|VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Thursday was supposed to be a very big night for Guns N' Roses fans: the long-awaited launch of the group's first U.S. tour in nine years.
Unfortunately, it never happened. The concert was suddenly canceled, before the doors even opened, and a riot ensued.
Groups of ticked-off kids converged at the gates of Vancouver's General Motors Place arena. Fueled, in some cases, by strong drink and marijuana, they hoisted the long metal security barriers outside and rammed them through the glass entry doors. They threw bottles and rocks. They were angry about paying $80 for tickets and then getting blown off, and they yelled things like, "F--- Axl, I wanna see Buckethead!" (Buckethead being one of the band's three guitarists, the mysterious guy with the Jason mask.)
After about 20 minutes of all this, a phalanx of cops waded in with attack dogs, and things got really ugly. Those fans who escaped the police onslaught with nothing more than a faceful of pepper spray might be said to have been the lucky ones. Wielding their riot batons with seeming abandon, the cops walloped legs, arms, heads, whatever available extremity presented itself. They ganged up to pummel people even after they'd fallen to the ground. One young man was smashed in the face and had his teeth knocked out — he stumbled away in a daze, holding them in his hands, with blood pouring from his mouth.
Even as the crowd began to disperse, police continued to chase and hit and kick individual stragglers. As one young woman told a local TV news crew, "I thought, 'Oh my God, they hate every single one of us.'"
A police spokeswoman on the scene was also interviewed. She said the crowd was out of control, and described the police response as "a proper use of force."
Meanwhile, inside the venue, the members of Guns N' Roses were unaware of what was going on outside. They were simply bummed about the show's cancellation. Bassist Tommy Stinson, loitering by a backstage buffet table, said, "Axl is gonna be pissed."
Because frontman Axl Rose was up in the air on a plane as Stinson spoke, en route from Los Angeles to Vancouver. According to Guns' management, his flight's departure from L.A. had been delayed by mechanical troubles. He had been scheduled to take the stage with Guns N' Roses at 9:30 (following sets by two opening acts: the Philadelphia band CKY and Beastie Boys DJ Mix Master Mike). When the GM Place managers learned, at around 8:00, that Rose hadn't even arrived in town yet, they called off the show.
The Guns camp says the aborted Vancouver show will be re-scheduled. Whether or not that'll help dispel the grim vibe surrounding this incident remains to be seen. The Canadian date was supposed to mark the triumphant return of a great rock band. It wasn't supposed to go like this.