Reunited Guns N' Roses head to Coachella as live music soars

4 min

Indio (United States) (AFP)

For years, Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose could barely stand the sight of guitarist Slash and became annoyed at the constant questions about whether the legendary hard rockers would reunite.

This year, they are finally sharing the stage once more.

The original lineup of Guns N' Roses will headline the Coachella festival starting Friday in the desert of southern California -- a sign not only that the band has sorted out its notorious bad blood, but also of the soaring growth in the live music industry.

Festivals, long part of the summer scene in Europe, have sprouted up at a breakneck pace over the past decade in North America, fueled by young people who place a premium on real-world experiences in the digital age.

The market has expanded to represent an increasingly diverse array of tastes and demographics, with big festivals under pressure to deliver headline-grabbing names -- of which a reunion by Guns N' Roses was considered a holy grail.

Guns N' Roses became a worldwide sensation in the late 1980s with fans fascinated by Rose's soaring voice and raw anger, coupled with Slash's intricate guitar.

"Appetite for Destruction" remains the top-selling debut album in history but the band's superstar status was fleeting, with Slash and Rose until this year last playing together in 1993 in Buenos Aires.

While Guns N' Roses announced their return for Coachella, Slash and Rose put on their first reunion show on April 1 in a surprise gig at the Troubadour, a small Los Angeles club where the band was first noticed. They plan a summer tour of North American arenas.

- 'A cancer' no more -

Rose had long berated Slash, saying that he was not a founding band member.

"Personally I consider him a cancer and better removed, avoided -- and the less anyone heard of him or his supporters, the better," Rose said in 2009.

"There's zero possibility of me having anything to do with Slash other than by ambush, and that wouldn't be pretty," he said at the time.

Rose -- who has kept playing as Guns N' Roses with other guitarists -- shunned the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

He wrote in an open letter: "Time to move on. People get divorced. Life doesn't owe you your own personal happy ending."

But people apparently can also remarry, and Rose and Slash -- who until recently said he had no contact with his former bandmate -- have long enjoyed lucrative offers to reunite.

Music industry magazine Billboard estimated that Guns N 'Roses would earn $3 million per arena show, and much more at Coachella, which draws more than 180,000 people a year over two consecutive three-day weekends with identical lineups.

- Fast growth for live music -

Guns N' Roses -- who will take the stage on April 16 and 23 -- would likely have seen success by reuniting at any time. But for artists both big and small, live music has increasingly been the crucial money-maker.

While streaming has renewed the growth of the recorded music industry, profits for most artists remain a fraction of what they were when vinyl or CDs were king.

"You used to tour to sell records. Now you tour to make money. You might sell a few extra records along the way, but that's not paying your mortgage," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of concert trade publication Pollstar.

The site estimated that the top 100 tours in North America generated $3.12 billion in 2015, a rise of 14 percent from the previous year.

New festivals in 2016 include Panorama by Coachella's promoters, which will be the second such festival in New York City, and a new edition of Lollapalooza in Colombia as promoters increasingly develop an international festival circuit for each year's crop of available artists.

Major festivals such as Coachella and Glastonbury in England, for which tickets sell out within minutes each year, benefit from greater leverage in booking acts, Bongiovanni said.

Artists "are going to say that you need us to sell tickets. And the promoter will say, no, we've sold all our tickets -- you need me to be on a good show," he said.

Coachella's other headliners include LCD Soundsystem, the influential New York electronic band that is also reuniting, but the festival has tried to keep its edge by carefully selecting new acts who are enjoying a growing buzz.

"I think the public knows that they are going to see artists they may have never heard of before and that they are going to be just knocked out by them," Bongiovanni said.