GREG KOT, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
In 1989, “Appetite for Destruction” wasn’t just the title of Guns n’ Roses’ No. 1 album. It was turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While the band opened a series of outdoor shows that year in Los Angeles for the Rolling Stones, singer W. Axl Rose chastised his fellow band members for abusing drugs and announced on stage that if they didn’t clean up their act, the band would break up.
On Friday night, when the Los Angeles bad boys take the stage for the first of two shows at Alpine Valley Music Theatre to kick off a world tour, they’ll be wearing a few scars from that year of private and public battles with drugs, drink, fame and the media.
And they’ll also be introducing a new band member who helped them pull out of it, drummer Matt Sorum, formerly of British hard-rockers the Cult.
“From what people tell me, I’ve helped the band get back on its feet, and that makes me feel good,” he says. “I’m just glad the band is back out there.”
Although journalists requesting interviews with the band were sent a consent form that would give the group final approval on every word written, The Tribune was granted an exclusive interview without any such restrictions. The contract “was for people we didn’t want to talk to,” Sorum explains. “It’s been blown all out of proportion, because there’s plenty of stuff the band wants to talk about openly.”
While Sorum chatted, Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan were putting the finishing touches on 36 songs - about 2 1/2 hours of music - that will be released by Geffen Records on two compact discs this summer as “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II.”
A mid-July release has been tentatively set for the project, which was originally supposed to have been recorded in Chicago in 1989.
That summer, the band set up their equipment in the vacant Top Note Theatre above Cabaret Metro on Clark Street. After selling 12 million copies of their first two major-label records, “Appetite for Destruction” and “GN’R Lies,” both of which landed in the Top 5 simultaneously earlier that year, the band thought that escaping the “distractions” of Los Angeles would jump-start a new album.
The Chicago sessions went nowhere, however, and the band returned to Los Angeles in disarray. But before leaving the Midwest, Slash and McKagen took in a Cult show at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis., and were impressed by Sorum, a former Los Angeles session musician.
“That’s when I first met the guys and they were in kind of a state,” Sorum recalls. “It (fame) got thrown on them in a major way. They came from out of the clubs to selling millions of records and they didn’t have any time to adjust. . . .
“They didn’t approach me again until the very last show I did with the Cult in April last year, so I had a sneaking suspicion something was going on. “The next day I got a call from Slash at my house. Originally I was just going to go down and do the album. Then about two weeks into rehearsal, I went up to Slash’s house for a little barbecue and he asked me to join the band.”
Sorum replaced Steven Adler, who had been with the band since its inception in Los Angeles in 1985, when all five band members lived together in a shabby apartment, writing songs and scraping up Tuesday night gigs.
But while the other band members battled to control their drinking and drug habits, Adler’s condition deteriorated to the point where he was having difficulty playing. He reportedly continues to live in Los Angeles.
“It was hard for them to bring someone new into the band, because they had known Steven for so long and he was a really good person; he just had his problems,” Sorum says. “And they were having a hard time finding someone that they could really open up to and hang out with the way they had with Steven.”
Sorum also had his doubts. “I heard a lot of horror stories, and I had mixed opinions about joining this band. Finally I decided that this is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity and that if I didn’t take it now, I`d probably kill myself later.”
Sorum’s professionalism helped the band refocus on its music.
“As soon as I got into the band, it was like clockwork,” he says. “We rehearsed for a month every day for four or five hours. There was none of this calling in sick because you were up too late the night before partying. If you were, you had to show up anyway
“Duff told me one day, ‘At first, I didn’t really want to like playing with you, but now I really dig it.’”
The band worked up 25 songs and recorded them in about a month.
“More songs just kept coming out,” the drummer says. “Some of the better ones on the album were actually written in the studio. Some were done on the first or second take, real spur-of-the-moment stuff. It ended up being 36 songs and we went, ‘God, how are we gonna put all this on an album?’”
Eventually, it was decided to put out all the songs on two simultaneously released CDs, the equivalent of a quadruple album.
“About one-third of the stuff we updated, because it’s been around with those guys from the beginnings of the band and they wanted to get it out now.”
That includes the projected first single, “Don't Cry,” a ballad that hints at the wider emotional and musical territory covered on the new album.
“It’s a love song, a pretty emotional tune for Axl to sing,” Sorum says.
He says the tunes run from the low-key introspection of “November Rain” to what he describes as a Metallica-like metal cut, “Coma.” Rose plays piano on several songs, and several longer tracks reflect the influence of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The album also includes “some really heavy-duty punk stuff, middle-ground rock and some weird acoustic things in which I use brushes or just a tambourine.”
‘Appetite’ was a party album,” he says. “This new stuff goes deeper than that.”
Sorum says the album doesn’t have any overt political messages. “It’s more about relationships, stuff that’s happened to the band over the last few years.”
But the drummer was evasive about whether the band directly addresses critics of the song “One in a Million,” a ‘GN`R Lies’ track that got negative press because of its racist and homophobic lyrics.
“There might be something on the album that ticks someone off, but who knows? I hope not,” Sorum says. “Basically Axl speaks his mind, he tells it how it is and how he feels. He’s not gonna be singing any ‘Baby, baby, I love you’ stuff.”
The band recently tried out the material at two surprise club dates in California. The first show, May 9 at the 2,350-seat Warfield Theater in San Francisco, was a ragged affair, with Rose reading lyrics off a teleprompter, according to San Francisco Chronicle critic Joel Selvin.
“They’re a fraud,” he says. “It was among the worst rock shows I`ve ever seen. Most of it was a mulch of painfully loud sound.”
But Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn praised the band`s performance two nights later at the 2,600-seat Pantages Theater in Hollywood. “We’ve got so much new material, we’re trying to figure out what songs we want to play live,” Sorum says. “Basically Axl just calls out tunes; we haven’t run by a set list so far and we probably won`t ever.
“It’s not boom-boom-boom, a big light show with the same moves every night. A lot of bands, they might as well put the album on and jump around. We like to open up on a tune and make it into something new.”
While the band is pushing its music, it`s trying to temper other aspects of its “act.”
“There’s not a lot of substance abuse happening, but I`m not gonna turn around and say we`re all clean and we don`t want any booze backstage,” Sorum says. “We like to party a bit, but it’s all in the right kind of order now. Partying doesn’t come first. We play the gig and then we might have fun, but we don’t let the fun have us.”
"We're having a good time, folks, so let's leave the sod on the hill."
The massive sod fight - a tradition at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, a natural amphitheater hidden among miles and miles of farmland in East Troy, Wisconsin - broke out fifteen minutes before Guns n' Roses took the stage for the first official show of their Get in the Ring Motherfucker Tour, and nothing could capture the exuberance that prevailed during their two-night stand more succinctly. The 80,000 super-charged, inebriated, high-school hell raisers that turned up over the two days to welcome G n' R back to the road after the group's three-year absence might have been every landscaper's nightmare, but they were every rock band's dream. And Guns n' Roses - despite a twist of fate that could have marred their first show and an all-day all-night downpour that had turned Alpine Valley into a mudslide by the time the second was over - kept their part of the rock & roll bargain with aplomb.
Tension reigned behind the scenes on Friday, the band members' opening-night jitters compounded by an unexpected development: Axl Rose, his left foot in a cast due to an injury he sustained jumping off a speaker cabinet during a warm-up show in New York, discovered during sound check that navigating the obstacle course of ramps and catwalks on the band's spanking-new stage was going to be impossible without a fair amount of pain. The depressed vocalist was driven to a Milwaukee hospital, where a team of doctors, aided by a tennis shoe designer for New Balance, fitted him with a knee-high, sneakerlike splint. For his band mates, the hours prior to showtime were fraught with uncertainty over whether the contraption would work. (Some of their fears should have been allayed when Rose returned from the hospital feeling chipper enough to orchestrate a practical joke: Already confident that the odd footgear would save the day, Rose had G n' R's manager solemnly inform Slash that the tour would have to be postponed for six weeks. By all account, the horrified guitarist turned an impressively pasty white.)
As it turned out, Rose was anything but sedentary during the shows; he spent both nights galloping up and down the ramps at top speed, and his handicap probably would have escaped notice entirely if he hadn't thanked the battery of doctors from the stage. The rest of Guns n' Roses, whether they were relieved to have avoided a potential disaster or just anxious to show off a bit before another one reared its head, took this as a cue to get down to business. The result was a pair of shows that left little doubt as to who holds the heavy-weight title in hard rock
Skid Row, the opening act, did its job well, working the crowd into a lather with previews from a new album, 'Slave to the Grind' (including a raunchy gutbuster called "Psycho Love" and the hilarious "Get the Fuck Out"), and saving hits like "Youth Gone Wild" for the encore, a luxury not typically afforded an opening band.
Guns n' Roses' Friday and Saturday sets were similar in terms of material played; Friday's show contained one new Use Your Illusion song - the spare "You Ain't the First" - that didn't make it into the set Saturday, and Saturday's crowd was treated to one 'Appetite For Destruction' favorite ("My Michelle") that had been passed over on Friday. But the Saturday show, despite scattered glitches - most notably the rain, a security guard who was accidentally clouted on the back of the head by Rose's mike stand during "Live and Let Die" and a putrid-smelling smoke bomb tossed onstage by some clueless boob during "My Michelle" - was the more compelling, lent charm by the air of unpredictability. Rose contributed most heavily to the who-knows-what's-next factor, halting the show to read a banner (SLASH, I WANT MY ORAL-SEX T-SHIRT BACK) held aloft in the crowd, giving a much-deserved tongue-lashing to the aforementioned smoke-bomb bandit and, in one priceless moment, launching into an a cappella version of Grand Funk Railroad’s “Bad Time.” The rest of the band had clearly been bitten by the same bug. Bassist Duff McKagen ripped through a good part of “Estranged” lying on his back atop a ramp, doing cockeyed half-body push-ups. Slash, who has emerged as a fiercely consistent soloist (a fact that was especially evident during the flamenco-on-Quaaludes coda to “Double Talkin’ Jive”), seemed to have latched onto mobility as the watchword of the night. It was engaging to see the guitarist deviate so often from his standard shipboard posture; mop of hair flying, he spent most of the show hotfooting it around like he’d just been let out of a can.
After years of seeing Guns n’ Roses as a scruffy club band – the perpetual opening act saddled with the stripped-down staging and poor lighting that went with the territory – it was heartening to see them on a stage built to their own specifications, scampering around on custom-designed ramps and catwalks and bathed in state-of-the-art lighting (a particularly impressive feature of their production). But it was also, at times, a little sad – somewhat like watching your kid sister leave the house for her first day of kindergarten. You can’t watch Guns n’ Roses leave a stage while a massive bank of red lights flashes their name without feeling a twinge of “Wait! Come back!” – a pang of nostalgia for the naiveté that is invariably lost in the process of attaining dreams. Fortunately, the stunning depth and musical range of the new songs – constant reminders of Guns n’ Roses’ metamorphosis into a force that will now have to be reckoned with outside the confines of the hard-rock community – kept the focus on what the band has grown into, as opposed to what it had outgrown.
“It’s a nicer vibe,” said a worn-out but clearly content Rose after the Saturday show. “I think everybody leaves good. You know, they might not have had the most heavy, violent, rock & roll time of their lives like they expected, but I think they leave feeling real good and happy about things.
“I think it’s only at the beginning stages,” Rose continued. “This is not the same show we’re going to be doing in six months. We know we can do what we’re doing now no matter what physical shape we’re in; we’ll figure out how to push ourselves in certain ways. Slash’ll be out on his bike soon, probably, doing tricks on those ramps. And we’ll add certain new songs as I figure out vocally how I’m going to approach those. ‘Locomotive’ and ‘Coma’ are really heavy songs, and the end of ‘Coma’ is really long. I don’t like petering out in the middle of it.”
According to Rose, the band’s long-in-gestation albums ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘II’ should see a late-July or early-August release, and fans not lucky enough to be holding tickets for the live shows will still get a tiny taste of the new material before the albums are in the stores. At press time, the band’s first single from ‘Illusion,’ “You Could Be Mine,” and it’s ‘Terminator’-style video (the track will accompany the closing credits of ‘Terminator 2’) were expected to be released on June 21st.
Though the rigors of starting a tour before the albums completion could have thrown a wrench into things, the band members are making good use of their days off, logging time at local studios to work on three tracks that have yet to be finished. They are also apparently putting the breaks on the perfectionism that caused the albums to be pushed back from their original May release date.
“When someone buys a record, they should know that they got 100 percent,” said Rose. “But to take the songs any further is to really nit-pick. That’s going too far. It gets to that point where you have to go, ‘Okay, it’s good enough as it is.’ I guess it’s like cleaning a room and trying to get every speck of dust. By the time you get to the other side of the room, there’s gonna be a speck somewhere, you know? That’s when it’s okay to let it go.”
GREG KOT, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
“Where do we go?” wailed Axl Rose during the poignant final seconds of Guns n’ Roses’ massive 1988 hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
The question was directed at Rose’s lover, but it could well have been addressed to the band itself: Where do we go from here?
On Friday at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Rose and company provided the answer.
It was the opening night of what’s projected to be a two-year world tour, and the band debuted nine songs from its still unreleased, two-years-in-the-making follow-up to their 12-million-copies-sold debut album, “Appetite For Destruction.”
Opening with the smoking “Right Next Door to Hell,” in which Rose exacts some verbal revenge against a harassing neighbor, the Los Angeles quintet roared through a two-hour set.
On a spectacular spring evening that kicked off the 1991 outdoor concert season, a crowd of 40,000 roared its approval.
In cheering for an encore, many pounded on their chairs like deranged drummers with fists and feet, but the band needed no coaxing.
Guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagen and new drummer Matt Sorum appeared clean, sober and hungry.
Rose referred only once to the band’s recent troubles with drugs and drink: “We’ve been working the last couple of years to get our (expletive) together ... so we could get it right.”
Ironically, it was Rose who was hampered, if only slightly, by health problems on this night. His left leg was in a cast, the result of a torn ligament suffered May 17 in New York.
But he showed few ill effects, stumbling only once and frequently pinwheeling around the stage and racing from side to side, microphone stand in hand, like a long-maned javelin thrower.
Musically, the band explored a wider variety of tempos and textures than were apparent on “Appetite.”
Anchored by Sorum’s rock-steady beat and Stradlin’s slashing rhythm guitar, Slash played bluesy slide on “You Ain’t the First” and sparkling Spanish guitar accents on “Double-Talkin’ Jive.”
A searing permutation of “The Godfather” theme, dubbed “Godslaugher,” ushered in “Pretty Tied Up,” and, with cigarette smoldering, Slash wrenched out a solo based on the melody from Alice Cooper’s “Only Woman Bleed” as an introduction to a majestic version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
This was followed by another cover, Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” in which the keyboards of guest musician Dizzy Reed finally could be heard above the buzzsaw guitars. The song’s elaborate structure, tempo changes and dynamics could well have been a blueprint for the Gunners more adventurous new tunes, none more so than the set closer, “Estranged.”
Opening with Reed’s keyboards, it exploded into full-blown rock, then McKagan’s bass rumbled to the top of the mix for a few bars, keyboards again built and receded, Slash unwound a long, elegaic solo and later another, before the song finally concluded.
Throughout the show, the Gunners evoked a host of ‘60s and ‘70s rockers- McCartney, Dylan, Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith.
This is the “classic rock” foundation on which Guns n’ Roses constructs its music. Melodies build until they’re ready to burst from tension, which is invariably released by Slash’s long, “guitar hero” solos. Then, as in “Patience,” “Dust and Bones” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the band joins in for a big, anthemic finish.
There’s nothing particularly innovative about this approach. In fact, the bands that Rose advertised on his cap and T-shirt-rappers N.W.A. and industrial rockers Nine Inch Nails-are, stylistically at least, far more daring.
But even if the Gunners are “old-school,” they’re also a rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut. They invest proven formulas with fresh passion and sensuality.
When Rose sways from the hips and rocks his shoulders, he embodies those emotions. And his voice, a devilish rasp prone to startling leaps into falsetto, is this band’s wickedest instrument.
At show’s end, his injured foot throbbing, Rose was grimacing but triumphant.
“It has blisters and it hurts like hell,” he said backstage, “but we’re still rockin’.”
EDNA GUNDERSON, USA TODAY
East Troy, Wis. - Guns n' Roses, pop music’s cagey but uncageable savage beasts, have returned to rescue the endangered species of rock heroes.
Packing lethal new ammo, the Guns launched their mammoth two-year world tour with spectacularly fierce concerts Friday and Saturday at the packed Alpine Valley Music Theatre.
The 18-song, two-hour show easily establishes the band as the most potent and unstoppable force in hard rock. Its approach is hardly novel - a blues-based primal assault influenced by icons Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. But nobody matched GN’R’s armed-and-dangerous delivery, undiminished by scattered opening-night wobbles.
Guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and new drummer Matt Sorum (formerly of the Cult) form the volcanic rhythm section. Guest keyboardist Dizzy Reed softens the blows, especially on the muscular cover of Paul McCartney's Live And Let Die.
The band’s strongest assets are the twin screeches of Axl Rose’s vocals and Slash’s guitar. Rose, the visual axis, evokes ‘A Clockwork Orange’ when he bounds on stage in green velour shorts, a catcher's chest protector, bulky boots and a self-designed cast to treat torn ligaments in his left ankle. Unhampered by the injury, he storms through trademark sways, gyrations and stomps.
His steely voice, best when whining such full throttle anthems as “Civil War” and “Estranged,” is a facile if scabrous instrument, leaping from a rumbling growl in “Mr. Brownstone” to a soaring yowl in “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Whether plucking killer bars from Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” or serving up ‘The Godfather’ theme, Slash’s solos are coherent, elastic and spellbinding. A surprisingly gentle Spanish guitar coda on “Double Talkin’ Jive” demonstrates a range beyond lucid slide and hell-bent speed runs.
Familiar fare (“Patience,” “Welcome To The Jungle”) draws the loudest roars, but blustery newcomers like “Dust N’ Bones,” neighbor trashing “Right Next Door To Hell” and the kinky-sex anthem are sure-fire hits from a band that has yet to miss its target.
Setlists courtesy of Setlist.fm