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How Coachella pulled off the Guns N' Roses reunion

How Coachella pulled off the Guns N' Roses reunion
Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose on stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

There were no surprise guests for Guns N' Roses' Weekend 2 performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and none were needed.

The band seemed intent on proving it's ready to embark on a summer tour with reunited members Axl Rose, Slash (Saul Hudson) and Duff McKagan, who adorned his bass with a purple Prince symbol in tribute to the artist's death last week.

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The hard rock outfit performed for more than two hours in a focused set that looked and sounded arena ready. Guitarist Angus Young of AC/DC dropped in with the band for Weekend 1, but there were no shouts for "Angus" on Saturday night. Slash had the guitar pyrotechnics covered.

So how did it all come together? This was a reunion that few expected to happen and many thought would break apart in band drama before the group got out of the rehearsal studio.

One of the keys was Paul Tollett, the president and chief executive of Goldenvoice, who started Coachella in 1999. He launched his career as a rock promoter in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and one of the up-and-coming bands he promoted was Guns N' Roses.

In an interview a few hours before Guns N' Roses took the stage Saturday, Tollett said he didn't want to be seen as taking credit for the group's return. But when pressed on how came together, he replied, "I went to them."

Axl Rose, left, and Slash, together for the Guns N' Roses reunionat Coachella.
Axl Rose, left, and Slash, together for the Guns N' Roses reunionat Coachella. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

"But I've been trying for a while," he quickly added. "Those types of things, it can't be one person. It's got to be a lot of people and different reasons it's happening."

Speaking from a shaded picnic table outside the trailer he calls home during Coachella, Tollett offered some insights into the art of reuniting fractious ensembles.

"When I go for something that's not together,  I never lead with the money, because it offends those artists," he said. "It can turn them off and the communication stops. Not because of the number, it's just because commerce is the first discussion."

Talks with Guns N' Roses began about two years ago, he said. At some point along the way, he sent the group a vintage flyer of a 1986 performance he promoted for the band, shortly before it hit the big time.

"These bands were getting  bigger faster than Goldenvoice was, so we couldn't hold on to them," he said. "Back then, a band would go platinum in a matter of months. It takes a company years to build up the skills, the money, the clout, the venues... there's a lot to it.  So when they hit it we had to cede them to other promoters. We just weren't ready."

Flash forward three decades, and Goldenvoice is now running the biggest-grossing music festival in the U.S. Slash did a guest appearance with Motorhead at Coachella in 2014, he said, and got a taste of Coachella's festival atmosphere. Seeds were being planted.

"I never pushed hard, but put it out there," he said. "It just started picking up steam."

After the announcement late last year, skeptics abounded. Tollett said he was inundated with calls asking if the band would really show up.

It didn't help when Rose broke his foot during a surprise warm-up show April 1 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Tollett said he still wasn't worried; after all, Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine broke her foot during Weekend 1 of Coachella last year. She was back on stage Weekend 2.

The show did go on, with Rose performing on a "throne" borrowed from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. In the end, Tollett said he could hardly believe it himself as he watched the band from the sidelines Weekend 1.

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"Guns N' Roses are back together? Wild."

Follow me on Twitter: @jtcorrigan

john.corrigan@latimes.com

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