, it's pretty diverse," Stinson said. "It's not straight down the rock 'n' roll road. It's all over the place, in a good way. It has a little bit of everything - the old Guns N' Roses vibe, ballads, a couple of pop songs."

On "Chinese Democracy," Rose delivers "more soulful singing," Stinson said. "You really get to hear some different tones in his voice which don't lend themselves to traditional bluesy riff-rock. And the lyrics are a lot more in-depth, with deeper sentiment and emotion than some of the earlier stuff."

Speaking of Rose - depicted two years ago in a Rolling Stone cover story as a reclusive, night-dwelling, psychic-consulting control freak - is he . . . OK?

"I'll tell you why I'm still with the guy: He's got my back," Stinson said. "He's the most loyal guy you could ever meet. There's a lot of love in him. There's a real person there who goes way beyond his historical past, you know?"

Rose is "one of the most thoughtful people I know," Reed said. "He's one of the smartest, too. Musically, he's close to being a genius, if he isn't one. He can take any idea and once he adds his thing to it, it turns into magic. I love the guy."

Alongside "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City," "Patience" and other vintage GN'R tunes, the band's recent set lists have showcased several "Chinese Democracy" songs, including the title track and "Madagascar."

"The new songs are working out great," Stinson said. "The old ones are fun to play, too. We've taken some liberties, but you'll definitely recognize them. We don't do disco versions of anything. We've all just taken what was there and made it our own."

The new Guns N' Roses sounds "like GN'R should sound in 2002," Reed said. "Hopefully, I see us fitting in on the radio, on MTV and at an arena near you."