Most readers of this site will be well aware by now of the recent furore over the various different ‘incidents’ involving Axl Rose and his merry band of jobbing guitarists (and Dizzy). Suffice to say if any of you out there rely on Demon Pigeon as your sole resource for all of your Metal news then you will probably be unaware of anything that happens at all in the music world since January, because we don’t really ‘do’ news. But just in case you either haven’t logged onto a computer until this very moment, or as is more likely the case you royally couldn’t give a monkey’s scrotum what Axl Rose does, here’s what has happened:
Guns n Roses were booked to headline Reading and Leeds festival, the second time they have done so. On the first occasion they came on ridiculously late, played way over their allotted time and the festival was fined a shitload of money which to my understanding was enough to momentarily place the future of the Festival. Roll forward 8 years and the band are booked again, but are warned by the promoters explicitly and very publicly that they cannot fuck about and come onstage late again. Nonetheless Axl rolls up for show 1 in Reading a full hour late, and then throws a hissy fit when told they can’t go over the schedule. He vows not to play Leeds Festival, starts talking like a Republican confronted by the prospect of an Islamic Cultural Centre and quite possibly wakes up with his teddy bear pyjamas covered in his own gold plated tears.
Leeds Festival rolls around two days later, and he decides that actually, having signed a very lucrative contract and given that it was all his fault in the first place and there are a lot of people who have gone to see him he should probably play. Once again he strolls on half an hour late, and once again throws a massive hissy fit when he is told he can’t do a full set.
So that brings us up to date, more or less. Since then there are rumours he’s sacked his whole crew for not waking him up in time for the first show (surely he could have set the alarm clock on his phone?) and he’s gone very public slagging the organisers off, etc etc. Oh, and apparently he went to a gay club. Not quite sure how that qualifies for news, but anyway. But in all off this melange of coverage, the debates on whether it really is GnR and so on, none of it particularly flattering to Axl, there is one thing that has not been discussed. And that is how utterly horrible the performance was.
Firstly, a bit of personal perspective. I was seven when Appetite for Destruction came out, and was cajoled into buying it by a friend on the grounds that ‘they swear all the time.’ Which for most seven year-olds is pretty much a five star review. So I got it on cassette, and I think it’s fair to say that it changed my life, in the way that only that first great musical love can. I saw through the sweariness and grasped firmly onto the aggression, the power, the guitars. Some 23 years later and I set up a metal site in no small part because of what Ben Shepherd said to me on the swings that day.
Which is not to say that I am still a fan. The follow ups were bilge, Lies was clearly a record fuelled by misogyny and racism even to a ten year old, and the recent return with Chinese Democracy was nothing short of appalling. Not only that but I discovered better, heavier and more interesting bands. That said I always held a soft spot for them, and when they came back I had no real issue with Axl continuing under the Guns name. At the end of the day the rest of the band quit, he didn’t so he keeps the name. It’s not the first or last time that it’s happened.
I actually had the (mis)fortune of seeing the original line-up, as a wee 13 year old boy, at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in Wembley. They were to be frank not very good, drunk as skunks and out of tune, Slash was out of time with the others the whole time, and they had the most out of place backing singers you could imagine. But it was the kind of shambolic alcohol-fueled performance that appeals to a thirteen year old, and I loved it at the time, even if the performance was slightly overshadowed by the fact that I had been introduced to Metallica, who opened the show an hour earlier. But it was memorable rather than excellent. I loved it at the time but looking back on it now it seems a slow, unpractised shambles. But then I also thought wearing a shell suit was a kick ass fashion statement at the time, so what the fuck did I know?
In comparison, the next time I saw them, at the aformentioned first Leeds Fest show in 2002 was bewilderingly excellent. Like most people in the crowd, I had no idea what to expect after such a long absence, and the delay didn’t help (the one thing nobody ever mentions about festivals is how much it paggers your feet after a full day) but the band he had assembled were tight as fuck, his voice had held up reasonably well, and having Buckethead as his main guitarist meant that as well as a bewildering guitar solo, we were also treated to a nunchuk display from a man wearing a KFC bucket on his head. The most Metallica ever managed was when they set Hetfield on fire, and I didn’t even get to see that. As well as that the band played with an exuberance borne of Axl being at that time a man not knowing if he had any relevance any longer to a music scene that had moved dramatically on in the decade since he had last been a part of it. Leeds was one of the very first gigs he did, and it was brilliant. I don’t care that it wasn’t really Guns. Nunchuks!
A few years later and a completely different line up turned up at Download Festival, ostensibly to promote Chinese Democracy, although that was still some time away. The contrast was stark. Axl’s voice seemed tired, the new band couldn’t cut it, and it was just a mess. Crowds were streaming away from the main stage by the third song, somehow I managed to hold on to the end out of some sheer lunatic sense of loyalty to the man who sparked something in me so many years earlier. I left that night feeling utterly deflated, along with the whole festival, who seemed to talk about nothing else for the whole night.
Which brings us to this year. I wasn’t at Leeds or Reading festival. I’ve been done with that festival for some years now, and the prospect of yet another new Guns line Up and Queens of the Stone Age is not enough to entice me to a festival when I couldn’t even afford Bloodstock, Sonisphere or Download. But what I did do was watch the coverage on BBC3, and in between throwing insults at the charisma vacuum of presenters Edith Bowman and Reggie Yates when they finally showed a clip from Guns I couldn’t believe just how truly awful they were. Axl’s voice is now nothing approaching melodic, like the wail of a thousand executives at Endomol when the weekly Big Brother viewing figures come out. The band, no longer a rag tag group of exceptional talents and more a rag bag of whoever works near Axl who he hasn’t pissed off yet, are so loose and awful that really I think all the hi-jinks were a smokescreen to just how truly awful this once global icon has fallen. How sad to see my childhood, bloated, bankrupt of talent and undeserving even of pity. I now include a link to the BBC’s coverage of this truly awful spectacle, but for your own health please don’t watch for more than a few minutes, or if you do, may be just get really really high first. Oh, and if you’re not in the UK then you probably wont be able to get this. But that’s ok. No really, you’re better off.
Give it up Axl, please.