GNR Live At The UK Leeds Festival

By Pauly D, UK Correspondent
Tuesday, September 17, 2002 @ 3:39 PM

Axl & Co., Janes Addiction, Fo

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It’s my first venture to the Leeds festival -- the twin site of the long running Reading festival. The reasons are twofold. Guns N’ Roses are playing at only Leeds and the Reading event sold out before I got a ticket, which pretty much limited my choice anyway.

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m writing the opening days review from the “comforts” of my tent. It’s pitched in just about the same county as the arena -- but only just and between the two are enough hills to create a killer skiing resort. If it snowed. As it is, the rain is bouncing back up off of considerably sized puddles located all around me. Ahh… UK festival weather for sure.

For the uninitiated, the Reading/Leeds shows are a 3 day event featuring 4 music stages, a comedy tent and amusement rides/bungee jumps etc. Certainly something for almost everyone. On to the bands…

Friday sees me miss my first choice of the day -- English ska punkers Capdown. Unprepared for the mass of people trying to get into the arena, I’m left stranded in a sea of bodies, half of which obviously didn’t expect the previous nights rain. On the main stage the Dillinger Escape Plan have the job of opening proceedings -- I naturally miss the show due to the abomination of a queuing system. The band, if nothing else sound full on -- almost too heavy to be opening such a show. On the plus side, if you were a fan, it left the rest of the day to soak up the sun, or more likely soak up the beer. DEP are followed on by Amen, who despite my best efforts still fail to impress. It’s the best of the three live performances I’ve seen by them, but I’m left wondering what the fuss is all about. Young Brit band Hundred Reasons (second stage headliners at UK Ozzfest) are next up. No strangers to a large crowd, they seem at home on the larger stage. I catch a couple of tunes and vocally they’re on form, although the below average sound does them no favours. Puddle of Mudd hit the stage (insert “about the 200th puddle of mud I’ve seen today” joke here) and Scantlin’s eerily at times Cobain-esque vocals strain out the cuts from “Come Clean.” Despite the public opinion of them being no more than Durst fodder, it’s a damn good performance. On the down side, the insistence Scantlin seems to have inserting swear words into most of the songs is annoying -- You’re not impressing anyone here, buddy. They wrap up with their best songs: “Blurry,” “She Hates Me” and “Control” -- the latter with a brief dip into “War Pigs” in the middle eight.

NOFX are next up, and from the off it’s tongue-in-cheek onstage banter, and good entertainment all round. It’s way past beer hour for me, and I leave the main stage area to go source some cold beverage. Arriving back, Incubus are well into there set, a band I’m really on the fence in my opinion of. Boyd’s vocals are sublime at times, but the band seems too detached from the singer’s performance and give an awkward, up and down set. “Pardon Me” is the jewel in the crown and is well received. Another big outdoor UK show -- must be time for Slipknot. Strangely sporting a collection of new and “classic” masks they open well with “people=shit” but from there it fails to fully take off. A lot of newer material doesn’t help the cause but it’s the most laborious (for want of a better word) I’ve ever seen the 9-piece perform. Closer “Surfacing” manages to stir the pit, but while they may be the arguably the heaviest band of the weekend, they’re far from the best. Of the three remaining bands left to play, I can safely say two of them are right up there in regard to being my all time favorites. The first of the pair -- the Offspring -- are making a return to the festival after almost stealing the show a few years back. My expectations are high -- this is after all my “virgin viewing” of them. I put a somewhat lethargic “Kids aren’t alright” down to cobwebs but it’s soon evident that this is as up-tempo as it’s going to get. Sure, Dexter’s voice is pretty good and the bands performance is polished… but too polished. Somewhere over the last couple of multiplatinum years the bite has gone out of the animal. “Self Esteem” is a gem of a tune, but as it ends and the somewhat uncommunicative Holland leaves the stage, I’m left feeling empty and somewhat frustrated that a band with such a reputation just fizzled through the last hour. The Prodigy on the other hand are a different kettle of fish altogether. Technical problems have delayed the bands arrival, but when they do get on stage, they come out with all guns blazing. It’s loud, aggressive and everything you need in the darkening hours. The set goes on longer than expected, but “Breath,” “Poison” hit the mark, and a hardened version of Madness’ “Night Boat to Cairo” works surprisingly well.

So the stage is set perfectly for headliners Guns N’ Roses (Or Axl and Friends, if you’d prefer) not to show up. The regular show curfew is 11pm, it’s half past 10 and they’re still prepping the stage after the Prodigy. It’s almost another half hour before the lights finally dim, and the crowds concern of will he/won’t he show has been evident all day, and even now there’s still uncertainty. The screens flash a bundle of social commentary, the narrative all but ignored as focus shifts to the shadowy figures taking position on stage. Then, the moment hits and the unmistakable opening chords of “Welcome to the Jungle” ring out. A massive surge and a little gentle persuasion sees me two people behind the barrier -- “ringside” if you will, only with the punches. It’s a set that old GNR fans would die for, 9 tracks from Appetite, only “Chinese Democracy” and “Madagascar” showcased from the newer material. Axl -- complete with braids, black football jersey complete with “Rose” on the back (I’m thinking he has a few of these) looks shockingly good -- the “time off” making him look healthier than he did 10 years ago. Vocally he’s far better than before too -- the sneer and snarl back to full power. So much for the doubters. As for the rest of the band -- I’ll be honest and confess to never of even seeing a picture of Buckethead before now. Aside from the KFC gimmick, I had no idea. Even now I’m still not sure what to make of him/it. From the nunchaku solo to the bodypopping to the absofuckinglutely blistering solo that followed. It’s fantastic to watch. Guns are now an 8-piece live act it would seem and guitarists Robin and Richard make an interesting pair. Robin kinda wings a couple of solos and doesn’t seem quite 100% on, and in my opinion overcooks the “making love to the guitar” face a little. Richard on the other hand rocks out hard -- head banging, foot stamping and enjoying every second. The rest of the band are left pretty faceless, no introductions, and no bass or drum solos -- usually no bad thing…

The general opinion prior to this evening was 1) It would never happen or 2) It would go down as one of Guns N’ Roses finest moments. As Axl keeps the band rocking ‘til almost 1 in the morning -- unheard for a UK festival, it’s obvious which of the two it turns out to be. “Paradise City” is of course the final track: On stage pyros, fireworks and a deluge of confetti engulf the front of the crowd, the bodies fly and once again Guns n Roses are the greatest band in my world.

As for the remaining two days of the festival -- Saturday sees New Found Glory turn in a sound performance of sorts, their blend of Green Day style pop punk entertaining the mini-moshers in the evening session tent. On the main stage Weezer play a set of their own brand of distorted pop -- accomplished and tight, “Hash Pipe” and “Buddy Holly” wrap up a pretty decent effort that’s well received. Another highlight of the weekend next -- Janes Addiction. Perry Farrell, quite clearly on another planet from the rest of us is the quintessential entertainer. Bounding around, feather hat on and belting out tunes with such passion the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Dave Navarro is in full shred mode and his playing is breathtaking. Watching the two of them it’s easy to see why Janes are so special and highly regarded. As enjoyable as it is, the lack of “Been Caught Stealing” and in particular “Jane Says” to me is almost unforgivable. A great performance that could have been stunning. The Breeders sound good from a far off tent, surprising most, myself included by opening with “Cannonball.” Feeder headline the second stage. It’s been a rocky 12 months for the 3-piece, enjoying commercial success like never before, but tragically losing drummer Jon Lee to suicide. It’s a triumphant return however and the boys more than fill out the tent, with 100 feet of bodies all around to spare. At the same time The Strokes headline the main stage. I check out one or two tunes but I’m in agreeance with my mate -- “to me they’re just a pub band.”

The final day sees me frustratingly miss Goldfinger, and have to make do with seeing Andrew WK on the main stage. The single was big here last year, and it’s annoyed me ever since. However… I’m stunned to say I totally enjoy the performance. It’s too synthy at times (and with three guitarists there really is no excuse for that) and let’s face it, they only have one song, but it works. It’s good time rock n’ roll -- his stage presence is excellent, and he’s the first guy I’ve seen actually go hang with the fans on the barrier, and then hoisting one of them on his shoulders on stage. A definite surprise. “A” follow, and it’s apparent from the off that the bands forte is their live act. “Starbucks” sounds so much heavier and packs a serious punch. Recent single “Nothing” is the bounce along tune of the day so far. Florida boys Less than Jake open with “All My Best Friends…” -- a great start to what is one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen. I can’t say I was a fan of the band, until now that is. Unable to resist a challenge, the Leeds crowd form a huge circle pit in an effort to out-do the Reading crowd from the previous day. As if this 50 yard wide monster wasn’t enough, the band quip “imagine if we could get a circle pit around the sound rig -- they’d talk about that for like 20 years if we could pull it off.” “Nice idea,” the guy next to me says, “Not gonna happen though.” Incredibly, the mass of bodies that were close to the stage head back to the sound tower, and people all around and behind me are sprinting to join them in this newly formed crowd. As the band play the penultimate tune, the bizarre human clock of bodies starts to tick and circle around. I’ve gone into some detail here because it truly was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen. I’m obliged to hand my pint and wallet over to a friend and go join in -- it’d be rude not to, just to say that I was in there. The “pit” lasts for the final two songs and although I never actually made one full revolution, the crowdsurfers are flying over me like I’m on the barrier. Simply amazing.

I pass on seeing the Hives and instead opt for the Bouncing Souls in a smaller tent -- comparisons to Rancid/Dropkicks are inevitable, but a lot of fun live and they work up a sweaty mess of bodies at the front. [spunge] (complete with awkward spelling) follow them, and despite hailing from my neck of the woods, knock out some edgy ska with the best of them. Worth investigating if you like a quick skank in your room every now and then. Sum41 are about to hit the main stage and I’m curious to see if they sound as bad in the flesh as they have done on other live events I’ve listened to. Shocker #2 of the weekend -- they turn out to be quite good. There’s no denying singer/guitarist Derryck (or however he spells it) is somewhat of a dick -- and now sporting a mop of black hair is trying too hard to be Billy Joe Armstrong. But… as the set goes on, the voice gets better and the band turns out to be quite competent. I end up quite enjoying it, and with a “Raining Blood” intro to boot. I saw Ash tear up the second stage last year and this year justifiably make the jump to the main stage. Their noisy, distorted fuzz pop going down a storm. Despite the tender years of the band, countless live shows produce a quality live show. “Kung Fu” and “Burn Baby Burn” close things up. Muse are special guests this evening, and for all the accolades heaped on them -- I can’t get into it. Maybe I’m too old, maybe I’m not “down with what’s happening” but do I know that I am hungry and in need of a pint. The Foo Fighters are the final act, and in Dave Grohl have one of the best frontmen out there. In ‘96 they played a set that is down in Reading festival folklore, two years ago they played in the late afternoon and it killed. This time, the dark of night adds atmosphere but the longer set doesn’t help at all. The hits are smattered throughout, but it’s just too patchy to be considered a step up from 2000. “Everlong” wraps the festival up, assisted by a firework display. That is unless a small riot and the torching of toilets and portacabins is your thing.

The violence and fires somewhat mar a good weekends entertainment -- at this point it’s highly unlikely this site will ever host another festival. If you want to take in the best (and worst) in eclectic UK festivals, I’ll see you at Reading next August.

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