W.Axl Rose - Chapter Nine - You Are All Little People
The final six months of the two-and-a-half year world tour Guns N' Roses had set out on in 1991 was, in many ways, the easiest. Having returned to Japan, where their 80-person entourage arrived on the morning of January 11, 1993 - in anticipation the next day of their first of three shows at the futuristic Tokyo Dome - even Axl understood enough by now not to hold the band's set up unduly. In Japan, concerts - as with so many things - are strictly controlled events that begin and end promptly. Unlike in the west, where a certain amount of tardiness is almost expected of the liberal cultural elite's best-known names, be they in music, fashion, film or the visual arts, such confusion in Japan is barely understood let alone tolerated. As a result, the final leg of the world tour got off to an unusually organised start, the band arriving for their soundcheck at 2.00 p.m. sharp on the day of the show, and Axl ready to go onstage promptly at 6:40 p.m. Kicking off with 'Welcome to the Jungle', the band turned in a tight 18-song set, which they politely concluded by Axl jumping down into the crowd to hand out individually-wrapped red roses. Despite the heavy-duty emotional traumas he had been going through back home with Stephanie, he still looked ahead to a future with her. This final leg of the tour would be “pure gravy”, with the band slimmed back to its more natural six-man line-up, enabling them to pick up one huge payday after another as they trotted around those parts of the world that still hadn't had enough of them.
Behind the scenes, however, some things would never change. Axl had his full support team with him, including special areas backstage for both Suzzy London and Sharon Maynard and their own respective entourage of assistants. “They had to accompany him to Japan to make sure that the bad-energy waves didn't capture him there,” one incredulous former employee explained. To that end, Axl had requested detailed information about atomic-power sources in the country generally - and the power sources for the Tokyo Dome specifically - before he had even arrived in the country. While some crew members were tolerant of such esoteric lines of enquiry, others were deeply sceptical of Maynard's' true motives. “If it was any exotic, wonderful place around the world, [the advisers] generally had to be flown in at some point,” one former employee later told Rolling Stone. “But if it was going to be Kansas City, every¬thing was really fine.”
The rest of the band's time in Japan followed a more conventional pattern, beginning with a big party after the first show at a nightclub in the Reppongi district called the Lexington Queen - a familiar after-hours drop-in for bands passing through, frequented by western models currently on assignment in Tokyo. By the second show on January 14, even Axl was starting to feel more at home, delaying the show for an hour and dedicating the song 'Yesterdays' to his half-brother Stuart. Afterwards he and the band joined Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, also playing in town that night, at his after-show party at the Lexington Queen. The following night, Axl introduced 'Live and Let Die' as 'Live and Let Stir-fry'. Wood, still hanging out with Slash from the night before, then joined them onstage for a lengthy knockabout version of set-closer 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door'.
Two weeks later they were in Australia where their show in Melbourne at the vast Calder Park Raceway stadium on February 1 broke national attendance records. Three days later they were in New Zealand, where Axl and Duff held a joint birthday celebration in a luxurious restaurant overlooking Auckland harbour. On February 6, the day of Axl's 31st birthday, they played at Auckland's Mount Smart Stadium. At the climax of 'November Rain' a dozen or so members of the road crew marched onstage to present their leader with a massive birthday cake, at which point Slash and Duff led the crowd into a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' while Axl did his “Aw, shucks” best to look surprised. A fortnight later they were all back in the US ready to begin the 'Skin And Bones' leg of the tour, as they were now calling it with, a sold-out show at the Frank Erwin Centre in Austin, Texas. Shorn of the extraneous horn section and backing singers, the middle of the set now included an acoustic section comprised almost entirely of side two of the GN'R Lies album - minus 'One In A Million', which not even Axl was crazy enough to want to perform live.
Of course, the tour still had its unexpected 'delays' and hastily rearranged dates. Fours shows were cancelled right at the start of the tour due to “adverse weather conditions”. While on April 3, a show in Sacramento was curtailed after 90 minutes when Duff was hit in the head with what Slash told the crowd was “a bottle of piss” but which MTV News later reported as a plastic water bottle. Whatever it was, it knocked Duff clean out and he had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. Although it was Axl who announced the show would have to be stopped, it was Slash who came out and faced them once it became clear Duff would have to go to hospital. Explaining the situation, he asked that everyone leave peacefully, adding: “Don't fuck with anyone, don't fuck with the building.” For once, nobody did.
Another show was also cancelled in April - this time at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia - when Axl realised it was the same venue he had been arrested at after his scuffle with a security guard on the Mötley Crüe tour in 1987. With Axl still technically on parole after the court case regarding the riot in St. Louis two years before, he ordered Doug Goldstein to pull the show. “I'm not willing to be a sitting duck for the police,” Axl would later say in a press statement. He was already too “familiar with that experience.”
The most dramatic tour incident this time around though concerned Izzy's replacement Gilby Clarke, who broke his left wrist in a motorcycling accident on April 29, while practicing for a celebrity race in honour of the TJ Martell Foundation for leukaemia, cancer and AIDS research, which resulted in the final four shows of the US itinerary being cancelled. Gilby's absence also threatened to scuttle the band's planned return to Europe that summer for festival shows. But Axl came up with an unusual last-minute solution. He simply called Izzy and asked him if he'd do the shows with them - on a strictly temporary basis, of course. Even more unexpected, Izzy agreed.
“Izzy and I grew up together and we're like a family in lots of ways - including having our differences,” Axl explained. When I later reminded him of that quote, Izzy simply smiled and shook his head. “Well, what else could he say? They were kind of in a spot and if I hadn't agreed to help out they might have missed out on that whole leg of the tour.”
Opening on May 22 at a specially constructed site in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv, more than 40,000 fans turned up for what was officially the biggest music concert ever held in Israel. In the middle of the set, the band broke into a surprisingly full-blooded rendition of 'Hava Nagila' which went down a storm, as did comments in the press the next day about the Guns N' Moses t-shirt Axl wore onstage.
From there the tour alighted, on May 24 - its second anniversary - onto the Olympic Stadium in Athens, where supermodel Claudia Schiffer joined them afterwards for a party at the Mercedes Club. Then on May 26 they performed in Istanbul, where Axl stopped the show after just three songs to berate the audience for throwing lit fireworks at each other. “Someone will get hurt and the band will be forced to leave the stadium,” he told them. Remarkably, the crowd stopped and the show continued.
On May 29, the band performed their first show in England for a year when they headlined the first of two shows to over 50,000 people at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes. At the end of it, after the final encore of 'Paradise City', Axl threw two dozen red roses into the crowd. For the British fans, Milton Keynes was also a welcome return for one of the original members. For Izzy, “it was weird. We toured Israel, Greece, Istanbul, London - I liked that side of it, seeing some places I'd never seen.” But that was the only thing he liked about it. After he'd left the band, he said, he'd had “a big shit load of money sitting somewhere [for me] and they weren't paying me [it]. I don't know what the deal was, some kind of legal bullshit.” Funds, he claims, which were only released after he agreed to come back temporarily. “Money was a big sore point. I did the dates just for salary. I mean, I helped start this band…”
The second show the following day saw the arrival backstage of Gilby and his wife, who had flown in especially for the occasion. With Gilby's wrist injury now healed, this was also Izzy's last show with the band. For the encores they were joined by Ronnie Wood and former Hanoi Rocks vocalist and Axl acolyte Mike Monroe. Afterwards, Izzy says he left without even saying goodbye. “I didn't actually say 'see you' cos they were all fucked up. Duff and these guys, they didn't even recognise me. It was really bizarre. It was like playing with zombies. Ah, man, it was just horrible. Nobody was laughing anymore…”
With Izzy gone and Gilby back in the fold, the tour returned to the continent, continuing with sold-out stadium shows in Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and Belgium. On June 21, halfway through their five-date German tour, the band released a brace of new video collections: the self-explanatory Don't Cry - Makin' Fucking Videos Part I and November Rain - Makin' Fucking Videos Part II.
After one last show in Paris, on July 13, the band flew straight to Argentina, where the final show of the world tour was scheduled to take place at the 70,000-capacity River Plate Stadium, in Buenos Aires, on July 17. Though they couldn't have known it, it would also be the last performance by what was left of the original band. As if to end the tour in the style to which everyone on it, not least Axl, had become unhealthily accustomed, the night before the show more than 50 police officers from the city's narcotics division forced their way into Axl's top floor penthouse suite, where he was eating dinner. Having made a thorough search for drugs, they retreated again, without apologising, not having found anything. “They'd have had better luck trying one of the others' rooms,” quipped a crew member. “By then, Axl was about the only not doing drugs on a permanent basis.”
Broadcast live on TV in Argentina and Uruguay, for once the set the next night kicked off promptly at 9:30 p.m. Starting the 21-song set with 'Nightrain' and ending it with 'Paradise City', by midnight the band were already back at the hotel, where Axl, Slash and others remained in the bar until six o'clock the following morning, Axl at the grand piano for some of it, treating the assembled throng to one last tune.
Forty-eight hours later, they were back where they'd started, in LA. It had been the longest tour in rock history: 192 dates in 27 countries, with ticket sales in excess of seven million, grossing almost $58 million - an almost unheard of amount of money for one tour. Not even the Rolling Stones could expect to make that kind of gross on ticket-sales alone until many years deep into their hit-making career. Even the Grateful Dead, who had been touring successfully for decades, couldn't expect to earn more than $40 million from touring in the early '90s. continue reading
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