Kerrang! | Issue 398 | Paul Henderson
WHILE THE stage-front security battalion worked their nuts off hauling an endless stream of
limp, semi-conscious bodies to safety over the barrier, passing water to a sea of desperate, outstretched hands and spraying it onto the crushed and dehydrating casualties out of reach, Soundgarden's intro tape kicked into action. No one, it appeared, recognised it. Four
figures walked onto the stage as unobtrusively as crewmen had dune all afternoon, and with the audience still entertaining itself with the Mexican wave, Soundgarden were half-way through their first song before most people noticed there was a band on stage.
In a small club a couple of months ago, Soundgarden were stunning, cracking skulls with pounding, well aimed sonic ice picks. But in the vastness of Wembley Stadium, and with a sound that relied on a lot of imagination in order to identify the songs, the audience was being bit with nothing more effective than a plastic hammer. The more-familiar-than-most 'Rusty Cage' was the predictable musical highlight; a surprising cover of Budgie's 'Suicidal Homicidal", however, simply painted a sizeable question mark.
With the temperature having peaked, but the size of the audience still steadily increasing, the predominantly drums/vocals sound that had also sapped the life out of FaithNo More's opening salvo suddenly stabilised into afar more potent mix - just as Mike Patton looked as though he might leave London in a box. Cavorting on a flimsy-looking corrugated iron canopy beneath one of the giant video screens, the audience seemed to be engrossed in a will he-or-won't he debate as to whether the daft git might fall through and break his neck, whilst 'The Real Thing' provided the suitably tense soundtrack to his escapade.
FNM's song choice was astute, concentrating mostly on older material rather than promoting the still largely unknown 'Angel Dust' album, Following the gentle waltz of the new 'RV', 'From Out Of Nowhere', 'We Care A Lot', 'Surprise! You're Dead!' and the statuesque 'Epic', all bearing that unmistakable FNM stamp of rhythmic stun-gun and an extraordinary musical elegance, gushed into the air like an invisible but powerful and irresistibly hypnotic; gas. A short, sharp, piercing stab, it was both the best FNM performance I've witnessed, and the strongest evidence yet that Mike Patton is off his head.
At 7.49pm on a hot, still beautifully sunny evening, 'The World's Most Dangerous...', etc, etc, took to the stage. 'Live And Let Die', massively powerful and atmospheric, makes an early entrance, busting down the door with white pyro flashy and tongues of red flame, 'You Could Be Mine' and 'Double Talkin' Jive' are ferocious rhythmic freight trains hauling Carriages of screeching guitar solos and a paint-stripping vocal delivery. 'Civil War' is sandwiched between snatches of the intro to Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile' and stretched into a poignant epic, white Axl goes through a wardrobe of jackets. Giant inflatable rape-monsters from the 'Appetite...' LP cover rise into the air. 'November Rain' is beautiful and moving, its soft, silky melody accompanied by multi-images on the video screens and a sea of lighters flickering in the glow of a full moon, whilst Axl's aggressive front is temporarily replaced by one of charm and frailty. Guns N' Roses have long ago passed the popularity point where it's easier - and almost more acceptable - to criticise than to applaud them. There are few - if any -performers at this level as oafish and obnoxious as Axl Rose can be, who invites slings and arrows when he tells us he knows we all hate drum solos, but that we're gonna get one anyway; or when he introduces Gilby Clarke as being "...unlike others we've known". and then, when the pro-lzzy audience responds with a loud "Ooooh!" (or was it "Booo"?),
grins wryly and gives an off-hand "F**k you!". There are equally few people with such a commanding stage presence and charisma. Maybe he is currently the most powerful major-league live performer on the planet. Having suddenly darkened, the stage is ablaze with deep, luxurious reds and blues as Axl introduces 'Sweet Child O' Mine' with an almost impossible shriek, as if his throat is about to burst open like John Hurt's stomach in 'Alien', and the Stadium is on its feet. The lighters and matches dot the darkness again for 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door', and then Guns N' Roses are gone.
"I didn't know the band had rehearsed this," says Axl returning to the stage with Brian May to encore first with 'Tie Your Mother Down' and a screaming 'We Will Rock You', with barely a pair of hands in the Stadium resisting the latter's call to participate in its clap-clap-punch.
They return again, pyro blasting and the stage bathed in red and white light, to fire a powerful parting shot with 'Paradise City', after which Axl and Slash toss cellophane rapped red roses to the front rows of the audience.
The world's most dangerous band? Certainly not - but definitely one of the most enjoyable.