On May 24, 1991, Guns N' Roses embarked on its Use Your Illusion Tour, a massive 192-date concert spectacular that took the band to every place on the planet with electricity.
The string of shows marked the very height of Guns' popularity, with more than seven million people in 27 countries plunking down money to see the world's biggest rock band. It was a wild, titanic, unpredictable trek matched by few in the annals of stadium rock, and the group played damn near every song they ever wrote (and a few they didn't).
It was also the beginning of the end -- at least for G N' R's classic incarnation. From almost the very start, the tour was marred by late start times, rioting, cancellations, drug abuse and outrageous behavior from a Mr. Axl Rose.
It all seemed deliciously decadent at the time. In reality, though, the band members were becoming so deeply isolated by fame, addiction and paranoia that a descent into complete dysfunction was inevitable.
Still, when the tour finally wrapped up in Buenos Aires in July 1993, who knew that Slash, Duff and Izzy had each played his final show with Guns N' Roses? How did things get so fucked up that the original lineup never recovered? With all the children conceived in the parking lot after that GN'R gig in East Troy, Wisconsin, having now reached legal drinking age, we feel it's an appropriate time to take a look back at a few of the signposts leading to the end of the road for the Use Your Illusion lineup.
Here are five mistakes that you'll want to avoid repeating, should you ever find yourself traveling the globe in the world's most dangerous band:
5. Rioting Bums People Out: Axl Rose goes onstage when he's ready -- not before. That was the message received loud and clear by promoters and fans all over the country as the wait times between the opening bands' set and Guns' arrival grew unconscionable very early on in the tour. Sometimes the band would appear 40 minutes late; sometimes it would be hours. The long waits caused crowds to grow restless and drunk, and if the shows didn't go as planned, things got ugly.
Axl was deeply paranoid about security on the tour. When venue security goons ignored his commands to confiscate a camera from the crowd at St. Louis's Riverfront Amphitheater, he tried taking matters into his own hands, jumping into the audience to chase down the photographer. When Rose returned to the stage, he told the crowd he was going home. The band left the stage, touching off a riot that injured 90 people and led to 16 arrests.
It wasn't the last riot of the tour -- fans went berserk when the band left the stage early again in Montreal in 1992 -- but it was the most crushing. The threat of violence lingered over every gig afterwards, with Slash, Duff and drummer Matt Sorum hitting the bottle (and bindle) hard as Axl continued to make everyone wait.
4. Where's Izzy? Guns N' Roses guitarist and songwriter Izzy Stradlin accomplished a feat even more impressive than releasing a platinum double-album in 1991: He got sober. And as he looked around at the Use Your Illusion Tour with clear eyes, he didn't like what he saw.
Fed up with stress caused by the St. Louis riot, Axl's chronic lateness and his bandmates' debilitating drug abuse, Izzy quit the band after the European dates of the tour's first leg.
It may not have been fully appreciated at the time, but Stradlin's departure was a major blow to the band. He'd been Axl's childhood pal from Indiana and co-written most of the songs on Appetite for Destruction, and now he'd dumped the band and its baggage for good. Original drummer Steven Adler had already been replaced, but it wasn't until Izzy left that Guns N' Roses began to feel like a band in which no one was irreplaceable.
Except, of course, for Axl Rose.
3. Meet the New Kids: There were a lot of new faces onstage during the Use Your Illusion Tour. In addition to new drummer Matt Sorum and new guitarist Gilby Clarke, Axl added keyboardist Dizzy Reed, a bevy of backup singers and even three horn players without consulting anyone. Suddenly Guns N' Roses was a far cry from the baddest gang on the Strip, down to three original members surrounded by a small army of hired guns
And that was exactly the way that Axl and the band's management began to treat everyone -- like hired guns who could be replaced. In 1991, it never occurred to Slash or Duff that Guns N' Roses could continue without them, but in retrospect it seems clear that Axl was already envisioning the band as a cast of supporting players that could be added and subtracted at his discretion.
2. Flying Too High: Ever wonder why Slash and Duff never confronted Axl about his late arrivals or incitements to riot? As it turns out, they were probably just way too high. Both were heavy substance abusers during the tour, numbing themselves as much as possible with booze, coke, heroin and pills while they waited for Axl to show up. Drummer Matt Sorum frequently tried to keep up with them. Each member had his own dressing room, allowing him to hide from the world and get annihilated.
Their addictions left the original Gunners in a very vulnerable position, and they responded by tolerating Axl's petulant and paranoid behavior. Getting fucked up all day, every day took priority -- it even seemed normal. That's why Slash and Duff celebrated the tour's kickoff by smoking crack together on the band's private jet.
By the time both cleaned up and realized what was happening around them, they'd already played their final gigs with Guns.
1. What's in a Name? In his recent book, It's So Easy, Duff McKagan recounts what has to rank as the dirtiest trick Axl ever pulled on his bandmates: The contract giving the singer full control of the band's name.
As Duff tells it, the band was in Barcelona on July 5, 1993, for a big outdoor show when the group's manager, Doug Goldstein, asked to meet with him and Slash before Guns N' Roses' set. The band's management presented the pair with a legal document giving Axl the right to continue playing as Guns N' Roses even if Slash and Duff were not involved. Here's Duff:
With the crowd outside already getting rowdy, the guy then implied Axl wouldn't go onstage that night unless we signed the documents. I pictured people getting hurt if a riot started--at least that was my fear... I signed. So did Slash.
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Guns N' Roses -- a trademark now owned by Axl Rose -- then took the stage. Slash and Duff retained their equity stakes in the group, but for all intents and purposes, they were now players in Axl's band. Not long after the tour's end, both would be forced to clean up their addictions and face the reality of Guns N' Roses. Both eventually cut ties with Axl and walked away.
If you hadn't seen them on the mammoth Use Your Illusion Tour, you'd missed out. The original GN'R were gone for good.