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Axl's appetite for reconstruction

The only time I've had the pleasure of seeing Guns N'Roses live came at the end of a memorable day, which also included watching Vinnie Jones make his debut for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the season.

The game ending in a 4-1 drubbing of Luton Town and, but of course, a yellow card for the badge-kissing former Wimbledon man. Then it was off to a different football ground to see another bunch of bad boys.

At the time, Guns N'Roses could have sold out Wembley Stadium for at least a week had they chosen to do so. Since the release of their 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction they'd become arguably the biggest rock band in the world, that debut going on to sell well in excess of 20 million. They sounded rougher and more genuinely dangerous than their contemporaries on the LA poodle metal scene, with a punkier edge and a handful of classic songs.

Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City and Sweet Child O'Mine were the songs which MTV took to its heart and, provided you could handle vocalist Axl Rose's occasionally porcine squeal, they were recognisable as anthems for the ages. Lob in one of the truly distinctive rock guitarists in the shape of the top-hatted English-born Slash and you had an unbelievable, albeit extremely volatile, package.

Even when they were struggling to make a breakthrough in LA, Guns N'Roses were notorious for their capacity for alcohol and chemicals and a sudden exposure to vast amounts of money and attention was hardly likely to lead to a level-headed approach.

Drummer Steven Adler was dismissed in 1990 for drink and drugs dependence (which is a bit like being kicked out of Fianna Fail for 'conduct unbecoming') with former Cult drummer Matt Sorum coming on board in time for the band's next major move, the release of Use Your Illusion, which was ambitious to the point of insanity in that it came in two volumes, each consisting of a double album. Quality control was effectively replaced by megalomania here, yet their popularity was such that they were able to sell out places such as Wembley before the album had hit the shops.

On the night, they were tight but over the course of the 28-month world tour things began to slip, with Axl's behaviour becoming erratic, leading to cancellations and, on occasion, full-blown riots when he pulled out of or cut short shows.

By 1995, the band were effectively finished, with the departure of Slash the final nail, but Axl maintained the illusion of Guns N'Roses and embarked on the most expensive rock album ever made: the much-delayed Chinese Democracy. The album finally slithered into the stores last year to a largely indifferent response.

Axl Rose remains the only original member of the current line-up and, despite his best efforts (should his head be right in the first place), there'll still be a huge, Slash-shaped hole in the O2 stage next week.

Guns N'Roses play the O2 on Wednesday


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