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1991.12.16 - The Philadelphia Inquirer - A more in-control Guns N' Roses? (Slash)

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Post by Blackstar on Sun Jan 20, 2019 9:14 am

1991.12.16 - The Philadelphia Inquirer - A more in-control Guns N' Roses? (Slash) 1GT1Bckh_o
1991.12.16 - The Philadelphia Inquirer - A more in-control Guns N' Roses? (Slash) MkhPpEqb_o


A more in-control Guns Ν’ Roses?

Guitarist Slash says the band — which plays the Spectrum tonight and tomorrow — is less unruly than people think.

By Tom Moon
Inquirer Music Critic

NEW YORK — It’s 7 p.m. Saturday, and Slash, Guns Ν’ Roses’ guitar wizard, is sitting in a sleek suite at the Royalton Hotel, drinking an eye-opener of Jack Daniel’s and cola, explaining what happens on days like this, when the band doesn’t play.

The itinerary might say "day off,” but things aren’t always what they seem with Guns N’ Roses. There are certain responsibilities.

Usually Slash and his bandmates spend most of the day recovering from the previous night's exploits, which in this instance didn’t end until somewhere around 7 or 8 in the morning. When the musicians finally surface, in the late afternoon, there are informal gatherings to rehash the evening, strategy meetings and interviews — what Slash calls "the aesthetic necessities" of life on the road.

Guns N’ Roses, playing the Spectrum tonight and tomorrow, would prefer to present the image that everything happens by itself, in the fashion of a portable party. But no tour of this magnitude moves that way. Every step, every group dinner, requires extensive planning and despite what you might think, Slash — who is dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt open to the waist to reveal his new purchase, an extremely shrill conductor’s whistle — is happy to keep on top of it.

“I don’t have a minute of the day where I’m not thinking about what the band is doing," he says, a CEO among guitar gods. "Except, you know, sex is different.... But otherwise, I’m 100 percent involved — you try to keep up so decisions aren’t made that are gonna burn you later on. You don’t want anything negative to happen to you. A little bit of consciousness about what’s going on helps your overall performance.”

It seems Slash, 26 — his real name is Saul Hudson — has learned some of the lessons of growing up in public. He has felt the glare of an unfriendly spotlight, when his drug use was made public by none other than lead singer Axl Rose. The incident forced him to take control of his own life, and (as much as is possible) the stewardship of the band.

Similarly, he and his compatriots have endured countless controversies, relentless probes of their personal lives, routine battering in the music press — a reflection, Slash believes, of just how dull popular music has become: “The perception of us during our first success was blown all out of proportion. The press was using us as a scapegoat because they weren’t able to write about anything else, there was nothing interesting going on in the business.”

Above all, Slash realizes that his guitar is driving a fundamentally different band now — an outfit more professional than the stumbling-drunk pranksters of not-so-many years ago. Spearheaded by Axl Rose’s harrowing, contorting whine, the band has managed to inject its blustery attitude and fresh musical ideas into a sagging, stultified form. It has managed to sound on the fringe, bucking authority and cursing enemies while assuming a place in the rock mainstream.

This has brought each member of the band financial independence. More important, the musical advances have hastened the transformation of GNR from bad-boys’ club to rock institution. The band might still be noisy, and it might still conduct its business in public — the most recent news, that rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin was departing, was carried in most papers the day it was announced — but it is clearly trying to reform, to streamline (if not polish) its act.

The evidence will be presented in Philadelphia tonight, when GNR — with new guitarist Gilby Clarke, an all-female horn section and two female background vocalists — hit the Spectrum for the first of two shows. (Tickets remain for tomorrow’s performance, which like tonight’s show is scheduled to start “around 8 p.m.,” with an opening set from Seattle rockers Soundgarden.)

Looking back on it now, Slash says the transformation started after Appetite for Destruction, the band’s debut, became a multi-platinum hit.

“All of a sudden, just as we were getting successful, the whole band was separated. It wasn’t really against our will, we just didn’t know what was going on. The band was falling apart, there was no cohesiveness... Once we finally got that one licked, we could start worrying about making music again, and that’s what brought us together for the new album.”

Now, Slash says, he and “Ax” never fight. They have done everything possible to retain the sense of any-thing-can-happen interaction that has been a trademark of the live performances without getting too wild. "Every night I show up, he shows up, we talk about normal things. We figure out what the first song should be. We’ve been doing this for a while, so we’ve gotten good at picking up whatever the other person is feeling, which is important, because things are so spontaneous we have to be really together as a band.”

And yet turmoil still seems to be the band’s middle name. Since the tour that preceded the release of Use Your Illusion I and II, the band has been involved in a spitting match with Spin magazine, a riot in St. Louis that was sparked by Axl Rose’s displeasure about a video camera, and a brouhaha over guitarist Stradlin, who co-wrote a number of songs on Use Your Illusion I and II, and sings a few of them. Stradlin departed just before the band was to resume a tour that will run throughout 1992.

Slash is still bitter about Stradlin, who he says refused to participate in videos or rehearsals, and was not enthusiastic about touring. “He just wanted to hang out,” Slash asserts. “He thought it would be easy. Even on stage, I knew I had to walk around this person. We never got a sound thing together, or a guitar combo — I ended up playing most of the guitars on the record."

"When he left, he didn’t even resign to us. He called the office, and sent out a memo to everybody. There was a certain amount of hurt in that.”

Ex-Kill for Thrills guitarist Clarke, Stradlin’s replacement, is working out spectacularly, Slash says, explaining that for the first time in years, he’s getting harmonic support on his guitar solos. He knows that Clarke is stepping into an unusual situation, but as the band did a year ago when drummer Matt Sorum joined, it is concentrating as much on interpersonal relationships as the music.

"No matter how big we are as a band, the members of the band don’t feel that way. There’s no star trip. So whoever comes into it has got to be able to hang out with us.”

Between those lines is a status report: Slash and the other Gunners know that they are huge. On the basis of record sales (more than five million combined for the two Use Your Illusion titles) and tours (routine sellouts in a soft touring climate), the band is easily the biggest» rock-and-roll band in the world.

"It’s a timing thing," Slash counters. "If we were around in the 70s, who knows where we’d be. We might not be singled out at all, and we don’t take that for granted. We were lucky — we came out at the beginning of a lull in music. People were used to metal, but it was mostly poseur bands. We had this attitude as individuals — people would see us and say, “That’s an angry bunch of kids,” but really we were just a rock band that showed some spirit, any spirit, compared to what was going on."

Slash continues his GNR history: "We come from a long line of antisocial, rebellious rock-and-roll bands. All of them are part of the norm now — Aerosmith, the Sex Pistols don’t scare anybody anymore. And we got to the point where we’re acceptable. It was freaky. For a long time we were the most shocking thing around. Then soon people get used to you being that way, and you co-exist with everybody else. There’s a strong impulse, among us kids in my generation, to come up with something more extreme than the last guy. Now you have gun-toting rap acts. I don’t know what’s gonna be the next plateau.”

Slash says that one of the band’s objectives for the 30 tracks on Use Your Illusion was to create something that would go beyond the shock novelty. Guns needed to prove that "Sweet Child of Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle” weren’t flukes. To that end, they created ambitious suite-like songs, and grooves that were more intricate than those they’d attempted before. They tackled Bob Dylan’s "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door" and Wings’ "Live and Let Die," and carved out a typically sassy, original approach to the blues that made originals such as “Bad Obsession" and "Garden of Eden” sound instantly like classics.

"There’s nothing we want to do that we don’t feel we can pull off,” Slash asserts, referring to the variety of material on Use Your Illusion. "We are really open-minded. You won’t hear Bach in there, but maybe some influence from that might creep in. We’re not scared to try that stuff, because we’re looking for things that challenge everybody — us, the fans, the critics."

But some, pointing to the St. Louis riot in which hundreds of concertgoers stormed the stage after Rose jumped into the crowd to grab a video camera, charge that the band hasn’t yet discovered the line between challenge and provocation.

Slash disagrees. He defends Rose’s action in that case, and in others, by explaining that the band is concerned about security abuses at concerts. "Just because we’re onstage doesn’t mean we’re not affected by things. That’s 20,000 people out there, and we know they’re not faceless. Ax tries to communicate in a way so that our security and house security and staff deal with people in a compassionate, human way — not like they’re a bunch of cattle."

Still, Slash acknowledges that only so much can be done from the stage. "We just provide a release," he says. "At our shows people get to do all the things they’re not supposed to do. And that makes some people really dangerous. You still have to be responsible, so you don’t hurt anybody else.

"The energy level in the first two or three minutes of a show is way high," he continues. "It’s really unbelievable — the lights go down, the crowd knows something is about to happen, the tension is high. When we walk out there, we’re pretty ignorant about the way the show is going to go, because in the beginning the crowds are generally the same. But right away the release is there, and after the first few songs you can tell what the gig is going to be like.”

While the band is still concerned with winning over new fans, the larger mission — to keep Guns N’ Roses fresh, unruly and as far away from corporate rock as possible — seems to be accomplished.

"We can’t stand the corporate rock-and-roll mentality,” Slash says. "We’re probably part of a new surge of attitude that’s coming into the business, as opposed to the conventional Bon Jovi crap. We are a genuine band, bad or good or whatever. And we’re doing a real rock-and-roll trip — at this point it feels like it’s us and the people who go to our shows against the world.”

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