Edited by Brett Buchanan
The kickoff of Guns N’ Roses’ landmark Use Your Illusion tour will celebrate its 25th anniversary this week. The two years long tour saw the band play in over 30 countries and to over 1 million fans. Several legs took place, with 192 shows in total being played. At the time, it would prove to be the beginning of the end for the band that so many fans had grown up with. Guitarist Izzy Stradlin quit 3 months into the tour, and the final gig on July 17, 1993 in Buenos Aires would mark the last time that Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke would play live with Guns. Furthermore, it would be the last time that Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan would share a stage together until they finally reunited in April 2016. The tour kicked off 25 years ago in East Troy, Wisconsin on May 24, 1991 at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre, so let’s take a look back at the first show of one of rock’s greatest tours.
Things could have been going a little better for Axl Rose the day Guns N’ Roses were embarking on a tour of this magnitude. He has just sold some land in the Wisconsin area which he had bought after Appetite for Destruction took off. It was his emotional connection to the mid-west, and now he had parted with it. At the venue, his personal backstage set up located below new drummer Matt Sorum’s kit isn’t in full working order, so Axl is stretched out instead on a sofa in a trailer. The previous week at a warm up show in New York City, he had attempted a jump off an amp during “You Could Be Mine,” and thought he had broken his foot. He had injured his heel, and for a moment it looked like the tour was in jeopardy, so he got his left leg in a cast and decided to soldier on.
Before the show, he is having his leg massaged before going on stage at the Alpine Music Valley in Wisconsin for the first of two sold out nights playing in front of 80,000 people in total. He is in clear pain, but still cracking jokes. The TV is on in the background, and he is told that women in the crowd are starting to go topless. Life ain’t so bad for Axl Rose.
Later in the day, Kurt Loder, the only journalist connected with MTV that Axl trusts, is set to interview him. The last time that Axl was extensively interviewed was a year prior – by Loder. Axl’s body language is polar opposite to the one that will be running and cursing on stage in all his rock star glory a few hours later. Here he is polite, informative, giving, and the interview goes well enough.
Slash, Duff and Matt Sorum are rehearsing some tunes back stage whilst Izzy prefers to be mostly on his own, quietly in deep thought. Although Matt has been with the band for almost a year, this is only his 6th show with Guns, and his first high profile show in America following a few warm up gigs. Sorum is nervous and checks the setlist, which has just gone up, and the band prepare to go on stage.
As the lights dim, the theme tune to Perry Mason blasts out, and the beer soaked crowd on this sweltering evening know that Guns are imminent. After a loud introduction, the 1st show of 192 kicks off and Sorum leads into “Mr Brownstone,” but the setlist reads “Right Next Door to Hell.” Duff without hesitation breaks out the bass line to the song and Sorum quickly corrects himself. It puts Axl off by a few seconds, but the crowd couldn’t care less and most haven’t noticed.
Axl is dressed in a baseball catchers shield and an N.W.A cap, and his leg brace doesn’t hinder him. He sways side to side, commanding the stage. Sorum, apart from his brief mistake, is on fire, and Slash, Duff and Izzy seem to be enjoying the moment, although Izzy for most of the gig stays rooted to one spot except when he takes vocals for “Dust N’ Bones.”
There are as expected huge cheers for the classics most of which come near the end of the 2 hour set in “Patience,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and show closer “Paradise City.” 10 of the 15 songs played were from the as yet unreleased Use Your Illusion I and II. It was a bold move that seemed to pay off given the crowd reaction and press reviews.
It had been a momentous occasion and it was all due to take place again tomorrow. Backstage after the show, covered in sweat, Axl Rose had triumphed, despite his foot hurting like hell. 25 years on, with Axl kicking ass with a broken foot on his throne to kick off another Guns N’ Roses tour, it’s good to know that some things in this ever changing life, never change.