Setlist History: Guns n' Roses Wilts While Opening For Stones

On paper, October 18, 1989 should have been a glorious highlight for Guns N' Roses.

They, along with Living Colour, were opening for The Rolling Stones at the enormous LA Coliseum while supporting their monster album Appetite For Destruction which was in heavy rotation on radio stations of all sorts and most importantly, MTV.

After touring relentlessly in '87-'88 around the world, opening for the likes of Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden and Aerosmith, as well as headlining plenty of their own gigs, the band took most of '89 off.

Despite the respite, Guns had three tunes on the 1989 Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles: "Patience," "Welcome To The Jungle" and "Paradise City."

What a nice return to the stage it would be to open for the Stones in their hometown and give the old men a run for their money.

But the band imploded, which was not out of the ordinary for the booze and drug-distracted rockers.

Just a month previous, the band attended the MTV Video Awards where they won a moonman for “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and the singer got to duet "Free Fallin'" with Tom Petty and all seemed right in the world.

A few weeks after the VMAs the band did a warm up show at The Cathouse while simultaneously taping the video for "It's So Easy."

The band already had a few videos off of Appetite, but back in the day the move was to put together a collection to sell on one VHS tape. A few of the videos would be ones you'd have seen on MTV and others might be arty, or in this case, intentionally too-raunchy for air.

"What we're making this for is ourselves," Axl told the crowd October 10, at the packed club while director Nigel Dick filmed the excitement.

Behind the scenes Guns management was negotiating with the Stones over how much the band wanted to make for the four nights opening for their heroes.

On one hand guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin were happy with the first offer of $50k a night, but as rumors leaked out that Guns was going to open, tickets began to really sell.

Bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler seemed mighty spaced out receiving the award for Best Heavy Metal Video for "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Filling the 77,000 seat football stadium was not a sure bet for the Stones whose Steel Wheels album wasn't considered cool whereas the wild antics of Axl and Slash definitely were.

Once the numbers were hashed out and Guns were rumored to be paid a cool million bucks for the four nights, their friends and management worried - could they pull it off?

In February '89, Axl told Howard Stern he leaves Guns "every three days."

It turned out they couldn't. All that downtime, had gotten them out of shape. All the celebrating over their wildly successful debut album made them feel invincible.

And all the partying turned a few of them into barely functioning zombies when they were greeted that first fall night in the cavernous stadium which just a few years previous had hosted the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

Even before their first song, "It's So Easy," Axl probably knew it was going to be a terrible performance that would include him trying to explain to the audience why he uses racial and homophobic epithets in certain songs.

It would also feature the embarrassing moment where he slipped and fell into the photo pit. Once the first tune was done he had even more to say.

"I hate to do this on stage," he told the huge crowd that had just gotten to see the dynamic and futuristic hard rock of the all-Black rockers Living Colour, "but I've tried every other f--ing way. And unless certain people get their s--t together, these will be the last Guns N' Roses shows you'll ever see. Because I'm tired of too many people in this organization dancing with Mr. God Damned Brownstone."

Which, naturally led into the song about the slippery slope of hard drugs. "I used to do a little, but a little wouldn't do it, so the little got more and more."

As someone who was at that show, my first Guns N' Roses experience, it was a huge letdown. The power and excitement on the album were not there live. What we thought would be a passing of the torch from the Stones to Guns did not take place.

Pictures were taken, but a torch was not passed that night.

After playing for an hour, the band left the stage. The crowd demanded an encore, very rare for an opening act to receive.

When the band returned to the stage Axl said, "I'd like to announce this is my last gig with Guns N' Roses and this is called 'Paradise City' because there aint no f-ing place anywhere."

Other than that song, Guns N' Roses wilted in the spotlight.

Conversely when the Stones took to the stage they acted like it was a walk in the park, no big deal. Drugs, booze, fame? Been there, done that, now here's two hours of your favorite songs.

Mick did address his bad boy opener before kicking into their new song, "Mixed Emotions," by saying, "“I think Axl did a good show, but I wish he’d just shut up and play.”

The good news is Guns N' Roses, despite their drama over the decades has figured out a work/life balance that has allowed them to continue making music and touring.

They are currently wrapping up their Summer/Fall 2023 tour for a handful of dates before they come back to LA to rock the Hollywood Bowl for the first time in their long careers in November. Tickets available on their website.

Karma Police - Please Share:

Most played songs