Music News

Off the Rails

Page 2 of 3

Or, you know, not.

Perhaps the beginning of the end came as early as August 29, during the band's bizarre closing appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, where a bloated, cornrowed Axl had difficulty hitting the high notes during a medley of "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City." The band also debuted a new song, "Madagascar," which was either a ballad or just performed at a standstill pace so Rose could catch his breath.

Then came the tour itself, which began in Vancouver almost precisely where the band left off a decade ago in chaos and rioting. A melee outside the venue caused more than $100,000 in damages and left dozens of concertgoers injured when the show was canceled 10 minutes after it was scheduled to begin. Axl, of course, blamed the local promoter.

The next four weeks found the 40-year-old Rose and crew playing to mostly half-empty arenas in such towns as Boise, Idaho, and Fargo, North Dakota, with reviews frequently echoing the Detroit Free Press account that described the show as feeling "like a proficient GN'R tribute helmed by a guy who reminded everyone of Axl Rose." Then came yet another riot in Philadelphia on December 6, which broke out when Axl no-showed and left the crowd hanging for nearly two hours after ill-received opening bands CKY and Mixmaster Mike finished their respective sets. Venue spokespeople downplayed the damage as "minimal," but photos of broken chairs and busted video cameras posted at and reveal a far more accurate account. The band reportedly sustained $2 million worth of damage to its gear, including a customized soundboard that was trashed by fans chanting, "Axhole! Axhole! Axhole!"

Rumors began running rampant following Philly: One had Axl suffering a nervous breakdown at the prospect of returning to half-empty halls full of "hayseeds" following a sold-out Madison Square Garden performance on December 5. (According to Jon Pareles in the December 9 New York Times, Rose called the concert a reunion because "I managed to get enough of myself together to do this.") An MTV newsperson allegedly heard Axl beat up one of his managers backstage. And the most likely story had Axl, still basking in the afterglow of the MSG show, remaining in his New York City hotel room to watch a basketball game on TV. Rose never did check into his Philadelphia hotel.

Other sources reported that bassist Stinson, formerly of the Replacements and the group's de facto musical director, and Finck quit the band the following morning. That's a highly debatable theory, however: On November 14, Stinson managed to kiss his new boss' ass while throwing his old partner, Replacements front man Paul Westerberg, under the bus at the same time. "I'm probably way more of a control freak than he is," Stinson said of Rose in a phone interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press last month. "I know him as someone who's easy to work with, someone I like working with." Yes, Tommy: Axl's the one signing your paycheck today.

One thing is certain: The band, bound to confidentiality agreements, and its label, Geffen Records, have yet to make any sort of announcement. Axl, of course, was unavailable for comment. So, at long last, following six show cancellations and nearly a week of heavy speculation, San Antonio-based concert promoter Clear Channel Entertainment officially canceled the tour last week. "Clear Channel Entertainment takes pride in bringing live entertainment to the public," read the tersely penned release issued on December 11 -- or well after everyone already knew the tour was sunk. "We apologize for any inconvenience to all the fans who purchased tickets."

But riots are nothing new to the GN'R fan; even during the band's late '80s and early '90s heyday, rare was the night when Axl, guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and guitarist Izzy Stradlin actually showed up on time. A show in Los Angeles in support of the Use Your Illusion albums started at 11:45 p.m.; opener Skid Row had finished at 9:30. In other words, Rose has always shown contempt for his audience. But in this age of corporate consolidation and the bottom line, promoters no longer take as kindly to the kind of rock 'n' roll rebellion that exhorts audiences to take apart their shiny new arenas filled with luxury boxes.

Rose's brand of mental instability has been amply documented elsewhere, starting with his allegations, in public court documents revealing his physical abuse of Seymour and ex-wife Erin Everly, of being "fucked in the ass" at age 2 by his Pentecostal stepfather. And there was my own experience with Rose and the band in 1992, when Spin magazine hired me to track down original drummer Stephen Adler shortly after he filed suit against the band following his firing. The story was killed after Axl made legal threats: In the song "Get in the Ring," grudge-loving Rose made fun of then-Spin publisher Bob Guccione Jr. for getting less poontang than his Penthouse-publishing father. But what Adler said at the time sounds quite prescient today. "We would play in front of 20,000 kids, and he's pissed off," Adler told me. "It's like, Why? This is what we dreamed of all our lives, and now we're doing it. We should be happy!' And then he'd go backstage and destroy the dressing room. Every night, it never failed. He'd bitch and moan and scream. And I'd always be the one who'd finally say, What the fuck's your problem?' During the nine years I was with that band, he showed up for eight rehearsals. Eight rehearsals!"

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Bill Holdship