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Guns N' Roses members return to the Jungle after two decades apart
Like the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over, the title of Guns N' Roses' Never In This Lifetime Tour -- which launches this week at Detroit's Ford Field -- is ironic and tongue in cheek, but still based decidedly in fact.
It wasn't long ago, less than two years even, that having group co-founders Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan together again seemed unimaginable. After a blast of success that saw the hard rock troupe sell nearly 100 million albums worldwide between 1987-93 -- including more than 30 million copies of its debut, "Appetite For Destruction" -- frontman Rose acrimoniously wrested guiding control, leading guitarist Slash to quite in 1996 and McKagan to depart the following year.
The interim was marked by harsh words and some legal machinations. Slash and McKagan said their piece in respective memoirs. Rose kept GNR going with a different group of musicians, releasing an album, "Chinese Democracy," in 2008. The group's 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction was tempered when Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin opted not to show.
Even early band manager Vicky Hamilton is "amazed" Rose, Slash and McKagan are appearing on the same stage again. "They were about as far apart as you can get," Hamilton, who helped GNR secure its recoding contract in 1997 and recently published a memoir, "Appetite For Dysfunction," said by phone from Los Angeles. "I think it took a lot for them to be able to play together again. But I'm glad it happened."
And so, apparently, is Rose.
"The Guns 'N Roses reunion didn't happen by chance or whatever," the rarely interviewed frontman said during a moderated public Q&A session earlier this month in London, while he was touring Europe as the fill-in frontman for AC/DC. "It was always looked at as a possibility, but it never seemed right or felt right. Right now it's all good."
But, acknowledging GNR's combustible past, Rose added, "Obviously, that could just explode."
The path back together was apparently a matter of great diplomacy -- and maturity. The first sign of thaw was when McKagan returned during the spring of 2014 to fill in at some South American shows for his replacement, Tommy Stinson, who had schedule conflicts with his own reunited band, the Replacements. "It was a lot of fun to play with Duff again," recalled keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who joined GNR in 1990 and has remained with the band ever since. "He's got a certain sound and a certain feel.
"And he's just a great overall person, human being, and a good friend. He's just that kind of person...If there were any bridges burned, he's the kind of guy who can fix them.
By some accounts, it was McKagan who worked to heal the schism between Rose and Slash, which deepened after the publication of the guitarist's revealing 2007 memoir "Slash." "Slash and I hadn't talked in 19 years, and when we did talk, I was like, 'You wrote a lot of stuff that didn't even happen. It's not real," Rose said in London. Slash, of course, begs to differ -- and Rose apparently doesn't have problems with any of McKagan's books -- but the Hall of Fame induction had rekindled some warm feelings for GNR that the guitarist hadn't considered for awhile.
"Something I just didn't foresee was all this clarity about the impact the Guns N' Roses albums had...the songs and the band itself," Slash said shortly after the ceremony. "It's just something I never really felt before. You have your fans and you know your fans are really passionate, but there was something a lot more broad-based about this particular feeling that night."
Slash also felt that after the induction "there was a definite feeling of closure and when I got on the plane the next morning I felt like, 'Well, good. I never have to deal with that again...'"
He did, however -- by choice in 2015, when he and Rose made overtures to each other and wound up talking on the phone. That laid the groundwork for the current reunion, which began with seven shows in April that included two appearances at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival; Rose, who had broken his leg prior to those dates, sat in the same "throne" Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl used on tour last year. Stradlin opted not to return while drummers Steven Adler and Matt Sorum were not included in the reunion. Reed is still there along with "Chinese Democracy" veterans Richard Fortus on guitar and Frank Ferrer on drums, while keyboardist Melissa Reese is a new addition to the lineup.
"To Slash's credit, he and Duff worked very hard," Rose said. "I didn't have to tell Slash about embracing anything. I didn't have to tell Slash how to play 'Chinese Democracy' songs. He just embraced them and worked really hard."
Early manager Hamilton caught one of GNR's April shows in Las Vegas and had mixed feelings. "Obviously I wish that Steven (Adler) and Izzy (Stradlin). To me it's not quite a reunion without all of the five magical pieces," she said. "But I loved seeing it. They looked great. I think they're better musicians than they ever were. They're older and really can't make those moves anymore, I missed some of the rawness and the spontaneity they had back in the day, but it was great to see."
And there may well be more to see in the future. Rose told the London gathering that GNR is eyeballing internationally touring after the Not In This Liftime... trek ends Aug. 22. (He has 10 U.S. shows with AC/DC afterwards.) British oddsmakers have also made GNR a favorite to play next year's European summer festival circuit.
And Rose confirmed that he, Slash and McKagan may well return to the studio for the first time since the 1993 covers album "The Spaghetti Incident," though both of them also have commitments with their own bands and other projects now -- including McKagan's new documentary "It's So Easy And Other Lies."
"We are working on new stuff," Rose said. "I've got a lot of stuff. I played some of it to Slash and Duff, and they liked it. They might play on it. I do want to put out more music with Guns N' Roses, and I don't know if that has to do with Slash or not. If he wants to play on something, that would be great.
"I've been working to get kind of where things are. I hope to keep this going for a quite a while."
Guns N' Roses and Alice In Chains
8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23.
Ford Field, 2000 Brush St., Detroit.
Tickets are $49.50-$253.50.
Call 877-212-8898 or visit livenation.com.
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