As the second song from most recent Rob Zombie record, The Sinister Urge, blared over the P.A. system, the first cup hit the empty Guns N’ Roses stage last Friday night in Philadelphia. It just sat there. No roadies, no security, not even a stray custodian from the First Union Center janitorial staff made an attempt to get rid of it. It was becoming quickly apparent to the agitated audience that they had a better chance of seeing the crumpled cup get up and put on a show than the evening’s headliner.
Frustrations surfaced 50 minutes into the DJ set by opener Mix Master Mike, who — though spinning quality music — couldn’t compete with the excitement of seeing Guns N’ Roses almost 11 years to the day since they last played in Philly. At 9:40, when Mix Master Mike finally left the stage, boos were replaced by cheers and chants of “Aaaaxl!” as the audience eagerly anticipated the imminent arrival of singer Axl Rose and his revamped G’n’R line-up.
The first five tracks from the new Audioslave record echoed throughout the sold out First Union Center as the crew finished setting up the stage. After each song ended, the cheers started, only to be quelled by the beginning notes of the next track. Weezer’s Maladroit then spun: after the first few tracks, scattered boos dotted the air. By the time the Rob Zombie record came on, the boos outweighed the cheers while “Axl” chants were replaced by “Ass-hole!”
Then, something odd happened.
Minutes after the first cup littered the stage, almost an entire section on the first level stood up and walked out. Whatever sort of silent protest they were undertaking spurred others to seek answers as to why after 90 minutes had Guns N’ Roses not taken the stage? The answer lay in the actions of the road crew, who, unbeknownst to the majority of the crowd, had quickly and silently begun to break down the band’s equipment behind the black drop curtains. The beer had been cut off for over an hour. Merchandise stands had closed. A mouthpiece meekly stepped up to a microphone an announced that “due to health issues, the Guns N’ Roses concert will be postponed.”
Drinks, and food joined a chorus of boos that rained down from above. A fight broke out, and someone threw a chair on the stage. A security guard hopped onto the stage to remove it, and was met with a dozen more. The rest of the First Union Center security took cover while a good portion of the audience started to get out of control, looking to start a retaliatory riot. Seats on the floor were thrown into piles. The soundboard was destroyed. Trash cans were strewn across the concourses, and some on the first level added them to the growing piles off chairs on the floor. Those feeling left out on the second tier began to rip the metal framed cushions from their own seats, and hurled them into the melee below. When that wasn’t enough, they kicked off the once bolted binocular cases from underneath their seats, broke ceiling tiles in half and launched them both off of the second level. Fires erupted, but they either instantly burned themselves out, or were stomped by those with cooler heads who just wanted to break some shit up.
Within 30 minutes of the announcement, most of the crowd had dispersed. Anger and aggression was released while avoiding a major riot. Drunks outside the arena wailed about how much Axl sucked, and local news helicopters hovered overhead while police donned riot gear. Hook and ladder fire trucks stood by. In the end, no one was arrested, a few people went to area hospitals to treat minor injuries and most concertgoers were left wondering what the hell happened to Axl this time?
The next day, a spokesman for Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the First Union Center, inexplicably down played the near-riot, saying that when the concert cancellation was announced, the audience “left the venue in an orderly manner.” Local news told a different story, showing stills taken by fans in a club box showing the damage. To their credit, Comcast-Spectacor was somehow able to clean up the arena enough to hold a hockey game early that afternoon.
By mid-morning, it was announced that a second Guns N’ Roses show in Philadelphia the following evening was canceled. So were four more across the country. Clear Channel, the promoters for the tour, said that they were pulling the plug on the rest of the shows, which they then scaled back to only a few dates. Finally, late Wednesday, Clear Channel released at statement that said in part; “The remainder of the Guns N’ Roses concert dates promoted by Clear Channel Entertainment have been canceled.”
Still no comment from Axl Rose, about whom rumors have swirled endlessly since the Philadelphia no-show. He was in an accident. He was dead. He was still in New York, site of the previous night’s gig — at a Knicks game (the Knicks were actually in Boston that night). There was a fight between band members and Axl took off. He heard the boos in Philly and decided not to play. And the two most widespread rumors: (1) he was enraptured by the Los Angeles Lakers’ unbelievable comeback against the Dallas Mavericks in his hotel room, and simply blew off the show, or, (2) he was preparing to be institutionalized as the rigors of touring were leaving him an emotional wreck.
The fuel for these rumors revolves around the fact that Axl has kept uncharacteristically mum about both the no-show and subsequent cancellation of the Guns N’ Roses tour. Riots or near riots are nothing new to the frontman, who in fact started this tour with one at the opening date in Vancouver when promoters pulled the plug on the show after Axl didn’t show up. He later blamed them for jumping the gun, claiming that he was on his way to the show when it was canceled.
In 1991 during a St. Louis show, miffed at security for their failure to confiscate a camera form a local biker, Axl took matters into his own hands by diving into the crowd to get it himself. He then stalked off taking the rest of the Gunners with him, inciting a riot. In 1992, while co-headlining with Metallica, Rose walked off early in the group’s set complaining of a sore throat. This was after Metallica cut their own set short after singer James Hetfield stepped into a white hot pyrotechnic. A massive riot ensued.
In those days, Guns N’ Roses were topping the charts. Axl could say or do whatever he wanted and the masses would still show up. Ten years later, it’s a different story. The band that changed the face of rock and roll was effectively fired by Rose years ago, while he simply retains the right to the name. The fans from back in the day aren’t teenagers or in their early twenties anymore. They don’t have the time to sit around for hours waiting for Axl to pull another no-show. Going to concerts now might require a baby-sitter, months of planning, and maybe even nesting away some money for the $70 tickets. Axl must realize that he no longer comes off as the dangerous and volatile bad boy of rock, but rather the immature and irresponsible poster boy for middle age ego and disillusionment.
There is certainly a novelty in seeing Rose and his band of musical gypsies, but that will fade if it hasn’t already. Philadelphia was only the second sold-out date of the tour. Some dates scheduled barely moved half of the available tickets. Guns N’ Roses haven’t put out a new record in over 10 years, and Axl has apparently been working on a new album entitled Chinese Democracy for seven years now, with no release date in sight. The relevance of the band is relegated to rock stations across the country that mainly play cuts from Appetite For Destruction.
Statement or not, the years that Axl has spent toying with the new record release, the line-up and the fans of Guns N’ Roses is either going to come to a bad ending, or it will take just as many years to build back the confidence in the group again. Right now, it seems that the Axl has snapped on the Guns N’ Roses mobile, and their isn’t a repair shop in sight.