A great deal of mystery surrounded Guns N’ Roses when they emerged from an eight-year hibernation in January 2001 to play Brazil’s Rock in Rio and a warmup gig at the House of Blues in Las Vegas. Axl Rose had been almost completely off the grid since the end of the Use Your Illusion Tour in 1993, popping up in the press only when he parted ways with members of the band and when he got arrested at the Phoenix airport in 1998 after threatening a security worker. There were reports he was working on a new album, but the only thing to emerge was the underwhelming “Oh My God” from the End of Days soundtrack in 1999.
GN’R fans were ecstatic when they learned the group was going to play Rock in Rio, and tickets for the Las Vegas show disappeared within seconds. Even with Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, Izzy Stradlin, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke out of the band, people were just happy that Axl Rose was going to play live again and they were curious to see this new lineup. It included Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Bryan “Brain” Mantia and guitarists Robin Finck and Buckethead, who played with a mask over his face and a KFC bucket on top of his head.
Contrary to much speculation, the Axl Rose who emerged from the shadows for these shows wasn’t bald or fat. He stormed onstage at Rock in Rio at 2:00 a.m. in front of 190,000 screaming fans that had just sat through sets by Papa Roach and Oasis. “I know that many of you are disappointed that some of the people you came to know and love could not be with us here today,” Rose said. “Regardless of what you have heard or read, people worked very hard to do everything they could so that I could not be here today. I am as hurt and disappointed as you that unlike Oasis, we could not find a way to all get along.”
Their 25-song set opened up with “Welcome to the Jungle” (which you can watch right here) and focused largely on the groups hits, though they did preview three Chinese Democracy tracks that wouldn’t be officially released for eight years. While everybody missed the old lineup, critics were largely impressed by the show.
“About 10 minutes into their set, it became clear that the new GN’R is a rock & roll event of the sort that a lot of people (well, me, anyway) have been waiting for for a long, long time,” Kurt Loder wrote. “Where the reigning rap-metal acts of the moment — Korn and Limp Bizkit and their ilk — get over quite successfully on murk and muscle and pure sonic wallop, the new GN’R — with only one-month’s worth of rehearsal (this was their second gig) — already played with a passion and precision that’s unlikely to be matched in any other quarter anytime soon.”
They could have used this momentum to launch a world tour, but instead they disappeared until a pair of shows at the Joint in Las Vegas nearly a year later. There wouldn’t be an actual tour until the summer of 2002, and despite repeated assurances, Chinese Democracy was still a long ways away. By the time it came, the lineup of the group had already shifted around quite a bit. Like Axl says, it’s too bad they find a way to get along as well as those guys in Oasis.