Nearly 20 years after making a stop at the Myriad as part of the "Use Your Illusion" tour, Guns N' Roses returns to Oklahoma for a show at Norman's Lloyd Noble Center.
But little about GN'R is the same as it was 20 years ago; and even the "Illusions" line-up had changed significantly from the so-called "most dangerous band in the world" who had taken the charts by storm with their debut studio LP, "Appetite for Destruction."
Part of the appeal of the impossibly named band, featuring members W. Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler, was the feeling that the entire enterprise could go off the rails at any moment.
"They are a musical sawn-off shotgun, with great power but erratic aim — they veer from terrible to brilliant in a typical set, often within a single song," wrote Q magazine in March 1989.
Kerrang! dubbed the five-piece band "the most dangerous band in the world" in an article by Mick Wall, who would later pen books about Axl and the band — and, less pleasantly, once he was on Axl's bad side, would be called out in the song "Get in the Ring."
The mercurial (and Mercurial) Axl Rose was born in Lafayette, Indiana to teenager Sharon E. Lintner and William Bruce Rose, on Feb. 6, 1962. He was born William Bruce Rose, Jr. The elder Rose abandoned the family when his son was 2 years old.
Rose's mother married Stephen Bailey, and Rose's name was changed to William Bruce Bailey. He grew up being called Bill Bailey, and believed Stephen Bailey was his real father until age 17.
The very religious Bailey household required Rose to attend services up to eight times each week. Rose at times taught Sunday school, sang in the church choir, and performed with his brother and sister as "The Bailey Trio."
As a teenager, Rose began to get into trouble with local law enforcement, and eventually followed his friend Jeff Isbell to Los Angeles with the idea of becoming a rock and roll singer. Isbell, later known as Izzy Stradlin, was one of the founding members of Guns N' Roses. Rose was now calling himself "W. Axl Rose," after a band he'd been in called Axl.
The group was formed in early 1985, when the members of L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose (which included Rose and Stradlin) merged into one band, Guns N' Roses. Tracii Guns, who provided half of the band name, and drummer Rob Gardner weren't long for the band, however. Duff McKagan, a bassist and ex-punk rocker who had moved to Los Angeles from Seattle, set up a tour for Guns N' Roses stretching from L.A. to Seattle. (McKagan replaced L.A. Guns' Ole Beich, who played one show with Guns N' Roses.) With no interest in the travel, Guns and Gardner left; they were replaced in the lineup by Slash and Steven Adler, who had previously performed with Hollywood Rose.
The tour was a disaster in some ways; the car broke down before they got out of California, and the band members were left hitchhiking to Seattle with questionable characters, Slash writes in his autobiography.
But by the time the five made it to Seattle for their lightly attended show, the group had bonded. The "Appetite"-era GN'R kicked into gear from there. With little money, at times members of the band lived in their rented storage space, where they also practiced. It became a haven of partying that allowed several members to increase their addictions.
The band began playing frequent Los Angeles shows, including at the Whisky A Go-Go and the Cathouse.
The ever-more-popular Los Angeles shows, particularly at the Troubadour, led to a bidding war for the band's services on a major label. Tom Zutaut, who had signed Motley Crue, eventually secured the band's services.
Steven Adler writes in his book "My Appetite for Destruction: Sex, Drugs and Guns N' Roses," that even the occasion of getting signed to a major label couldn't rouse Axl's schedule.
"It was a sunny day, and everyone was together walking toward the Geffen building except Axl, who was nowhere to be found. We looked for him for over an hour and finally someone ... spotted Axl. He was on the roof of the Whisky! He was sitting in the lotus position, as if he was meditating," Adler writes.
Wall writes that seeing Rose in daylight at all became unusual.
"Like some Anne Rice vampire, it was always late at night when he called, always dark out there whenever you ran into him," Wall writes in his book "W.A.R.: The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose."
"You got the feeling he hardly ever saw daylight, didn't approve of it. On a completely different schedule to everyone else, always sleeping until four or five in the afternoon, these late-night rendezvous had the incongruous effect of making you feel as though he was always a little bit more awake than you, or indeed anyone else around him. Not that it made him smarter or more fun to be with—just that it ensured things tended to be done on his terms, whether they be long, complicated meetings or simple phone conversations. Even an accidental collision on the street didn't seem to catch him off guard. It was as though he just expected strange things to happen to him—all the time."
Strange things did continue to happen to the band, whose debut record would go on to sell more than 100 million copies.
The follow-up, the dual albums "Use Your Illusion" and "Use Your Illusion II," sent the band on what was the longest tour at the time in rock history. But the entire band didn't make the transition: Adler was replaced by former "Cult" drummer Matt Sorum, and Rose's childhood friend Izzy Stradlin left the band, to be replaced by Kill for Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke. The reasons for the departures were opposite: Adler's struggles with addiction were affecting his playing, according to Slash; Izzy, meanwhile, was struggling to maintain sobriety among the ever-harder-partying band.
The show at Oklahoma City's Myriad on April 6, 1992 is much-bootlegged, and features a raucous Oklahoma City crowd who booed opening act the Smashing Pumpkins and waited until after midnight for GN'R to take the stage.
"Ahhhh...the good ol' days," wrote Duncan's Amy Shelby in an e-mail to NewsOK. "My hair was big and my waist was much smaller. It's really funny how music can transport you back 25 years in a single riff... but the first 10 seconds of Sweet Child o Mine spirals me back to junior high. Not to mention that big wail that only Axl can do at the beginning of Welcome to the Jungle. Can anyone listen to that without throwing your arm in the air in traditional head banger style, with the little horns, and whipping your head to the beat? NO! Of course, it's that move that reminds I'm a bit older now.
"I waited for years for them to come to OKC.... I wouldn't have missed that for the world! And after a mediocre opening act with Smashing Pumpkins, it was worth the wait! Heck yes, I'll go again! I'm still a huge fan! And I'm going to rat my bangs!-- ok- maybe not. It's a fun thought. But I'm afraid my kids wouldn't let me out of the house."
Rose remained relatively drug-free (at least comparatively speaking) for most of the extremely long "Illusions" tour, but his show-delaying tactics were enraging the rest of the band. Slash writes in his autobiography the reasons he left Guns N' Roses in 1996.
"I'd like to state, very simply once more why I chose not to continue on with Guns N' Roses so that no one feels the need to ask me this ever again when they see me on the street," he writes. Here it goes: 1) the constant disrespect for all involved by going on late for no good reason night after night after night, 2) the legal manipulation that Axl forced on us, from demanding ownership of the name to downgrading us, contractually, to hired hands, and 3) losing Izzy and Steven, who were such an integral part of the band's sound and personality…without them, the band no longer had its original chemistry."
McKagan was the last of the original lineup to leave, in 1997. The final album featuring Slash and McKagan was 1993's "The Spaghetti Incident?" a collection of cover songs by the band.
For a decade after McKagan's departure, fans waited through a changing roster of GN'R members for a new album, to be titled "Chinese Democracy."
In 2000, Rose had another brief connection with the Sooner state — he told Rolling Stone how he had written a song called "Oklahoma" after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah building. He was in court with ex-wife Erin Everly, and was struck by the gravity of the Oklahoma situation, and how it was hard to take his court proceeding seriously in comparison.
On January 1, 2001, the new GN'R — including guitarist Buckethead and drummer Bryan Mantia — played its first concert in over seven years at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Buckethead would eventually give way to Bumblefoot — guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. Other band members would come and go, but "Chinese Democracy" was no closer to completion. By the time the album was released in November 2008, 15 years had passed since a GN'R release.
The album was generally well-reviewed, though the odds it will ever make back its reported $13 million budget are long indeed.
GN'R is now embarking on its first U.S. tour since the official release of "Chinese Democracy." GN'R currently includes Rose, guitarists DJ Ashba, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and ex-Love Spit Love guitarist Richard Fortus, former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, keyboardist Chris Pitman and drummer Frank Ferrer. Reed is the only holdover from the "Illusion" recordings.
For most of the "Appetite" and "Use Your Illusion" era, Guns N' Roses would close its show with "Paradise City." The wistful longing for a past that probably never was, interspersed with a present that's brutally honest but hard to take, was a reflection of GN'R's entire catalogue.
"Paradise City" starts out banally enough, with "Take me down to the Paradise City/Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty," a sentiment that wouldn't have been out of place coming from anyone from Warrant to Motley Crue.
But Rose isn't content to cast a simple wish-fulfillment song of good-looking women.
As the chorus continues to call for a return to Paradise City, the verses drag Axl and the band deeper into corruption and decadence.
As the chaos continues lyrically, it's reflected in the sonic dissonance of the music; Axl's voice is straining to be heard amidst the increasing chaotic and relentless clamor of the song.
The beginning call of the song is simply a nostalgic call for home; by the end it's a cry for help. But it's all cast around a seemingly innocuous chorus.
"Paradise City" seems like a wistful remembrance of someplace nice, but by the end of the thing he's talking about being strapped to a chair in the city's gas chamber.
"Strapped in the chair of the city's gas chamber/Why I'm here, I can't quite remember/The surgeon general say's it's hazardous to breathe/I'd have another cigarette/But I can't see."
It's a microcosm for Guns N Roses itself—a fast-paced band with an appetite for destruction and a lead singer who's practically ravenous for it.
Guns N' Roses
• When: 8 p.m. Nov. 9.
• Where: Lloyd Noble Center, 2900 Jenkins Ave., Norman.
• Information: 325-4666 or www.