VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Thursday was supposed to be a very big night for Guns N' Roses fans: the long-awaited launch of the group's first North American tour in nine years.
Unfortunately, it never happened. The concert was suddenly canceled, before the doors even opened, and a riot ensued.
The show was canceled because frontman Axl Rose was literally up in the air, still en route from Los Angeles to Vancouver. According to Guns' management, his flight's departure from L.A. had been delayed by mechanical troubles. He had been scheduled to take the stage with Guns N' Roses at 9:30 (following sets by two opening acts: the Philadelphia band CKY (see "Guns N' Roses Handpick Some Jackasses As Tour Openers") and Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike). When the managers of General Motors Place arena learned, at around 8:00, that Rose hadn't even arrived in town yet, they called off the show.
Following the announcement of the cancellation, groups of ticked-off kids converged at the gates of GM Place. Fueled, in some cases, by strong drink and marijuana,
they hoisted the long metal security barriers outside and rammed them through
the glass entry doors. They threw bottles and rocks. They were angry about
paying $80 U.S. for tickets and then getting blown off, and they yelled
things like, "F--- Axl, I wanna see Buckethead!" (Buckethead being one of
the band's three guitarists, the mysterious guy with the mask.)
After about 20 minutes of all this, a phalanx of cops waded in with attack dogs, and things got really ugly. Those fans who escaped the police onslaught with nothing more than a faceful of pepper spray might be said to have been the lucky ones. Wielding their riot batons with seeming abandon, the cops walloped legs, arms, heads, whatever available extremity presented itself. They ganged up to pummel people even after they'd fallen to the ground. One young man was smashed in the face and had his teeth knocked out — he stumbled away in a daze, holding them in his hands, with blood pouring from his mouth.
Even as the crowd began to disperse, police continued to chase and hit and kick individual stragglers. As one young woman who claimed to have had no involvement in the rioting told a local TV news crew, "I thought, 'Oh my God, they hate every single one of us.'"
A police spokeswoman on the scene was also interviewed. She said the crowd was out of control, and described the police response as "a proper use of force."
Meanwhile, inside the venue, the members of Guns N' Roses were unaware of what was going on outside. They were simply bummed about the show's cancellation. Bassist Tommy Stinson, loitering by a backstage buffet table, said, "Axl is gonna be pissed."
The Guns camp says the aborted Vancouver show may be re-scheduled. Whether or not that'll help dispel the grim vibe surrounding this incident remains to be seen. The Canadian date was supposed to mark the triumphant resurrection of a great rock band. It wasn't supposed to go like this.
This is the second time that Guns inspired havoc north of the border. In 1992, the group's Montreal date with Metallica ended with a riot after both acts cut their sets short. Metallica frontman James Hetfield was engulfed in flames in a pyro mishap ending that group's set, and Axl later stormed off stage, cutting the Guns set short and sending angry fans teeming into the streets.
Things will hopefully go a bit more smoothly on Friday night, when GN'R tries take two on their tour opener, this time in Tacoma, Washington. We will have a full report on Monday.
Kurt LoderKurt Loder