Axl hits the headlines (but not the notes)
The weekend's expletive-laden sets show Guns N' Roses' frontman still has his appetite for destruction, writes Jerome Taylor
Tuesday 31 August 2010
Even by the standards of Axl Rose – one of the most mercurial singers in the pantheon of rock – it was a remarkably bitter way to end an extraordinary weekend of public tirades against the organisers of the Reading and Leeds festivals. "We come here to play for you but the cops and the promoters wanna fuck us in the ass," was all the Guns N' Roses front man had to say to 80,000 fans as his band brought the final night of the Leeds festival to a close. "We would like to play a few more songs for you but we'll just play one."
They duly did, hammering out an encore of their anthemic hit "Paradise City" to roars of approval from a crowd that had waited for half an hour for the headliners to make an appearance. But as they left the stage, Rose couldn't resist a final swipe at the festival organisers: "Be safe, good night and to all the cops and promoters – fuck you. This war isn't over."
For the past two decades, the only remaining founding member of Guns N' Roses has carved a niche as one of rock's trickiest characters, prone to onstage strops, tardy appearances, bust-ups with band mates and four-lettered outbursts.
Depending on which side of the fence you sit, Rose's perfectionism – his last album, Chinese Democracy, took 15 years to create – and unpredictability is either part of his enduring appeal and musical genius, or sums up everything wrong with the current incarnation of a group that was once regarded as one of the world's best live rock bands.
Few will disagree that the band's sets at Reading and Leeds festival 2010 will go down in history as one of Rose's most tantrum-filled appearences yet.
At Reading, Rose frequently exited the stage after singing only a couple of verses, purportedly with recourse to an oxygen tank he keeps in the wings. For long periods, the rest of the band played on without him. Midway through "Night Train", Rose shouted: "I don't even know why we bothered coming here," before throwing down his microphone and departing the stage.
The episode has inevitably cast a shadow over the band's UK tour next month as fans question whether the same sort of erratic behaviour can be expected when they play a series of sell-out gigs.
For music promoters, booking Guns N' Roses is a notoriously double-edged sword. On the one hand, you get an act that rarely fails to sell out any stadium you put them in and can still deliver blistering performances – in Tokyo last year, for instance, the band played their longest set yet, clocking up an astonishing three hours, 37 minutes. But you also have to deal with the unpredictable storm of controversy.
The band's spat with festival organisers began on Friday night, when Guns N' Roses appeared an hour late as the headline act for Reading's opening night. Incensed at being cut off by the festival's curfew, the band initially tried to play without amplification, with Rose announcing through a megaphone that he would not turn up to Leeds on Sunday evening.
In the end, they did play. But for the best part of 24 hours the organisers had no idea whether the headline act for the last night of Leeds would show up. The band seemed to get a mixed reaction from fans, some booed their performance, others shouted chants critical of the festival organisers.
The critics were unanimous in their excoriation of the current Guns N' Roses line-up. "There was no charisma, no chemistry and so little vocal that the rumour of the night was that Axl had drafted in Mickey Rourke as a body double," opined one reviewer.
Another, at virtualfestivals.com added: "Axl (dressed like your embarrassing uncle in a Jacko costume) is every inch the Gazza of rock, a sad old figure riding on past glories who leaves you pining for the genius days gone by."
Despite being late for their sets, the band placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Reading and Leeds organisers. Rose used his Twitter account to demand an apology and, last night, claimed that festival organisers for Leeds reneged on a promise to give them extra time. "Don't know what it is w/us or these last 2 shows," he wrote. "Takes the fun out it 4 fans, band n' crew alike but whatever."
But if Melvin Benn, the chief of Reading and Leeds, was put out by Guns N' Roses' criticism, he wasn't willing to show it publicly. In an interview with the NME, he denied there were any splits.
"I haven't got a grudge against the band," he said. "They're one of the greatest bands in the world and they're playing one of the greatest festivals in the world."
But after Rose's tirade at Leeds, Mr Benn admitted that it was unlikely the Guns N' Roses frontman would want to grace the stage at his festival again.
Singer Pete Doherty once fled a gig and refused to play after a fan gave him a wedgie during an impromptu stage dive.
Guitarist Dave Davies and drummer Mick Avory were notorious for their onstage fights. Avory once smashed Davies over the head with a cymbal for knocking over his bass drum.
Brothers Phil and Don had a very public bust-up in 1973 during what was meant to be their last concert together. Phil smashed his guitar and stormed off stage after his brother kept missing his notes. Don finished the show alone, telling the audience that the band "died 10 years ago".
Where are they now? They all played on Guns N' Roses' debut album, Appetite for Destruction, but what happened next?
After a series of public spats with Axl Rose, Slash became the first original member to quit in October 1996. He became an in-demand session guitarist, playing with the likes of Alice Cooper, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. In 2003, he formed Velvet Revolver with GNR band mates Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin and Matt Sorum. In March, he released a solo album, to mixed reviews.
The GNR bassist's drug and alcohol addiction almost killed him when his pancreas blew up in 1994. A period of intense rehab was followed by a revival through Velvet Revolver and, most recently, as bassist for Jane's Addiction.
GNR's original drummer was the first band mate to be sacked by Rose because of ongoing drug addictions. Replaced by Matt Sorum for the Use Your Illusion albums.
As a guitarist and sometime singer for GNR, Stradlin went solo successfully before reuniting for Velvet Revolver. In 2006, he also briefly joined up with Axl Rose. Continues with solo work and has 11 albums under his belt as well as an appearance on Slash's solo CD.
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