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 under the banner Rock In Rio.