Tens of thousands of fans were left feeling cheated and disappointed after one of the most anticipated headline sets of the summer disintegrated into an embarrassing farce at Reading Festival last night, confounded by a late appearance resulting in the power being pulled before the end of the set.
When Guns N' Roses topped the bill at Leeds Festival back in 2002, the band were an hour late on-stage. Yet they delivered such a blistering performance that organisers had no choice but to allow them to complete the set – the crowd really would have rioted otherwise. Last night at Reading, the scenario could not have been further removed. The dominant mood was one of 'relief' that it was all over when festival organisers finally cut the power.
Two hours earlier, the atmosphere had been highly charged and excitable as a capacity crowd waited expectantly for the band to come on. An hour later, they were still waiting and the tone had deteriorated into discontent as booing swept across the arena, and people began leaving in their droves, some heading for other stages, others for the last train home. As the band finally kicked off at 10.30pm (an hour on the dot after they were billed) with 'Chinese Democracy', the reception was uncomfortably muted. The trio of Appetite-era classics that followed ('Welcome To The Jungle', 'It's So Easy' and 'Mr. Brownstone') roused a spectacular silence from the crowd.
Axl Rose himself appeared to be in a physically diabolical state, huffing and puffing through every song and his voice lacked any trace of its once majestic power. Even on the slower songs, the once legendary frontman's form was more 'Phantom Of the Opera' than fantastic.
All of the band's energy came from the other musicians who, to be fair, worked on overdrive (albeit in vain) to try to keep the sinking ship afloat. Longest standing 'new' gunners Richard Fortus (rhythm guitar) and Tommy Stinson (bass) did their best to inject some vigour whilst newest recruit DJ Ashba proved to be the show's most redeeming feature, sprinting from end-to-end of the expansive stage in a blaze of charisma and on many occasions overshadowing Rose as the star of the band. On a number of occasions, Rose even seemed to resign himself to this, standing behind Ashba and looking up as the young guitar god strutted his stuff on the raised ego platform above him.
Ironically, the best moments (aside from the privilege of seeing such a large selection of Rose's jacket collection, of course) came during the additional Chinese Democracy material ('Sorry', 'This I Love', 'Street Of Dreams') but this was undoubtedly because there was no great legacy to contrast these performances against. Tragically this was not the case with the likes of 'Rocket Queen', 'You Could Be Mine', 'Sweet Child Of Mine', 'November Rain' and the car-crash within a car-crash that was 'Live And Let Die', or more specifically the hideously out-of-sync fireworks that plopped out too late after the beat, every time.
Around midnight, during 'Nightrain', even Rose had finally had enough and mumbled something before hurling his mic into the floor and stomping off. He returned a few moments later for the set's encore, to no fanfare whatsoever and delivered some kind of monologue, gesturing his hands theatrically. No-one was any the wiser, however, as the sound had been cut by the festival's organisers, just as they said it would, albeit they'd allowed the band to play for half an hour longer than the original 11.30pm curfew.
The band reacted with predictable petulence, Rose immediately rushing to the front of the stage and waving his hands in the air to stimulate some mass wrath against the the organisers' decision. Unfortunately for him, the crowd were, in this instance, very much on the festival's side, feeling that Rose had disrespected both the event and audience, and the only reaction he generated were cries of "We want our money back asshole!" and "What a twat!".
His final act was to drag the band, with acoustic guitars, to the lip of the stage, and attempt to sing 'Paradise City' through a megafone. What may have been a heroic act of rebellion for the fans in his head just added to the feeling of being cheated and was quickly drowned out by cries of "Fuck off!" from the dwindling few that could still bear to witness this unfolding travesty. It was a relief when the band finally left the stage, their legacy in tatters. Today will see quite a few Guns N' Roses t-shirts cast to the backs of cupboards. What a shame.
The set-list was:
'Welcome To The Jungle'
'It's So Easy'
'Richard Fortus Guitar Solo – 007 Theme'
'Live And Let Die'
'This I Love'
'Dizzy Reed Piano Solo'
'Street Of Dreams'
'You Could Be Mine'
'DJ Ashba Guitar Solo'
'Sweet Child O' Mine'
'Instrumental Jam – Another Brick In The Wall'
'Axl Rose Piano Solo'
'Paradise City' (with the sound cut)
A full set would most likely also have included:
'Knockin' On Heaven's Door'
'Paradise City' (amplified version!)
Reading Festival continues today with sets from Arcade Fire, The Libertines and many more.
Guns N' Roses headline Leeds Festival tomorrow (Sunday). Stay tuned to VF for our reports from both festivals as the action unfolds.