Are Guns N' Roses over?
For Guns N’ Roses fans, just a little patience may not be nearly enough. The future of Axl Rose’s reconstituted band is in doubt after its first tour was scrapped following Rose’s mysterious failure to show up for a concert in Philadelphia last Friday. The tour’s promoter, Clear Channel, announced the cancellation of some 15 remaining dates without offering an explanation. But it can’t have helped that the ever-unpredictable Rose had also failed to arrive for the outing’s opening show in Vancouver last month, sparking a full-fledged riot.
”Rose has damaged his career,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert-industry trade mag ”Pollstar.” ”This makes the band a riskier situation for promoters in the future.” (Rose’s management declined comment, and Clear Channel didn’t return a call by press time. A promised explanatory press release from Rose’s label, Interscope, has yet to arrive.).
Even before the cancellation, all was not well with the outing, in which the singer and keyboardist Dizzy Reed were the only carryover members from the band’s previous incarnation (Guns hasn’t released a studio album of new material since ’91). Reviews were mixed, and with a few exceptions — like the band’s sold-out show last week at Madison Square Garden in New York — ticket sales were lousy. On the first 10 cities of the tour, Guns sold an average of 7,344 seats per show in arenas that hold around 18,000 people, according to figures compiled by ”Pollstar.” Those dire results show that ”the 2002 Guns N’ Roses is not an arena act,” Bongiovanni says.
But at least one person close to the group is surprised by the recent turn of events. Matt Cord, a DJ for Philly modern-rock station Y-100 and a longtime friend of bassist Tommy Stinson, says the band members — including Axl — were excited after the Madison Square Garden concert, which they considered the high point of the tour. The musicians, minus Rose, were in Philadelphia Friday night and ready to play. Then the show’s local promoter informed them that their singer was feeling ill and wouldn’t be joining them. ”I honestly think Axl was sick,” says Cord. ”Physically sick — I think he had a cold.” The DJ dismissed a tabloid report that Rose refused to leave New York because he was busy watching a basketball game on TV.
Whatever really happened, Rose and Clear Channel could end up locked in a costly legal battle. The five-day delay in announcing the tour’s cancellation (individual dates were nixed along the way) may have signaled a reluctance from both the band and the promoter to take responsibility for pulling the plug, according to Bongiovanni, who says that whoever made that decision could end up owing the other side money. ”I think lawyers are talking to lawyers,” he says. One thing is clear: The promoter incurred financial losses from Rose’s two no shows.
As for the future, Bongiovanni and Cord agree that the only way Rose can recover from the tour debacle is by actually releasing his forever-in-the-works new album, ”Chinese Democracy,” and making it a hit. Cord thinks that’s not impossible. ‘”Axl went out and got a dream team of alternative rockers,” he says, citing the pedigrees of members such as the Replacements’ Stinson, Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, and Primus drummer Bryan ”Brain” Mantia. ”These guys are better than the old Guns N’ Roses.”
But many critics — and judging by ticket sales, most fans — disagree. And as it happens, the old G N’ R — guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, drummer Matt Sorum, and bassist Duff McKagan — have formed an as-yet-unnamed band of their own. And they’re still looking for a singer, according to a Slash spokesperson. Axl, it’s not too late.