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SoulMonster

2002.MM.DD - Classic Rock - The Madness of King Axl

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2002.MM.DD - Classic Rock - The Madness of King Axl

Post by Soulmonster on Sat Apr 14, 2018 5:40 am

AS OPPRESSIVE darkness gradually envelops Temple Newsam, a remote agrarian idyll that annually plays host to the Leeds leg of the Carling Festival, the all-pervasive atmosphere of shared anticipation that fills the air is almost intolerable. For countless thousands stand in rapt expectation of the first appearance on these shores in eight long years of the increasingly elusive and peerlessly unpredictable Axl Rose in the company of his latest incarnation of Guns N' Roses.
With the clock ticking inexorably toward eleven, almost an hour subsequent to the band's advertised stage time, the capacity crowd grows increasingly restless. For all present are more than aware of the fact that until Axl actually sets foot onto the stage there's absolutely no guarantee that he'll perform at all. Speculation purrs through the heaving throng of a potential no-show, many doubting that Rose has yet deigned to put in a personal appearance at his very own resurrection, and some even going so far as to voice their reservations as to whether the man himself is actually still alive.
Backstage meanwhile, and utterly unbeknownst to the nervously fingernail-chomping faithful, an extensive limousine prepares to decant its priceless cargo at the conclusion of its, somewhat scant, fifty-metre journey from dressing room to stage.
Axl Rose, a rock star of the old school brought up on the ludicrously indulgent ethos and mythological legacy of both Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, has just been chauffeured through a bemused assemblage of Prodigys, Offsprings and Slipknots in order to avoid unhinging his hair-trigger focus and, as the predatory preliminaries of Iggy and the Stooges' 'Gimme Danger' draw to a close, he casually ascends a stage-side staircase and prepares to go to work.
From the very moment that the lights dim and the video screens explode in a cornea-crisping miasma of screaming skulls and swirling psychedelia, abject hysteria reigns. An inexorable surge of humanity crushes forth and a single roar of mutual relief and release crackles through the firmament like seismic Wagnerian thunder. And, as the titanic, opening chords of the inevitable 'Welcome To The Jungle' snag their way into the crowd's heightened, collective consciousness, the resultant atmosphere is nothing short of euphoric. It's into this ecstatic wave of unfettered emotion that Axl ultimately strides. Sporting a serpentine mane of fiery, braided plaits that spill haphazardly back from his trademark bandanna, he regards his submissive congregation hungrily as if readying himself to feed vampirically upon every last drop of their adulation, puffs out his chest as though preparing to engage in gladiatorial combat, and cuts loose with the single, most timber-shivering howl in the entire history of rock.

*

IT'S AT this critical juncture that the action inexplicably freeze-frames and your logic circuits kick into overdrive. Time decelerates, and in a single nanosecond of drowning man clarity, you realise that the performance that you're about to witness can only end in pure, unmitigated catastrophe. For all the available evidence would appear to suggest that Axl Rose is completely and utterly insane. His uniquely instinctive talent sacrificed on the altar of an indulged paranoia, he's steadily metamorphosed into an entirely spent force who's never happier than when flouncing from the world's stages at the very slightest provocation. Add to this the irrefutable fact that the band onstage may be many things, but Guns N' Roses they most certainly are not and you're pretty much faced with an irredeemable recipe for disaster.
But as reality bites, all of your cynically preconceived reservations dissolve into mere bagatelles as it becomes quite abundantly clear that 'Welcome To The Jungle', the all-Gunners-blazing, accompanying soundtrack to your chin-stroking reverie of doom, is actually sounding quite uncommonly fine.
Today's Guns N' Roses are without doubt the greatest Guns N' Roses tribute band in the whole, wide world. Twin guitarists, Buckethead (sporting his usual KFC headgear with the word 'Funeral' inexplicably felt-penned about its brim) and former Nine Inch Nails man, Robin Finck (stylistically speaking, the most effeminate undertaker you'll ever see) replicate Slash and Stradlin's classic licks to a tee.
The watertight rhythm section meanwhile provides a genuinely propulsive bedrock of funk-fuelled ferocity that allows Axl free rein to emote like a tortured soul.
While the video screens burn bright with evocative images of Columbine High, the Gulf War and Iron Mike Tyson in full pugilistic effect, it's always the gentleman at centre stage that casually captures the attention. Axl Rose remains the consummate frontman, blazing with a singular surfeit of utterly magnetic charisma, the fractious cawing of his entirely unmistakeable voice repeatedly hammering home the point that this is, beyond question, the one true Guns N' Roses. For, as the audience's reaction clearly attests, whether Axl's onstage sparring partner is wearing a top hat or indeed a fried chicken receptacle on his head, as long as he's providing the requisite licks and not falling over the furniture, they'll be more than satisfied.
Much upfront debate may well have argued to the contrary, but the facts speak plainly enough: there's only ever been one irreplaceable member of Guns N' Roses, and his name is Axl Rose.

*

AS THE night progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that the Gunners are in no way inclined to take prisoners. They wheel out crowd-pleasers in swift succession ('It's So Easy', 'Mr Brownstone', 'Live And Let Die'), throw every, single, granite-jawed rock star pose in their armoury and, to all intents and purposes, they party like it's 1989. They put on an entirely irony-free nostalgia show that, while perpetually hitting the spot, fearlessly embraces the kind of buttock-clenching rock 'n' roll clichés that lesser mortals - in this allegedly more enlightened age - would never dare employ, and it's like grunge never happened.
Axl bounds about the stage like a young gazelle, occasionally careening into the help or masturbating the odd microphone stand, as 'Think About You' and 'You Could Be Mine' give way to a quite staggeringly triumphant 'Sweet Child Of Mine'. 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' is accorded a quite colossal reception that causes Axl to intone, ironically no doubt, "Stop it, you're embarrassing me", before concluding the loose-limbed Rod and Faces knockabouts of the fiercely autobiographical 'Out Ta Get Me' with a fully-fledged, imitation of Christ, crucifix pose.
Following on from 'Madagascar' (a massive ballad, and the first new composition of the night) with its accompanying video of burnt-out cars, New York subway trains and Martin Luther King speeches, Buckethead delivers one of the most genuinely ludicrous, solo guitar spots ever witnessed by man or beast: peppered liberally betwixt nimble-fingered dislocations of 'The Star Wars Theme' and 'English Civil War' the man in the cardboard hat demonstrates his not insubstantial nunchaku and robot dancing skills, and it's all one can do not to weep.
And then, just as things are about to get back on track, with Axl seated at the grand piano to click his fingernails across the delicious opening chords of 'November Rain', he interrupts proceedings to announce: "Well, it appears that we're going to have an interesting evening. The council and the promoters say that we've got to get off, but I didn't come all the way to fucking Leeds to be told to fucking go home".
It's past midnight, ostensibly curfew time, but Axl is none too keen to comply to the trifling demands of petty bureaucracy: "I've got seven or eight more songs" he booms defiantly, before turning his attentions once more to the single most lighters-aloft selection of the band's entire set. And it's magical.
Though faced with more than enough ammunition to throw a belated show-stopping tantrum, Axl has ultimately prevailed over his tempestuous inner demons to deliver a perfectly executed reading of the Gunners' finest ballad that's nothing short of spine-tingling. Furthermore, he's ultimately rewarded for his uncharacteristic patience: "We've got more time," he grins gratefully, before graciously concluding, "And to whoever is responsible for that I'd like to say thank you."
Dear God, if it wasn't for that extraordinary voice, one could be forgiven for imaging that we're currently in thrall of an etiquette enhanced doppelganger.
There is another breathtakingly sticky moment during 'Patience', when an ill-advised call from the crowd for a certain absentee guitarist floats into Axl's earshot. But after responding venomously with a decidedly terse: "He's up my ass, that's where Slash is, go home", he's straight back on top of his game to unleash a second as-yet-unreleased composition, in the shape of the decidedly Alice Cooper-esque 'The Blues', before the set's undeniably sucker-punching conclusion of 'Rocket Queen', 'Nightrain' and - as Axl produces the prerequisite referee's whistle to utterly tumultuous applause - 'Paradise City'.
As the band finally file from the stage in a veritable firestorm of tickertape and flame-belching pyro, there's absolutely no denying that they've ultimately earned their spurs as worthy heirs to the iconic appellation of Guns N' Roses.
And Axl? Well, Axl ultimately answered his harshest critics in the only way he knows how: by kicking a fundamental quantity of ass.

*

FOLLOWING ON from these triumphal, phoenix-like scenes in Leeds, the Guns N' Roses touring party decamp to Belgium, where a similar story is to unfold during the course of the band's next performance at the Pukkelpop festival.
In a virtual duplication of the preceding night's events, they finally take to the stage well over an hour late to play an almost identical two-hour set, though with morale boosted to an all-time high, elect to include a further brace of new songs: 'Rhiad And The Bedouins' and 'Chinese Democracy'.
The next scheduled show, two days later at London's cavernous Docklands Arena, is rapidly shaping up as the most eagerly anticipated of the entire tour. With some Leeds punters having held their mobiles up to the PA during the Gunners' performance, so that friends attending the concurrent Reading festival could actually bear jealous ear-witness to tantalising snatches from Maestro Axl's Lazarus-like return from the brink, the air of anticipation that hangs over the capital has been intensified beyond reason.
Axl's onstage conduct is once again exemplary, Buckethead's twirling nunchakus fundamentally dazzling and all of the doggedly rehearsed, tried-and-trusted oldies bang on the nail. Hell, they even throw in 'Madagascar', 'The Blues' and 'Rhiad And The Bedouins' for good measure. But one cannot help but feel that, following such a protracted silence, Guns N' Roses 2002 could have delivered so much more.

*

WITH THEIR live silence finally broken and a string of enthusiastically received, set-piece performances behind them, it would appear that Guns N' Roses' future as a functioning, credible unit is assured. Yet all may not be quite as rosy in the Gunners' camp as one might imagine.
Initially, there's the small matter of that album. Heretofore Chinese Democracy has been in production for marginally longer than The Beatles' entire recording career. Various release dates and potential track-listings have been mooted over the passing years, a reported $9 million has been spunked to the four winds, but other than the decidedly lacklustre 'Oh My God' (included on the soundtrack to the 1999 Schwarzenegger vehicle End Of Days) nothing at all concrete has been delivered.
Axl's revolving-door employment policy hasn't helped matters much, but the sheer longevity of the project has ultimately served to hole it beneath the waterline. Over a prolonged period of incessant honing, crafting, polishing, rearranging, remixing and generally arsing about with the album (with additional production input from Roy Thomas Baker, Bob Ezrin, Sean Beavan, Eric Caudieux, Moby and Youth), its core material has slid steadily out of date. Consequently, just as the metal Zeitgeist is enthusiastically rediscovering and embracing the rambunctious spirit and visceral rock 'n' roll stylings of vintage Guns N' Roses, Axl himself is left sitting on an entire album's worth of Nine Inch Nails-inspired, industrial-tinged rock that's in grave danger of sounding creakingly archaic when it finally sees the light of day.
During the course of his lengthy, self-imposed exile in his sprawling mansion situated in the hills above Latigo Canyon Road, Malibu, Axl Rose has steadily lost touch with reality. With a Laurel Canyon studio apparently on permanent, dollar-gobbling stand-by, he's wasted an inordinate amount of time, reportedly re-recording Appetite For Destruction in its entirety (a folly designed to, somewhat unrealistically, deprive the other original band members of their still not insubstantial performance royalties) and devoted a great deal of energy in the dogged pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. The vocalist has toyed with a variety of new age philosophies and paid repeated visits to Sharon "Yoda" Maynard in the mystical Disneyland of Sedona, a centre of alleged psychic empowerment located at the very heart of the Coconino National Forest outside Flagstaff, Arizona.
Axl Rose - to all intents and purposes, rock's Howard Hughes - is gradually slipping toward the kind of ivory towered, cloud-cuckoo-land that's most readily associated with Michael Jackson. Similarly cursed with untold wealth and an obvious Peter Pan complex, surrounded by yes men and entirely divorced from the stark reality of the streets, parallels to Jacko are quite irresistible. And just as Jackson's belated embrace of rap manners on Bad seemed almost quaint in its contrived tardiness, Chinese Democracy may well define the unmistakeable sound of yesterday in similarly embarrassing style.

*

SO WHAT can we actually expect of Chinese Democracy? According to the latest stage pronouncements from Axl, the album's to contain eighteen songs accompanied by an extra CD containing a further ten selections. No definitive track listing has yet been revealed, but cuts allegedly up for inclusion are believed to be: 'Hearts Always Get Killed', 'Today, Tomorrow Forever', 'Cock-a-roach Soup', 'Closing In On You', 'Something Always', 'Catcher In The Rye', 'No Love Remains', 'Strange Disease', 'Friend Or Foe', 'Never Had It', 'This I Love', 'Silk Worm', 'Prostitute', 'This Life', 'Zip It', 'I.R.S.', and the heroically entitled, 'Twat'. Most astonishingly, Axl took time out to inform the audience at London's Docklands Arena that the majority of the meagre quartet of songs that the band debuted on the European leg of the "Chinese Democracy" tour are not to appear on the finished version of the album. Then again, he also went on to insist that the band have already completed work on the album's follow-up, claiming: "By the time the record company release the second group of songs, and we do this all over again, who knows? Maybe I'll have finished the third album."
Hmm, with Chinese Democracy unlikely to appear any time before Spring 2003, the holding of breath isn't strongly advised.
With Chinese Democracy supposedly in the can, the question that simply has to be posed is: why not play more of it live? What can possibly be wrong with it? Has Axl, as has been repeatedly hazarded elsewhere, hit an insurmountable writer's block with regard to the lyrics and, loathe to hum his way through his latest compositions, been ultimately compelled to leave them out altogether?
The most reasonable assumption, however, is that Rose, a man who has repeatedly proved himself to be unnaturally paranoid with regard to the theft of his image by unauthorised photographers, may be similarly wary of potential bootleggers slapping his finest works all over the Internet.
After all, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

*

ONE IMAGINES that the very worst news that's been faced by Axl Rose in recent months is the fact that his former sparring partners in the original Gunners line-up: guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, have reformed to work on a brand new project together. The trio initially hooked up again in April 2002 to play the Los Angeles Key Club with Buckcherry vocalist Joshua Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson in tow, but in spite of the recent Buckcherry split, the former Gunners are reportedly still searching for a suitable singer to complete their line-up.
There's no love lost between the opposing factions and a bloody, high profile battle for the title of the one, true Guns N' Roses could well be on the cards; something of a worst case scenario for Axl Rose, if truth be known. For while he's staggering under the weight of his enduring Chinese Democracy albatross - an over-produced and conceptually confused throwback to the dark, industrial revolution of the twentieth century - Slash, Duff and Matt, priceless back catalogue aside, are the potential architects of their very own year zero.
While their collective reputation most definitely precedes them, they're faced with an entirely clean slate and no unnecessary encumbering baggage whatsoever. Specifically, they're in the perfect position to give their existing fan-base exactly what they want: classic Guns N' Roses, utterly untainted by a single whiff of either Colonel Sanders headgear or gothic affectation.
In the final analysis, then, Axl Rose faces an uncertain future. The world's bloated auditoria may well be baying for his gilt-edged back catalogue at present, but can it possibly endure?
The seeds of dissention have already been sown, with the band's surprise appearance at MTV's Video Awards show being viciously savaged by visitors to the outspoken metal-sludge website's message board. A forum positively bloated with former fans enthusiastically decrying "Axl Rose's Freak Show" as "a washed-up piece of shit", before concluding, somewhat unkindly: "what was up with that rug on Axl's head?"
Ultimately, Chinese Democracy is going to have to be very, very good indeed to stem this ever-growing tide of disillusioned and rightfully impatient Guns N' Roses fans, who cannot help but feel that they've been exceptionally short-changed by the very band that once provided the defining soundtrack to their youth.
The Leeds, Pukkelpop and Docklands shows may well have represented a more than welcome celebration of Guns N' Roses' undeniably coruscating past, but the time has finally come for Axl Rose to conclusively redefine their future.
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