GUNS FOR HIRE
- Harry Sumrall, Mercury News Music, 7.19.91
GUNS N' ROSES CONCERTS USED TO MEAN DANGEROUSLY EXCITING ROCK 'N' ROLL. NOW THEY JUST SEEM TO MEAN DANGER. SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN L.A.'S BAD BOYS BRING THEIR ACT TO MOUNTAIN VIEW?
GUNS N' Roses is coming to town. GET OUT THE FIREHOSES AND RIOT GEAR!
Well, it isn't quite that bad. But Guns N' Roses' first headlining arena tour, which began May 24 in East Troy, Wis. (and makes its way to Shoreline Amphitheater tonight and Saturday), hasn't been a picnic.
Twenty shows into the tour, July 2 at the Riverport Performing Arts Center near St. Louis, the group's lead vocalist, Axl Rose, was involved in a melee when he jumped off the stage to confront a fan who had been photographing the performance. What resulted was a riot in which 60 people were injured and 16 arrested. The new venue was trashed to the tune of $200,000.
The riot also resulted in the group's stage equipment being damaged, which, in turn, forced the cancellation of the next two shows of the tour -- July 4 in Chicago and July 6 in Bonner Springs, Kan.
But that wasn't all.
On July 10, Rose stopped a show in Dallas when a whiskey bottle was thrown onstage. "If you throw stuff on stage," Rose told the crowd, "we will leave." And July 13, Rose was booed offstage in Salt Lake City when he tossed his microphone stand and yelled at the crowd, "I'll get out of here before I put anyone else to sleep."
And now, Rose is on his way to our sleepy neck of the woods.
''We have looked at all the necessary security (precautions) for this show (at Shoreline) and we are doing our best to provide a safe environment," said Gregg Perloff, executive vice president of Bill Graham Presents, this week. "We hope there won't be any problems, but we are prepared."
''Let's just say that there will be more security at this show than at one by James Taylor," Perloff said.
But while BGP officials are downplaying their worries publicly, they are nonetheless concerned. On Monday, responding to a request from the promoter of the Guns N' Roses show in Tacoma, Wash. (which BGP is co-producing), Graham flew to that city to personally see to the security setup.
Is Guns N' Roses that big and bad?
The answer to the first is certainly "yes."
Formed in Los Angeles in 1985, the group hit the top of the charts with its 1987 album "Appetite for Destruction" -- which, to this point, has sold 12 million copies worldwide. Its Grammy-nominated 1988 EP "GN'R Lies" also hit the Top 10, selling 5 million copies. In 1990, the group was honored with two American Music Awards.
Yes, it's big. At a time when many tours literally are begging for fans, Guns N' Roses' is playing to capacity crowds. In Los Angeles, three nights of the group's shows at the 18,679-seat Forum sold out in one hour (necessitating an extra show). After tonight's show at Shoreline sold out right away, Saturday's show was added. The group's upcoming European tour -- scheduled to begin in August -- is already sold out.
Yes, the group is big. But bad?
Although Rose isn't doing much talking at the moment, his record label, Geffen, is coming to his defense.
''The (St. Louis) incident isn't as one-sided as it was reported in the media," said Bryn Bridenthal, Geffen vice president for publicity. "The group's position is that, at that show, there was a breakdown in security."
According to a prepared statement from Geffen, "The fan with the camera was the last straw. During that show, a man with a six-inch knife had jumped onstage. Twice, Duff McKagan (the group's bassist) was hit with bottles. In front of the stage, a group of about 14 bikers were intimidating people in the crowd. . . . When (Axl) jumped into the crowd, he was hit in the eye and one of his contact lenses was broken. When he got onstage, he couldn't see. And when he left the stage to get another set, the riot began and the police ordered the group to leave (the venue)."
Bridenthal, who said she has worked with the group for more than five years, termed Rose "very intense."
''He is like a walking truth serum," she said. "He speaks his mind. He'll lecture a crowd if he feels it is necessary."
This tour isn't Rose's -- or the group's -- first brush with controversy. In 1988, the group was criticized for what some claimed were racist and homophobic lyrics in several of its songs. When the group accepted its American Music Awards on national television, speeches by three of the members were laced with obscenities. On May 28, the group was fined $5,000 for violating a curfew at Deer Creek Music Center at Noblesville, Ind., during which Rose berated the "scared old people" of that state. And in October of 1990, he was arrested for allegedly hitting a neighbor with a bottle (the charges were subsequently dropped).
But is there more to Guns N' Roses than a boatload of trouble?
Yes and no.
Along with its platinum albums, Guns N' Roses is an estimable rock band. At its May 9 tour "rehearsal" show at San Francisco's Warfield Theater, the group displayed a brashness and rawness that are rare in this era of slick rock "entertainers." Rose has a helium-high voice that is sometimes grating, but he also has an intense and thoroughly commanding stage presence.
At the same time, the group's sound is hardly innovative or rebellious. The songs "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City" and the No. 1 "Sweet Child O' Mine" are usual rock fare -- driving and pounding but not much more.
What then, is all the fuss about with Guns N' Roses? At this point, mostly the fuss itself.
Guns N' Roses
When: 7 tonight and Saturday night
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, One Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
Tickets: $22.50 (lawn tickets only available for the Saturday show)