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SHOWDOWN AT THE COLISEUM : Guns N' Roses Take on the Rolling Stones : For years, there was only one choice as 'The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band'--but it's all over now

October 15, 1989|ROBERT HILBURN

Lots of people think the world's greatest rock band will be on stage this week when the Rolling Stones and Guns N' Roses appear at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but don't assume they're all referring to the Stones.

The Stones have been called the world's greatest band for so long now that no one even considered the possibility on past tours of another group actually upstaging the masters.

But the Stones' seven-year absence from touring has made the once-invincible band seem vulnerable, and rock observers and fans have began wondering if it isn't time to nominate another group as the world's greatest.

Guns N' Roses is just one of several contenders, but it is the only one of the potential rivals that will be on the same bill with the Stones during the tour.

There is such a sense of drama surrounding the Stones/Roses match-up that you can imagine a ring announcer stepping up to the microphone and introducing the contestants at the Coliseum, the only place on the Stones' 3 1/2-month tour where Roses will be appearing.

"In this corner," he might say, "from Los Angeles, California . . . a band that was formed just four years ago, but which has already sold more than 12 million records, including such mega-hits as 'Sweet Child o' Mine,' 'Welcome to the Jungle' and 'Patience' . . .

"A group whose lead singer Axl Rose conveys the charisma and mystery of such rock immortals as Jim Morrison . . . a band whose image and music live up to the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll attitude so fully that it has been called the bastard offspring of the Rolling Stones themselves.

"L.A.'s own . . . GUNS N' ROSES."

When the cheering wanes, the announcer continues:

"And now the defending champions . . . from London, England, a band that has helped shape rock 'n' roll for more than 25 years . . . a band with more than three dozen Top 40 singles, including such masterworks as 'Satisfaction,' 'Honky Tonk Women' and 'Tumbling Dice' . . .

"A band whose lead singer, Mick Jagger, was outraging parents before Jim Morrison was even cutting classes at UCLA . . . a band that returned to live shows this summer after a seven-year layoff and is still able to pack stadiums around the country.

"Ladies and gentlemen . . . THE ROLLING STONES."

Start your amps.

"I don't see the Coliseum concerts as a contest at all," a 17-year-old rock fan said shortly after the Stones/Roses package was announced in August.

A 20-year-old fan who overheard the remarks in a West Hollywood record store, also balked at the idea of the concert's being a true battle of the bands.

"Showdown? It's going to be a wipe-out," he said condescendingly.

The noteworthy thing is that the two Southern California fans were supporting different groups.

Gerald Macy, 17, said he thinks the Stones' reputation and great backlog of material make it impossible for Guns N' Roses to upstage them. "Everybody my age has been listening to the Stones and waiting to see them all our lives. I like Guns N' Roses, but there would be no Guns N' Roses without the Stones."

But Bill Hardin, 20, said he thinks time is against the Stones. "I'm interested in seeing them, but they don't mean anything to me," he said.

"Guns N' Roses are like the Stones were 20 years ago, and who wouldn't rather have seen the Stones then than now? It's like Muhammad Ali getting into the ring with Mike Tyson or something. You respect the Stones, but Guns N' Roses are today ."

There's no way--short of an exit poll--to know precisely what role Guns N' Roses played in convincing more than 275,000 fans to pay from $35 (the Ticketmaster charge) to $500 (the broker charge for choice seats) to see Wednesday's Coliseum match-up, which will be repeated Thursday, Saturday and next Sunday. Industry observers, however, believe the L.A.-based quintet may have been responsible for as much as 20 to 40% of the sales.

"The Who's failure to sell out even a single show in August at the Coliseum demonstrated the value of having some insurance, which a hot new band like Guns N' Roses provides," said a concert producer who is not involved with the local Stones dates and asked that his name not be used.

"I believe the Stones are much a stronger draw in Southern California than the Who and that they would have been able to sell out at least two Coliseum shows, maybe even a third on their own, but Guns N' Roses guaranteed a third date and enabled the promoters to add a fourth."

Joseph Rascoff, business manager for the Stones and producer of the tour, said the sluggish Who sales in Los Angeles and San Diego didn't worry him.

"The Rolling Stones had planned from the begining to have a current album out and (work toward) being meaningful in the 1989 music environment," he said. "This gave their tour a whole different dimension and momentum than the Who tour, which had a lot of nostalgic overtones."

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