The current members of the hard rock group Guns N' Roses acknowledge that following the group's past lineup -- which sold more than 80 million albums worldwide -- is no easy feat.
"There's people in the audience who have 'Where's Slash?' banners or "We Love Slash' or whatever," notes bassist Tommy Stinson, referring to the group's founding guitarist.
But despite that, Stinson and the rest of the GNR camp -- now led by frontman Axl Rose -- remain undaunted as they try to establish the new edition of the group before devoted fans and skeptics alike.
"Y'know, all those people, they don't leave," says Stinson, who replaced founding bassist Duff McKagen in 1998. "They must not be hating it if they don't leave. People seem to be pretty jazzed by the show that we put."
Adds keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who joined GNR in 1990 and is the longest-tenured member of the band besides Rose: "No matter what we do, there's gonna be some people that are just not gonna let go of the old band. But the majority of the people I see out there are having a great time; they're losing their minds and dancing and singing along. It doesn't seem to me like they miss the old guys."
GNR is touring North America for the first time since 1993, following scattered shows during the past two years in Las Vegas, Rio, Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium and England and an appearance on the MTV Music Video Awards in September. The tour got off to a rough start Nov. 7 in Vancouver; after Rose's arrival was delayed, GM Place officials canceled the concert, and rioting fans caused $100,000 worth of damage to the venue.
That's only part and parcel of what's been a tumultuous nine years, which has seen the founding core of the group fall apart and Rose wrest control of the name and the direction of the band.
Keyboardist Reed notes that "it probably seems to a lot of people that the band just disappeared and now it's back and it's totally different."
But he says GNR never stopped working and that Rose spent time assembling a new corps of musicians as well as recording the new album "Chinese Democracy" -- expected out during 2003 -- with a number of producers.
The new, well-credentialed lineup of the band has been together for about seven months, with Reed, former Replacements member Stinson, guitarists Buckethead (Praxis, Primus), Robin Finck (nine inch nails, Cirque du Soleil) and Richard Fortus (Love Spit Love), keyboardist Chris Pitman (the Replicants, Lusk) and drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia (Primus, Tom Waits, Praxis).
Former guitarist Slash derisively refers to the group as "Axl and his merry men," and reserves terms such as "control freak" and "maniac" for his former band mate.
In fact, Slash, McKagen and former GNR guitarist Izzy Stradlin are forming their own group, which draws chuckles from Reed.
"I say good luck, and I hope they have a good time -- and they should enjoy it 'cause Izzy'll probably quit in a couple of weeks," says Reed, 39, adding: "I think some of those guys really go complacent. I know Axl thought we really needed to change, and in their mind we didn't need to change, we should just do what we do and everything will be cool.
"But you look around and you see bands that did that, and they're trivial now. They're nostalgia. We didn't want to be that way ... and one by one, people started quitting. The old band was a little more hell-bent on self-destruction; this band, I think, is kinda headed upwards as opposed to downward."
With no firm release date for the album -- GNR's first studio effort since 1993 -- both Reed and Stinson, 36, are purposefully vague in describing the long-in-the-making "Chinese Democracy," which the group has produced with collaborators such as Sean Beavan, Roy Thomas Baker and Youth.
Reed says to expect "a pretty intense musical journey. It takes you to some really interesting musical places."
Stinson, meanwhile, promises that "it touches on a lot of different elements of old Guns N' Roses in some ways; in other ways it touches with more current-sounding music." He also lauds Rose's lyrics, which he says are "a lot deeper" than on previous GNR releases.
The group is playing several of the new songs in concert each night along with old favorites such as "Welcome to the Jungle," "Sweet Child of Mine," "Patience" and "November Rain." But the musicians are anxious to get "Chinese Democracy" out so that the audiences will be able to sing along to them as well -- even though they know there are skeptics who still wonder if it will ever actually be released.
"We wouldn't be doing this if it weren't going to come out -- are you kidding?" Stinson says with a laugh. "If it works out, it could be history making, 'cause no one's ever done this before. A lead singer's never taken the (band) name and continued on with an entirely new band and done that successfully before.
"I kinda got into this for exactly that reason; if you're gonna try to do something really whacked, this would be the way to do it. I really don't think about the consequences either way; it's either gonna work or it's not, and in the meantime we're all having a good time trying to make it happen."