Guns N' Roses
- Michael Eck, Albany Times Union
Axl Rose brings his new supergroup to the Pepsi just in time to haul them all down to the Equinox Thanksgiving. Rose is joined on the "Chinese Democracy Tour" by three guitarists (the bizarre Buckethead, Nine Inch Nails alum Robin Finck and one-time Love Spit Love gunslinger Richard Fortus), bassist Tommy Stinson (of the Replacements), drummer Brian Mantia (formerly of Primus) and longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed. Needless to say the show will be all spectacle and little substance, but who cares -- it's GNR, baby.
'We're catching our groove again now'
- Greg Haymes, Albany Times Union
When Guns N' Roses rumbles into the Pepsi Arena on Wednesday, almost all of the faces will be new -- except, of course, for the guitarist Buckethead, whose face will be obscured by his trademark KFC bucket headpiece.
One of those new mugs belongs to former Love Spit Love and Psychedelic Furs guitarslinger Richard Fortus, who spoke last week from a tour stop in Minneapolis:
Q: How's the tour going?
A: It's going all right, despite the occasional riot.
Q: What was going on in your head when the first date of the tour was canceled, resulting in a riot in Vancouver earlier this month?
A: Shock and dismay -- I mean, I didn't even know what the hell was going on. Tommy (Stinson, formerly of the Replacements) and Dizzy (Reed, the only band member other than Rose who's been with the band for more than five years) were doing an interview backstage with Kurt Loder from MTV, and they heard the announcement that the show was canceled coming over the PA system in the arena. No one could believe it. And it was Robin's (Finck, formerly of Nine Inch Nails) birthday, too. It was such a drag.
Apparently Axl had no idea, either, because he was on his way there. His plane was delayed, and we knew that he wasn't going to make it to the soundcheck, but there was never any question that he'd be there in time for the gig. Apparently, the venue just pulled the plug. It was pretty disappointing. And even worse, when you turn on the TV and see people getting their teeth knocked out, it's not something that you want to be a party to. So now the lawsuits will fly.
Q: When did you join Guns N' Roses?
A: I'm the newest guy. I joined a few months back. We did the tour of Europe, and when we got back, I recorded my parts for the album.
Q: Was it an easy decision to join?
A: Yeah. Tommy's one of my best friends, and he has been for a while. We've done loads of recording sessions together. And with all of the other people that are involved with Guns N' Roses, it's a pretty unbelievable band.
Q: Were you a Guns N' Roses fan?
A: No, I didn't grow up a Guns N' Roses fan, really. I was sort of like a punk-rock kid, and they were one of those bands that was kind of marginal. You know: They had long hair. Certainly, "Welcome to the Jungle" is a pretty undeniable song, and I loved "It's So Easy," too, because that's right up my alley, fitting right in with bands like the New York Dolls, MC5 and the Stooges. But Guns N' Roses were so L.A., and I was a NYC kid. So it wasn't until much later that I really got into the band.
Q: When did you get the call to join up?
A: Actually, I first got a call like three years ago, but before that audition happened, Axl saw Buckethead play, and he decided to go with him instead. Fortunately, I got another call the next time they were looking for someone.
Q: With three guitarists in the band, doesn't the sound get a little crowded?
A: Well, Bucket comes out and does his bucket-ness, and we just make room for each other. When I go back and listen to "Appetite for Destruction" and the other early stuff, there are definitely three guitar parts there. There's Slash's rhythm parts and Izzy's rhythm parts, and then there's Slash's wanking over the top in between vocals. That's what we're trying to do live. And I think that's why Axl wanted to go with three guitars, because that was always missing from the live sound.vQ: How many songs from the upcoming album, "Chinese Democracy," is the band playing in concert?
A: It depends on the night, but we're playing up to four new songs. And once the album comes out, we'll start playing a lot more.
Q: So when is the album going to be released?
A: I've heard that it's coming out in March -- but then again I've heard a lot of things, so you never know.
Q: Has touring with Guns N' Roses been everything you thought it would be?
A: Well, with the exception of the riots, yeah, the tour is a blast. This music is just so much fun to play live, and with this band, wow -- it's just unbelievable. By the time we get to Albany, the band is going to be pretty unstoppable. We're catching our groove again now, and once we get five or six shows under your belts, we'll be firing on all cylinders. It's a pretty good band live.
- Casey Seiler, Greg Haymes and Mark McGuire, Albany Times Union
A Guns N' Roses A-to-Z, of course, begins with Axl
Among local rock fans, claiming you saw Guns N' Roses at the Palace Theatre in 1987 is the equivalent of saying you voted for John Kennedy in 1960. Everyone wants to be present at the creation.
It was shortly after the band's breakthrough album "Appetite for Destruction" was released, although the record hadn't broken through yet -- nobody knew who Guns N' Roses were. (Nobody knew who the opening act was, either -- EZO, a Japanese heavy metal band that performed in kabuki-meets-Kiss makeup.)
That night, the members of Guns N' Roses were everything a lean, mean rock act should be. They pumped out raw, powerful and genuinely dangerous music with little regard for the consequences. If memory serves, the band was furious that the orchestra pit had been lowered to create a moat between the stage and the fans. It must have been Slash, the guitarist, who jumped into the pit like a buccaneer -- guitar in one hand, bottle of Jack Daniels in the other.
Ironically, there was no need to separate the band from the fans: Only 187 fans attended the show, in a theater that could have held 2,500 more.
There would be few empty seats for Guns N' Roses in the years to come. A few months later, "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" made it to MTV and rock radio, and the band was launched on a rocket ride that included big albums, bigger tours (including a slot opening for Aerosmith at SPAC in 1988), and even more monumental tales of excess, debauchery and bad manners.
A very different Guns N' Roses -- essentially lead singer Axl Rose and a crew of hired Guns -- plays the Pepsi Arena on Wednesday. Here's a guide to one of the most lethal bands of the Reagan-Bush era:
A is for Axl Rose, born in 1962 in Layfayette, Ind., and raised as Bill Bailey. "Rose" comes from his biological father, who left the family when Axl was 2 (something he didn't discover until age 17; "Axl" was borrowed from the name of one of his teenage bands. The former choirboy hitchhiked to Los Angeles in 1985 to join boyhood friend and guitarist Jeffrey Isbell, aka Izzy Stradlin.
B is for the much more bohemian upbringing of Saul Hudson, better known as the top-hatted, Cousin It-lookin' guitarist Slash. Born in Britain, Slash's father designed album covers (including Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark"); his mother designed costumes for David Bowie.
C is for the Los Angeles club circuit, where Rose, Slash and Stradlin worked in various groups before forming Gun N' Roses in 1985 with drummer Steven Adler and bassist Duff McKagen. Alternate band name suggestions included Heads of Amazon and AIDS.
D is for the band's March 1986 deal with Geffen Records, which followed the release of the ferocious EP "Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide" on the Uzi/Suicide label. The first fruit of the contract, the 1987 album "Appetite for Destruction," was recently selected as the best heavy metal album of all time by Spin magazine.
E is for Erin Invicta Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers and the inspiration for the band's 1988 monster single "Sweet Child O' Mine." Her relationship with Rose is an old-fashioned romance: boy meets girl, girl marries boy at Cupid's Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, boy files for divorce four weeks later, girl and boy reconcile and then break up again, boy annuls marriage, girl tells People magazine that boy was physically abusive.
F is for the 1990 firing of Steven Adler. In 1991, the deposed drummer filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that he was canned unfairly. In a neat touch, the suit blamed his drug addiction on his former bandmates.
G is for the Guns who are gone, including all four charter members -- Slash, Stradlin, Adler and McKagen -- as well as sometime members Josh Freese, Tracii Guns, Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum, Dave Navarro, Paul Huge ... frankly, we've lost track.
H is for heroin. (You were expecting maybe ham sandwich?) The band's appetite for chemical self-destruction has been an integral part of its story from the beginning. The contract for its first big tour slot, opening for Aerosmith in 1988, included a special rider stipulating that the members of Guns N' Roses would keep their drug use confined to their dressing room in order not to tempt the recently detoxed Boston rockers. "I used to do a little/But a little wouldn't do/So the little got more and more." -- "Mr. Brownstone," 1987.
I is for "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II," the band's much-delayed, double-barreled 1991 follow-up to "Appetite for Destruction." The CDs were released simultaneously, and immediately took up the top two spots on the Billboard charts (dislodging comedian Bob Newhart from the record books). Hits generated by the albums include the epic "November Rain" and the band's cover of Wings' "Live and Let Die."
J is for William James, Jesus Christ and Carl Jung, three of the scores of highfalutin references cited in Danny Sugerman's 1991 Guns N' Roses bio "Appetite for Destruction." And that's just the J's: Sugerman, a former Jim Morrison hanger-on who co-authored the bestselling Doors chronicle "No One Here Gets Out Alive," slathers the band with enough pseudoscholarly pseudoprose to make any comp-lit student's head explode. The book does contain one classic line: "If reports and my own eyewitness accounts can be trusted, Axl Rose has been relatively drug-free for almost a year now ... ."
K is for Kmart, the retail giant sued by the band in 1990 for allegedly using its name and picture in ads for a toy drum kit. Managing not to giggle, the band's lawyers claimed Kmart damaged Guns N' Roses' reputation.
L is for lithium, which Rose began taking in the late '80s after he was diagnosed with manic depression: "Lithium hasn't done one damn thing for me," Rose is quoted in Sugerman's book as saying, "except it's made people think 'Axl's trying to do something to help himself, so this must be a good thing.' In other words, if I trash my hotel room it's accepted more as long as I'm taking my lithium."
M is for MTV, which helped make GNR stars, even though the music video channel didn't begin playing the band's breakthrough video, "Welcome to the Jungle," until nearly six months after the album "Appetite for Destruction" was released.
N is for new members, which include guitarists Buckethead (joined in 2000), Robin Finck (joined in 1997) and Richard Fortus (2002), keyboardists Dizzy Reed (1990) and Chris Pittman (1999), bassist Tommy Stinson (1998) and drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia (2000).
O is for "One in a Million," released on 1989's "G n' R Lies" EP. Sung from the point of view of a white boy on the mean streets of L.A., the lyrics inveigh against immigrants and gays. The EP also includes the song "Used to Love Her" ("but I had to kill her").
P is for "Patience," a much more soothing cut from "G n' R Lies." Also one of the Seven Virtues, and something the band's live audiences have become familiar with. In its salad days, the band's serial tardiness was enough to make today's rap caravans seem downright punctual: Fans in Dayton, Ohio, are probably still talking about the 1992 concert in which the band didn't go on stage until 12:25 a.m.
Q is for Queen. GNR played "A Concert For Life," the Freddie Mercury tribute extravaganza staged at Wembley Stadium in 1992, and recruited Queen guitarist Brian May as their opening act for a tour later that year.
R is for riots. Since space is limited, let's just mention the latest: At Vancouver's General Motors Place arena on Nov. 7 -- the first scheduled stop on the "Chinese Democracy" tour -- fans responded to the bad news that bad weather had canceled Rose's flight from Los Angeles by smashing glass windows and doors and setting off fireworks. A small army of police and canine units responded. Is that warm glow that fans were feeling nostalgia for the early '90s, or just pepper spray?
S is for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The actor starred in two films with Guns N' Roses songs on their soundtracks: 1991's smash hit "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (the hit "You Could Be Mine") and 1999's dud "End of Days" (the non-hit "Oh My God").
T is for tantrum, trouble and tabloid, all of which Rose knows on an intimate basis.
U is for unreleased, the status of Guns N' Roses new album, known as "Chinese Democracy." Rose claims the album will be released in 2003.
V is for Black Death Vodka. Slash's endorsement deal with the maker of this jauntily monikered beverage drew the ire of U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello in 1992.
W is for where are they now? Charter members Slash, McKagen and Stradlin are reportedly writing new material and looking for a singer. A cleaned-up Steven Adler and his mother have put together a book, "No Bed of Roses," about his tenure with the band.
X is for -- well, take your pick.
Y is for "Look at Your Game Girl," an unlisted track on the band's 1993 rack-filling covers album "The Spaghetti Incident." Controversy arose when someone realized that royalties for the song would go to its author, imprisoned mass murderer Charles Manson. The song was dropped from subsequent editions.
Z is for New Zealand, the nation to which the band fled in December 1988 after Australian officials issued a warrant for Rose's arrest after the singer allegedly made statements condoning drug use during a concert. When you're too wild for Australia, you are bad.
GUNS N' ROSES with Mixmaster Mike and CKY
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Pepsi Arena, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
Tickets: $46, $56