By STEVE MASCORD
IT WAS the moment which put the ‘rock” into Rock In Rio. But in the shadows of the enormous main stage, it was followed by an incident of insidious brutality which reminded horrified onlookers just how far from home most of them were.
At around 8:20pm on a steamy Brazilian evening, Nick Oliveri walked onto the main stage with the rest of Queens Of The Stone Age in front of some 200,000 people at the gargantuan shanty town dubbed the City Of Rock, in suburban Jacarepagua, and strapped on his bass. Stark naked.
It was not an unusual gesture at an outdoor rock concert. Had it not happened eventually during this seven-days-out-of 10 extravaganza, it would have been a surprise. But what was to follow ensured that the third Rock In Rio, which featured the full-scale return of Guns N’Roses and Silverchair, and the ascent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to world domination, had found its martyr.
The crowd took a while to cotton on, Queens had already played on the same bill as Iron Maiden in South America earlier in the month and, according to an under-the-weather Oliveri at a media conference a few days earlier, “everyone in the crowd wanted to fight us”. He obviously thought there was little to lose in creating a scene.
When Oliveri’s pale, tattooed, naked figure appeared in the huge screens on either side of the stage, the boos began. They did not abate, and were soon accompanied by projectiles and a steady chant of “Sepultura, Sepultura…” – the local heroes due to play next.
“They say that unless I put some clothes on, they are going to call the courthouse,” he announced. “Apparently nudity is not okay.”
One song later, Oliveri was wearing black Levis, QOTSA closed their set with a rare dip into the Kyuss back catalogue and walked off, partially smashing their equipment on the way.
What happened next depends on who you speak to. According to the Rock In Rio organisers, the bassist was “escorted to a room in the backstage compound, where an on-site Judge decided to let him off with a warning. No big deaL
Oliveri himself told Kerrang! the next afternoon that the Queens were threatened with having the “plug pulled” on their show unless he got dressed, that he was manhandled by a couple of goons as he left the stage, and had some anxious moments in front of a tribunal before escaping a jail sentence.
But those who saw the incident at close hand believe Oliveri deliberately played down what happened in order to ensure be got the hell out of Brazil, to the Big Day Out in Australia. without complications. K! photographer Ross Halfin saw the incident first-hand.
“As soon as he walked off, these guys grabbed him and threw him into the back of a van,” states Halfin. “These guys, they were plain clothes security, they came from everywhere. You couldn’t tell who they were until they acted. It was one big scrum.”
Everyone from Five to Iron Maiden had gone to Rio de Janeiro, on Brazil’s west coast, expecting a tan and a fat cheque. In the end, it’s what they got. But in a country still a long way off rock’s beaten track, in a city where one-f ifth of the population have no access to welfare and education, and rampant sexuality fights a confounding, constant battle with devout Catholicism, it was never going to happen without some anxious moments.
Welcome to Rock In Rio Ill — an event subtitled, with supreme irony, ‘For A Better World’.
RIO IS a city of extremes. On the one hand, you’ve got the beautiful weather (permanently sunny), the spectacular scenery (Sugarloaf Mountain is visible everywhere) and the stench of money that emanates from a handful of the city’s wealthier areas. And then there’s the flip- side: the traffic, the heavy police presence and the crippling poverty.
In the middle of it all stands the City of Rock, a purpose-built 250,000-square metre arena with a spectacular mountainous outcrop behind the backstage compound that, for seven days over two separate weekends between January 12 and January 21 is playing host to somewhere in the region of 150 bands ranging from rock royalty (Sting, REM, Oasis) to local Brazilian bands with unpronounceable names (Cidadao Quem, anyone?) under the banner Rock In Rio.
There are, it has to be said, worse places to hold a festival. If you’re lucky enough to be able to see your favourite band, with a cold beer in your hand, on a warm night under clear sky, you’d swear you were in paradise. Unfortunately, 200,000 other people have the same idea, but the view of the stage, even from the furthest reaches of the compound, is amazingly good and the acoustics only rarely betray their weaknesses.
The five stages are set on palates — when one band’s set is over, the entire floor under their equipment slides to the side and the next act’s slides on. The main stage, a white-domed structure with huge spikes, is 40 metres high and 88 wide. The dressing rooms and VIP area are in a gargantuan aircraft hanger so far from the main stage that bands have to catch a shuttle to get there.
For the punters, there is also a folk music stage and a techno tent, along with shopping centres and food stalls selling sandwiches in foil bags which look like they’re packed for a lunar landing. By day two, the toilets are rank. By the end, there is no word in the English language for how harrowing using one of them has become. Perhaps there’s a term in Portuguese for foul to the power of 1000.
Fleets of buses carry fans from all over the city and wait for them in a line which stretches to the horizon at the end of each night. If you had to work the next day you could forget about sleeping; the headline act is rarely onstage before 1am, often as late as two.
Stepping off the bus at the venue, you are besieged by a mob of touts and vendors which made Delhi look like Derby, with local hawkers yelling, “Agua! (water), Skol! (beer), T-shirts! (TShirts).” Not understanding most of what they say is a blessing.
Inside, the atmosphere depends on the night. On Day Two (REM, the Foo Fighters and Beck), for instance, there’s understated excitement; plenty of people without it being too claustrophobic. For the heavier bands, the atmosphere has a touch of foreboding without ever really looking like it would get out of control. There are few fights, about 30 reported pick-pocketings a night, and no harder drugs obviously in use than dope. But it’s not unusual to see a drunken young audience member walk up to a girl he’s obviously never met and begin groping her. Bizarrely, the women on the receiving end continue to ignore this as if it’s a daily occurrence. There doesn’t seem to be too much security in the crowd but no-one misbehaves, perhaps because of the same reason officials over-react to nudity — they’ve had no practice at lighting bonfires, raping drunk girls or burying knives inside the arena and digging them up later.
Or maybe the same plain-clothed secret police who seized Oliveri are in the crowd, too.
IT’S MONDAY, January 15 and W AxI Rose is sitting by the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel at Sao Conrado, five minutes west of the glistening Ipenema and Cococabana beach strips. Like Rio, the hotel has a plush exterior but is showing signs of wear and is way overdue for a refit.
The day after Guns N’Roses’ second show in seven years, AxI is addressing a group of people which — of course — does not include any journalists. Instead, some fans who are staying in the hotel or have outwitted external security have also managed to bluff their way past the doorman and rope at the entrance of the pool and sit transfixed by the hazel-headed one-time recluse.
One of them later tells a reporter that Axi claimed former GN’R member Steven Adler had to record some drum parts 80 times, that guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin battled for leadership of the band, that bassist Duff McKagan’s drug use made his position untenable. There are reports a negative review was read to Rose by one fan and that he responded by returning to his S1000-a-night Presidential Suite — with a giant jacuzzi which he ordered to be filled with roses — and trashing it.
Rewind 48 hours. Last year, Dave Grohl spent his 32nd birthday on stage before 2,000 people at an AIDS benefit at Hollywood’s Palace. Tonight, as a buoyant Foo Fighters warm the stage for REM on Day Two of the festival, he’s celebrating his 33rd in front of 100 times as many people. And sure enough, five songs into a feverish set, the message ‘Happy Birthday Dave’ flashes across the football pitch-sized video screens around the site, and Grohl’s girlfriend, former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, emerges from the wings with a cake.
The Foos don’t play perfectly but they are possibly the best act of the entire festival. Opening with “Breakout”, Grohl, guitarist Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendell and drummer Taylor Hawkins whip the multitudes — familiar only with their singles — into a frenzy. “Stacked Actors” sees Grohl — who, unlike many of his peers, has put modesty on the backburner and taken the stage in shorts that show off some unpleasantly knobbly knees — joining Hawkins for a 10-minute drum-jam, before “Monkeywrench” and a goosebump-inducing “Everlong” bring the set crashing to a close.
At the end of it all, Grohl just stands on the edge of the stage and says: “So many people, so many f**king people”. Next year, stay home and invite a few close friends over for your 34th, Dave.
IF THE Foos light up Day Two like a bonfire, then Day Three is nothing short of a blazing inferno. And it’s all down to one man: W AxI Rose.
Excitement is at fever pitch, thanks largely to the comeback of the decade. After a small- scale show in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve, Rock In Rio is the perfect event for AxI to relaunch Guns N’Roses on a frankly slavering public. It’s no understatement to say that every single person in this crowd is here to see whether he stands or falls.
But before the main attraction, Papa Roach are faced with the task of entertaining several thousand elated Brazilians. It is strongly suggested by those behind the scenes that Guns insisted P-Roach be on the bill — and not below a local act, as Deftones and Queens Of The Stone Age are — as a condition of them playing.
Hampered by poor sound and almost complete ignorance of their material among the local crowd, Papa Roach struggle. Only “Last Resort” brings a flicker of recognition from the multitude, the wind having briefly stopped blowing their songs to Paraguay.
Before he takes the stage, Axl Rose insists that the photographer’s pit is cleared, and his performance is peppered with tantrums directed at stage hands and security guards (“Get him out of here, are you listening my security man?”; “This is going to cost a fortune and I ain’t paying for it”). Finally appearing 40 minutes later than planned (rumours suggest that AxI refuses to go on unless the flowers backstage are changed), they hit the stage with “Welcome To The Jungle”, following a bizarre animated intro on the big screens either side of the stage, which feature an apparently bedridden Axi taking a crap.
Guns’ set is dominated with material from Appetite For Destruction, but Rose’s repertoire of rants is all new material. Introducing ‘Live And Let Die’ via a Brazilian translator, the singer says:
“I know many of you are disappointed that people who you have grown to know and love could not be here with us tonight. I am as hurt and disappointed as you that unlike (support) Oasis, we could not find a way to all just get along. People worked very hard — meaning my former friends — to do everything they could so I could not be here today. I say f**k that.”
When they do pause to play music. Guns are frequently good and occasionally astonishing. They play for a marathon two hours and 20 minutes, which are alternately rewarding and frustrating. It’s odd seeing such a disparate set of faces collected together under the GN’R name. Ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck is a stalking goth with a face painted like a skull and cadaverous haircut, bassist Tommy Stinson is a rockabilly punk, with a singlet and a kilt, and guitarist Paul Tobias is a surfie, in jeans and a T-shirt. And then there’s the legendary Buckethead, a man who makes Slash look like a bank manager. He wears a KFC bucket on his head and a white mime mask with flashing green eyes for special occasions.
Their show is spectacular to look at, musically sound, and the old songs do not come across as cabaret numbers. But toward the end, things start to get sluggish. Axl’s rants become more frequent, there are long breaks while grand pianos and such are wheeled on and off. The use of Samba dancers before finale “Paradise City” is badly miscalculated; people have already started leaving.
They tease us with a smattering of new songs. “Madagascar” is a high-vaulting epic in the vein of “November Rain”, the blistering “Chinese Democracy” is as raw and energetic as anything they’ve recorded in the past, the piano-heavy “The Blues” owes as much to Elton John as it does Aerosmith, and the throbbing techno complexity of “Silkworms” finally shows off Axi’s much-vaunted industrial fascination.
Pyro, flame-throwers, Axl sprinting along catwalks from side-to-side — good energetic stuff, but at this stage little more than an exercise in nostalgia. Still, Guns N’Roses are playing again and that’s enough for Rio’s rockers, who dawdle off to the buses with broad grins at 3:30am, the temperature still balmy. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait until June, when Chinese Democracy finally emerges, to discover if they have actually made a comeback.
BETWEEN FIVE and seven per cent of the profits of Rock In Rio go to charity mainly education. But it seems no-one has told the bands. Nick Oliveri is asked at one stage how he can reconcile the event’s anti-narcotics, ‘Better World’ message with the Queens’ lyrical drugs references. He replies that drugs “make it a better world. I like it better that way, don’t you?”.
Iron Maiden, however, are smarter than that. During their packed conference, they produce none other than Jimmy Page to underscore their social conscience. They present a guitar to Page, to be auctioned by festival sponsors America Online with the funds to go to Casa Jimmy, a local refuge for single, unemployed mothers named in the Led Zeppelin legend’s honour. Page himself sticks around for the duration of the festival but, despite rumours, does not join anyone onstage.
A sunglasses-wearing Bruce Dickinson, when asked what his band is doing to make the world a better place, admits:
“As of this morning, I really have no idea because I’m getting over a hangover. I may have been contributing to greenhouse gasses since breakfast.”
Maiden are headlining Day Five of the festival, above Halford, Sepultura, Queens Of The Stone Age and local bands Pavilhao 9 and Sheil Tosado. Maiden are huge in Brazil — one soccer club uses Eddie as its emblem, and even homeless people seem to be wearing bootlegged Fear Of The Dark T-shirts as they beg on street corners in Copacabana.
But Sepultura run Steve Harris and co a close second for the accolade of Band Of The Day. Opening with ‘Roots. Bloody Roots’, the Brazilian titans have 190,000 people in the palm of their collective hands. Frontman Derrick Green sings in English: talks in Portuguese and leaves Rob Halford with a hell of a job to do.
The main thing you need to know about Halford’s set is that their eponymous leader is clad head-to-toe in leather, in temperatures which must be approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, for his entire hour-long slot. A couple of Priest numbers liven proceedings, but the metal icon disappointingly opts not to sing the chorus of ‘Breaking The Law’, letting the crowd do his work for him.
Iron Maiden’s staging is easily the most elaborate of the festival, with a latticework of ramps and platforms and ropes to swing from; the full European set plus more explosives. Material from ‘Brave New World’ segues seamlessly with Maiden’s classics; tellingly, the crowd knows it all equally well. The encore is a rare (these days, anyway) rendition of ‘Run To The Hills’, before Maiden run to the helipad, one of the biggest nights of a distinguished career having finished triumphantly.
OVER THE course of the festival, press conferences with foreign bands are conducted with the help of an interpreter, as most questions are in Portuguese. The middle-aged female interpreter at first seems reluctant to translate u f**k” but by the end of the week is swearing like a Brazilian trooper.
It’s a tiresome process. Most of the questions are along the lines of “What do you think of Brazil?” and “What are your influences?” and the time it takes to translate a question gives musicians too many opportunities to joke around. When Deftones bassist Che Cheng first hears a question in Portuguese, he answers immediately, “But she said she was 18”.
But then the Deftones have reason to be in a good mood. About an hour before the Sacramento troupe are scheduled to play on the seventh and final day of Rock In Rio, news filters through that the night is a sell out. A 250,000 sell-out, lifting it in the pantheon of the biggest rock concerts of recent years. That established, black-clad singer Chino Moreno sets about attempting to make it 250,001 by repeatedly throwing himself into the heaving human sea at the base of the stage, despite being warned by security guards not to do it.
The ‘Tones set is tense and enthralling; the band’s themes of angst and tension no doubt reflecting the emotions of those down the front who have five hours of an increasingly intensifying crush ahead of them.
The members of Silverchair are each just 21 and have played precisely one concert in the last 12 months. Singer Daniel Johns looks like a star when he strides on in a jacket covered in tiny mirrors and launches into ‘Israel’s Son’, but between songs he’s a deer in the headlights, unable to think of anything coherent to say.
But if you think Silverchair playing two spots up from the Deftones is incongruous, think again. During ‘Anthem For The Year 2000’, a multitude that matches the population of the boys’ home city of Newcastle starts singing before Daniel does. ‘Freak’ inspires one of the biggest mass-pogo orgies in human history, and Australia’s biggest resident rock star leaves his guitar wailing in front of his amp as he departs, leaving new songs ‘Hollywood’ and ‘One Way Mule’ hanging in the air.
Silverchair might have given it their best shot but tonight the Red Hot Chili Peppers leave no doubt as to who is in charge. In front of an assembly so vast it stretches as far as the eye can see, the Chilis justified the hysteria with an athletic, dexterous performance.
People who have seen them over and over again voice the opinion that the band should be renamed the Hot and Cold Chili Peppers, so inconsistent are the quality of their shows. Tonight, however, the whole thing just clicks. Singer Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante are now more characters than real people. Flea ducks and weaves, John twists his body into amazing contortions, Anthony has those mechanical movements which have even extended to his behaviour away from the stage, and Chad’s chops drip of showmanship.
This is a triumphant moment for the Chilis, but there is a dichotomy; on one hand they have taken the trouble to learn Portuguese for their spoken parts, but on the other the set-list has the feel of a club show with a number of curious inclusions, including one from the Circle Jerks. It sounds good and looks good, but to the Chilis it is just another big gig. No one standing stageside is even checked by security. Another day at the office, indeed.
The Chilis, with their funky rhythms and cartoon posturing, don’t please everyone, but 250,000 people is a good start. The night, and the festival, ends with fireworks.
ROCK IN Rio’s last media conference is hosted by it’s last band onstage, the Chilis — or rather just Kiedis and Frusciante.
“I saw that guy playing naked,” says Kiedis, referring to Nick Oliveri, “and I thought, ‘Why is he stepping on Flea’s turf?’. Flea is known for playing naked, he plays bass and here is this bass player in a band that is quite ‘now’ doing the same thing. And he’s doing it without half the physique… so why bother?”
Oliveri himself, beer in hand, shows no physical signs of being beaten about upside the head a few days ago.
“You know, people have made a big stink about it but I’ve played naked all over the world,” he grins. “It’s summer, there’s women everywhere hanging out… I would have thought that they’d see plenty of nudity.
“We were warming up with some local dancers and bongo players we used late in the set and it just occurred to me to do it. There was a judge on the side of the stage with his 12-year-old daughter and he wasn’t too impressed. They were going to pull the plug on our show unless I got dressed and we definitely didn’t come all this way for that to happen.
“These two guys grabbed me afterwards but when I got into the room where they were deciding what to do, I noticed this woman on the panel had a Harley Davidson hat on so I knew I’d get off.”
A 15-year-old girl gets his autograph. “We have pictures of you naked,” she says, almost innocently.
A RIO cab driver has negotiated himself a day off. Three US flight attendants and three Australians have agreed to pay him to ferry them to the Sheraton Hotel, near lpenema. One of the flight attendants has a drumstick discarded by Chili Peppers drummer Chad. Engraved on the personalised stick is the phrase “South American F**kfest 2001”.
A few hours later, sitting at one of the kiosks which dot Copacabana and sell green coconuts with their tops hacked off and a straw sticking out — or Skol beer — for around 40p a pop, a middle-aged man sits alone waiting for the sun to rise.
In front of him are half a dozen empty Skol cans. He repeats one phrase, in perfect English, over and over again as the buses disgorge haggered-looking youngsters, two weeks of wide- eyed indulgence in youth culture decadence having finally come to an end.
“No sex, no drugs, no rock ‘n’ roll, No sex, no drugs, no rock ‘n’ roll,” he repeats.
No one pays him any attention.
Filed for KERRANG!