Review: Guns N’ Roses – Western Springs, Auckland 04/02/17

I’ve never been to the ‘jungle’ before, in the traditional sense, however I would argue that 55,000 people and I just left a monstrous one right next to Auckland’s idyllic Western Springs park. How can there be a jungle in the middle of a stadium, you ask? Easy, just get Guns N’ Roses to play. From the Looney Tunes intro music and the punky pulse of Duff’s bass line opening the show with It’s So Easy, it was already clear this night was going to eclipse many others. The band and crowd seemed to be equally enjoying themselves, catching most of the band zoning out at one point or another taking in the mass of bodies before them. Some of Axl’s first words to the crowd: “There’s a lot of you motherfuckers ain’t there?” They seemed to play, and play, hit after hit without really stopping to catch themselves. Only four songs in we received our official powhiri to the jungle, one of the night’s obvious highlights. If anyone was worried it would fizzle out, or run out of steam after such a strong opening they were met with such crowd pleasers as Live and Let Die, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Civil War, and November Rain to name but a smattering.

Throughout the night I had to take the time, more than once, to turn and fully take in the what was happening behind me. Leaning on the rail for the entirety of the gig meant I was quite literally standing in front of more than 50,000 people – a sight which, no matter how many times I go to Western Springs, floors me every time. Not to mention the overflowing decks and balconies of the homes just over the back fence, mere centimeters away from those who had paid for tickets. Yes, the same people who complain about the Speedway that happens once in a blue moon, yet don’t seem to mind too much when it’s Guns N’ Roses, or Foo Fighters, or Eminem.untitled

The award for Player of the Day has got to go to Axl Rose. For all the crap he’s taken over the years about how he’s this and he’s that, he sounded incredible. Being as close as I was you could see in his face and eyes that he was giving it his absolute all. His face during Live and Let Die, redder than the Devil’s dick, veins sprouting like a cracked windshield, eyes watering, screaming his lungs out for us, is something that will be permanently etched in my memory. I mean, it actually sounded like he was paining himself for us – like he was gargling shards of glass. There were legitimately times when I could close my eyes and imagine I’m watching some show on Youtube from the 90s. It’s not often that my expectations are plainly exceeded, least not when it involves a polarising figure such as Axl Rose, but I was blown away. As a cynic who downplays everything short of magic, words can not do justice to how truly awesome it was. ‘Epic’ is a word that has been so over used in internet-land that it has kind of lost its meaning, but in a Homerian sense it truly was an EPIC gig. Easily one of the best I’ve ever seen. My only regret would have to be not finding a way to see them in Wellington also.

So, the “reunion” tour (billed only as such by the media, not the band) lived up to the hype and then some. I can only hope the boys continue feeding the machine, as it’s clearly working – fat cheques and thousands of happy fans seems like a win-win. I hope to see them again in the coming years with different (perhaps new!?) songs, but would gladly fork out to see the exact same show I just saw over and over again.

My ears are still ringing, my feet still ache, I can barely move my neck, my voice has dropped a tone or two (when it works) and until next time, GnFnR are gone – on to Australia. At least we didn’t wake the neighbours!

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Music Memories – Going to California pt. 4

The week in between Festival of Disruption (Saturday-Sunday) and Desert Trip (the following Friday-Sunday) we did a whole bunch of touristy things in L.A all leading up to the grand finale. Each day was something special and new, and while at the time we were totally immersed in whatever we were doing (e.g Amoeba Music for the umpteenth time), it was no secret that some strangely colourful, yet equally hidden pocket of our brains had dedicated itself and was preparing for Desert Trip. Before we had witnessed it, the size and scope of the event was unfathomable, even one of the two acts per night would have been incredible. For perspective, I had seen Neil Young twice before, but the anticipation was such that I might as well have never seen a concert in my life. Just to confirm, the line up was this:

Friday – Bob Dylan – Rolling Stones

Saturday – Neil Young – Paul McCartney

Sunday – The Who – Roger Waters

Friday the 14th of October arrived, and we were awake early enough to arrive at the Greyhound station in Downtown L.A by 7.30am for our bus at 8am, scheduled to arrive in the Palm Desert at 11.30. This doesn’t seem too bad, I thought, Greyhounds were supposed to be bottom of the barrel. We loaded on the bus and it wasn’t until a large bunch of older ladies got on and had to sit in the aisle on top of their luggage that I had the “ahh” moment. Our second experience with Greyhound would be on the way back to L.A the next Monday when the bus simply didn’t show up. Luckily that time we had a flag-draped Australian couple to keep us entertained. Arriving in Palm Desert we didn’t have any time to waste as we couldn’t check in to our accommodation until 2pm, which might give us an hour to sit down and relax for a bit before we had to leave for the gig (allowing plenty of time , scarred by Coachella horror stories) which started at 6.30 so we wanted to be an hour early at least, accounting for Woodstock-level traffic jams.

By the way, the Desert isn’t just called that because it’s hot and dusty, it’s a literal desert with some houses and a wal-mart plopped in the middle. A bird’s eye would show a green grassed backyard, a thin concrete wall, then sand for miles. Quite striking visually for a Kiwi. So when we arrived at 11.30 with all of our 30 or so kilos each of luggage, in 30C+ heat, we didn’t have many options. We decided we’d go to a shopping centre and sit in the foodcourt for an hour or something, at least it’ll be air-conditioned. Apparently in America there is a major difference between ‘shopping centre’ and ‘mall’ as our Uber driver didn’t feel comfortable leaving us on our own at the outdoor shopping centre which had only a few fast food places, and some furniture stores. He convinced us to stay at his house, unsupervised, while he finished his shift as it was much closer to our accommodation than either the mall or the shopping centre. We stayed at Joe’s for about an hour with his dogs, watching Key and Peele, at which point it was about 1pm. So we went to the McDonald’s inside the Wal-mart (‘Murica!) and then went on to our accommodation.

Arriving at Desert Trip was a trip in itself. The largest gathering I’d ever been to would have been either AC/DC or Eminem, both at Western Springs with around 60,000 people. In my own neighbourhood that was impressive, and ‘new’, enough. In the middle of California, with an extra 30,000 or so people was something else. Everything flowed really well, not like the Big Day Outs in Auckland of days’ past. To get in there were never any lines longer than 10 or so people, and even then security was a breeze. The scale of the venue was monstrous, and to use the term ‘fine-oiled machine’ is a pretty huge cliche, but that’s what it was. The planning and care gone in to the event was palpable – yes its goal was to make a profit, and they would have done so even if all the performers just stood on a box in the field and played – but it felt very special, curated just for you. 

Taking our spot 3 heads from rail separating performer and attendee, Bob Dylan took the stage not long after, in a black blazer, shirtless otherwise. I honestly never thought I’d ever see Bob Dylan’s nipples, much less in the flesh, but I did. Dylan, as he often is, was the dark horse of Desert Trip, in that people weren’t sure if he was just going to get up and play Sinatra covers all night, although we knew he wasn’t going to treat us to a greatest hits set. Any fears were alleviated when he tore through his first few numbers, ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, and ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. He started his encore with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, another Dylan-related thing I thought I’d never see. It feels like a disclaimer now, that there are going to be at least a few people walking away from a Dylan gig slightly disappointed, but if that’s still the case then it’s your problem for being 25 years late. He hasn’t pandered to an audience in decades, arguably ever, I don’t know why anyone expects he’d start now. To be honest, I’d have been slightly disappointed if the set list didn’t contain any songs I was familiar with, but that’s still not his problem, and I still would have (and did) enjoy songs and/or arrangements I didn’t know. Dylan ruled with a smoky enigma, but the spectacle that was the Rolling Stones, complimented his subdued set in the most awesome display of yin/yang.

Two 10/10 acts in the same night. Less than an hour change-over, even. We love Dylan, everyone loves Dylan but I was extremely intrigued as to how the Stones’ set would pan out. They have the hits that are always going to go off – ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’, to name but a few – but I’ve always been more or less content with the ‘hits’, never delving much further. From the second they hit the stage and the first chords of Jumpin’ Jack Flash rang out, I simply didn’t care. Even songs I hadn’t heard before I was catching on to and belting out the last choruses like they were the songs that shaped me. Keef and Ronnie jamming acoustic together on ‘You Got The Silver’ was something I won’t ever forget. We were close enough to see the hairs on their arms, lines on their faces, and I remember thinking that they actually look older in the photos and videos than they do in real life. We met a guy we aptly nicknamed “Michael Shannon’s Dad” who claimed it was his 51st Stones show. During ‘Miss You’ he made a note of bending down and checking all the immediate people around us to see if we were “Ooh Ooh OOH Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh-ing” properly to the chorus, giving thumbs up in approval or a shaky palm if you needed to improve. Some guy caught Ronnie’s guitar pick and literally screamed for the rest of the gig. The passion was awesome and contagious, no one in the ‘elite’ $1600 pit was a ‘casual’ fan – unless they were very rich, which, ok there were probably a few of those people too.

The gigs ended around 12.30am, we got on to our pre-paid shuttle and were home around 3.30 – a trip that on the way there took 20 minutes. We got frustrated with how long it was taking and how many stops there were so we decided just to get off and get a Lyft the rest of the way, which was lucky because we were actually on the wrong bus. The shuttles were the only glaringly obvious inconsistency in how smooth everything else was running, we had plans and ideas in place for the next night to combat both foot and vehicle traffic on the way out. Collapsing in to bed, my head filled with visions of Richards, Dylan, Jagger – music’s equivalents of Windsors, or Obamas, names synonymous with power and the elite – I could only imagine what it would be like to see a Beatle in less than 24 hours.

Guns N’ Roses and the (Not in This Lifetime) Tour that we need to talk about

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Guns N’ Roses have always been one of those bands that, for better or worse, have had their ‘original’ lineup canonised  as the lineup. Like Led Zeppelin. Anything less and you can guarantee someone somewhere will be unhappy with what they’re given, not only that but they’ll actively try to thwart your excitement – it’s not even Guns N’ Roses, they’ll say, I saw them 25 years ago before you were even born! Hold on to that memory bud you obviously need it, meanwhile I’ll go see the exact same amount of ‘original’ members as were on stage during the mammoth Use Your Illusion tour – the jaunt most purists will claim they saw the original line up during, expecting us not to know the difference.

Well…

August 1997 – Duff McKagan, the only original member still in the band, leaves claiming it is now Axl’s band, following Slash’s departure a year prior.

Cut to, 2012. Axl Rose is leaving Chateau Marmont with Lana Del Ray when a reporter asks him if there was any chance of a reunion tour. His response? A near chuckle, then a hearty “Not in this lifetime!”

Cut, again, to May 2015 when Slash casually mentions that there is no longer any tension between Axl and himself, in response to an interview question regarding their relationship. Anyone who cares about any sort of popular music in general would probably be able to tell you, or at least guess, that Axl and Slash hadn’t spoken since Slash left in 1996. Yes, left – not kicked out. It’s been one of those long-winded, rumour-fuelled, infamous feuds granted to us by the entertainment gods, along the lines of the Gallagher brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Richards vs. Jagger etc. In any case, Slash’s statement was not one to be brushed aside, especially considering he had verbally showed his annoyance with another reporter asking a similar question only months prior. Further to that, in August 2015 Slash mentioned, again with a confident nonchalance, that he and Axl had actually spoken and are in fact on good terms with one another.

Taking in to account the number of bitter jabs through the years, Axl going so far as to call Slash a cancer, this was big news for music. Around the same time rumours started heating up that there were indeed plans to get the original lineup together, or at least have some form or reunion. It was coming from many, apparently reputable, sources so the main question now was: Who’s in the band? The lead guitarists (Slash’s job) had both left recently, and Duff had actually filled in on bass for their most recent tour so it seemed like a no-brainer really. But, as the saying in GnR camp goes, where’s Izzy? And what about Steven?

Izzy later told Rolling Stone that he was never asked to be part of any reunion. Tweets from his account, since deleted, seemed to imply that he was involved in early talks – perhaps on a ‘special appearance’ basis, but denied their offer. One deleted tweet reads “Bullshit. They didn’t want to split the loot equally. Simple as that. Moving right along….” Original drummer Steven Adler, kicked out for substance abuse issues (Hey pot, kettle here – you’re black!), has since appeared for a couple of songs here and there at select shows on the Not In This Lifetime Tour. And I urge anyone who cares enough to Youtube clips of him playing with the guys this year, because for those few minutes a more happy and deserving human there is not -especially given all he’s been through to get there.

Ok, so again, who else is in the band? This question was not answered until April Fool’s Day 2016 where the band played a ‘secret’ show at the Troubadour, the same venue the original band debuted at in 1985. The answer was not what some had probably been hoping for – the band consisted of Axl, Slash, Duff, and the remnants of Axl’s band performing the rest of the duties. No shit, Axl is not just going to fire a bunch of guys that have been loyal to him and reliably working for him for years and years, just so Izzy Stradlin can have a percentage of Axl’s (and Slash and Duff’s) huge take – according to Pollstar the band is making $5.5m per night between them.

Therein lies both the problem and the cash cow. Die-hards are refusing to attend (attendance numbers speak otherwise…), or acknowledge the band as anything less than Axl’s money-making machine. There also seems to be a lot of general confusion for those who haven’t yet bought tickets, perhaps due to the fact that since their first shows together in April of this year there has been but one instance of band members addressing the public together (Axl and Duff in this instance), and that was only broadcast in South America to promote upcoming shows. An Axl and Slash sit-down hosted by any of America’s favourite late-night talk show hosts would have ratings through the roof. But because there has been nothing of the sort, I’ve seen a few people virtually scratching their heads via various social media platforms. Even in the flesh. I’ve asked people if they were planning on attending the recently announced show for the Oceania leg of the tour at Western Springs in Auckland. I’ve had some ‘maybe’s followed by, “It’s just Axl and his mates though, right?”

“Nah, nah Slash and Duff are back, too”

“Oh true, might be worth checking out, then.”

Might be!? Ten years ago half the world would have been falling over themselves for tickets. It would have been up there, I hate to say, with Led Zeppelin’s reunion in 2007. Maybe that’s a contributing factor, it’s just been left a little late and/or people can’t be bothered with Guns N’ Roses after such a volatile run? Either way the tour has been, and is, a resounding success. During the North American run alone the band played to nearly 1.5 million fans. None of whom were apparently put off by the lack of Izzy Stradlin or Steven Adler.

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I saw Guns N Roses – yeah, GNR is whoever Axl decides to put in his band, get over it – in 2006. I had heard all the rumours – he’s fat, he can’t sing, he’s this, he’s that, the guitarist wears a KFC bucket. I heard all of it, but wasn’t put off because I genuinely thought I’d never otherwise get to see these songs performed live. Plus, I’d much rather see Axl with a different band than the original band with a different singer. It was one of my greatest lessons in not believing what you read, and doing your damn research. Buckethead (the KFC guy) hadn’t even been in the band for almost three years at that point. Cornrows and all, Axl brought it. So. Hard. I was seriously blown away, a mixture of it genuinely being amazing, and having such low expectations. Dude, he even joked with the crowd! I was conditioned to believe that any time he addressed us, he would be kicking someone out, stopping the show, or ranting about security. But nope, ol’ Axl seemed in fine spirits, even reminiscing about the last time he played Auckland and sarcastically telling the crowd off for being too rowdy before asking everyone to please “take one step back, you don’t wanna hurt your fellow New Zealanders!”

It’s an important distinction to make, however, that the only people using the word ‘reunion’ are those in the media. Axl seems like the kind of guy, Slash and Duff too, to not want to make a huge deal and/or make anything more awkward, or forced, than it had to be. On paper this is not a reunion. At all. This is Axl filling two vacant slots in his current band. Those filling the slots happen to be original members of said band, hence the tour name. Perhaps Guns N’ Roses otherwise isn’t interesting to the press now that no one’s fighting, and that explains the lack of transparency? Well, I could blame them for my opinion going in to the 2006 gig and I’d like to blame them for everyone else’s opinions now. It’s a very interesting distinction between then and now. If it’s not negative, it’s not news, right?

Music Memories – Going to California Pt.3

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Well, we were no longer going to California, we were in California. Lying on the bed of our motel we worked out that by the time Robert Plant had finished his set we would have been awake for 40 hours. We can’t sleep now because we’re so tired that we’ll go in to a deeep sleep, perhaps sleeping through an alarm, or worse, waking up on time but being even more tired than you had been as a result of the sleep tease. So no sleep, but a shower helped a lot especially considering we had been welcomed with 34 degree heat that day, and were still dressed for New Zealand weather as our bags were, sigh, a day or two behind us.

Even though it was in a theater it was general admission, so once everyone found their seats you pretty much had to stay there or risk losing it. We had a good spot, and for Robert Plant I didn’t want to risk anything. Looking at the festival program it would be Jon Hopkins, St. Vincent, and then Robert Plant. Jon Hopkins seemed forgettable, and Abbey was intrigued by St. Vincent as she had played with ‘Nirvana’ at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jon Hopkins was anything but forgettable. His style of music was one that gets glossed over, or lost in the vast landscape of ‘dance’ music. People are too easily impressed by the pushing of buttons on a Macbook. Jon Hopkins surprised me pleasantly. He was totally watchable and interesting, seemingly improvising the songs as he goes adding new layers and effects that, while subtle, change the flow of the song completely. Then he did some brief interludes on the piano. The main thing I took away from witnessing this dude is that regardless of what he’s actually doing, the man is a virtuoso.

St. Vincent sucked. Sucked so bad. It’s not that she can’t sing or anything, her music is just bad. Almost seems contrary just to make a point of it. Can’t fathom that sort of thing, but the artsy L.A crowd seemed to eat it up. Her last words/noise? An elongated burp thing. On to Robert Plant, I think.

Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters. Yeah, his band definitely deserve a shout out. They were all world-class musicians more than deserving of a spot next to a legend. As soon as he took the stage, not to mention when he played the first Led Zep tune, our tiredness dissipated. The entire seated crowd leaped to their feet and didn’t sit down for the rest of the evening. Plant was personable, and made this already intimate venue feel even more so, something that can’t be said for a lot of other musicians – much less those worth hundreds of millions. Apparently Led Zeppelin were asked to play Desert Trip and declined, which Robert Plant noted from the stage “So we’re not in the desert tonight, for better or worse…”

His set list was fantastic mixing old blues standards and world music with classic Led Zeppelin songs. The new arrangements took nothing away from the old (standard) ones, and in fact breathed new life in to them. It’s not something you realise straight away, but it occurred to me that there’d be something off about him playing those songs exactly the way Jimmy Page arranged it. Not that he doesn’t deserve to, it’s just easy to see what Plant’s doing and why he’s doing it, and it works. I must admit once it was all over, standing up slapping my hands together in fury, and watching him leave the stage made me shed a tear or two, turning in to Abbey’s shoulder out of comfort and so none of the cool L.A peeps see me whimpering as they turned around to walk out the door. That was not the last time I cried at a gig in California.

 

Music Memories – Going to California Pt. 2

We had done it. Albeit at a rate we weren’t expecting but are considering tax for not being prepared. Demand was such that in the ensuing days ticket ‘worth’ on the secondary market would reach, I’m not kidding, over $100,000 before dropping sharply (to a mere $8,000 for a pit ticket, pfft). No complaints from us, we were going and it’s something you can’t really put a price on. Why the cliche? Because it’s honestly true.

In the months leading up to the event there were no other snags, none that eventuated anyway. I was in a constant state of fear that our tickets wouldn’t arrive in time or that they would have been tampered with or stolen, or something – mainly based on our postie’s claim that she had seen people from ‘the hospital’ up the road going through peoples’ mail and mailboxes. They arrived with ample time to spare in a beautiful box with a bunch of goodies inside, which is something I’d never known any festival to do. Some people online said it’s what to expect after paying such prices, which seems funny to me because in my mind I’ve only paid for the gig(s), and that anything else on top of those 6 artists performing (i.e an awesome box with presents) was a nice bonus.

Around the same time Abbey and I had been getting way in to David Lynch and Twin Peaks. No real reason for it, we had been meaning to check out Twin Peaks for a very long time and a bunch of Lynch films had been on our ‘list’ for ages. If you’ve seen Twin Peaks you probably know that nothing is a coincidence, and the owls are not what they seem, so imagine my pleasure when David Lynch him-fucking-self announces his own, new festival featuring headliner – wait-for-it-because-i’ve-been-beating-myself-up-about-not-seeing-him-when-he-came-to-NZ- Robert Plant. Robert Plant. Lead singer of my favourite band of all time, Led Zeppelin. The voice.  Things were indeed aligning as I scroll down the page and notice that the dates and location- Oct 8-9 Ace Theater, Los Angeles. We were landing in L.A on the 8th.

Tickets actually seemed harder to get for this than Desert Trip. The only reason we were able to score them, I believe, is because I managed to find a presale code on the internet somewhere, Reddit perhaps. The venue is a theater at a hotel, the capacity is only 1600. Lynch is one of those directors that has somewhat of a cult following, you either don’t really get him, or you LOVE him. More than 1600 people would have tried to get tickets regardless of who was playing, let alone Robert Plant, and indie darling St.Vincent. Robert Plant probably hasn’t played a venue this size since Led Zep’s early days. Based on social media, and again pricing on the secondary market, demand was huge and I honestly felt special just knowing that I’d be able to go. Not many cool things like this happen to me.

With everything go, having tapped my feet and paced the living room for months in anticipation for the day, it had arrived. There were no more snags. Couldn’t be. We had everything in order down to the smallest detail. Certain, rather thoughtless, friends had suggested strongly to us not to plan anything – after we’d already planned everything. Yeah, this isn’t some two-week jaunt across Bali, guys. I’m not going just to get wasted, I’m going for a pretty specific reason and if I end up sleeping in, or missing the bus, or anything, I’ve wasted so more money than your entire trip cost. Money that, for more private reasons reason than one, I won’t see again. If Desert Trip was in Spain, I’d be going to Spain instead, get it?. But alas, we get to the ticket check-in and the girl at Virgin Australia types in our flight details and with a smile informs us our flight has been cancelled because of “the hurricane.”

The hurricane in Florida? On the other side of the continent? Surely not. But, hey, you take their word for it right?  Immediately we go in to hyper drive thinking of other options, I head over to the Air NZ counter and ask when the next flight to L.A that we can get on will be. It’ll be $1000 bucks a person, and we’d be fighting tooth and nail to make it in time for Robert Plant. That was the main concern, we’d always make Desert Trip regardless, but Robert Plant, man. So Abbey is getting on it talking to a bunch of customer service lines, travel insurance etc., and we have to go back to the Virgin counter and ask the customer service team for printed proof the flight had been cancelled. The lady says, “Proof? The hurricane is all over the news.” The manager who happens to be in the vicinity overhears this and asks what flight we’re on. We tell him. It’s not cancelled, he informs us. Only some East Coast flights are. Pretty much what we had thought, too. We had no time to abduct and torture the woman who told us otherwise, so we thank them profusely and run to our gate where we arrive with plenty of time.

Music Memories – Going to California Pt. 1

So, this one time (at band camp) I saw Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters live all in one week. Impossible, you say? Hah, merely difficult. And expensive. It began late April this year. Whispers started circulating, Chinese and standard, about a so-called ‘mega-fest’ to be held in the same venue as Coachella each year – Empire Polo Club in California’s Palm Desert. This mega fest was to feature just six acts, all of whom embody and represent a certain ‘lost era’ of music. Hilarious puns were quick to follow, namely “Oldchella”, geddit!? Mick Jagger even quipped from the stage that he tried to stay away from doing age-based gags, but that backstage resembled one big AA meeting, and welcome to the ‘catch-them-before-they-croak’ tour. Rumour had it that there would be only two acts each night and the six acts were apparently Dylan, the Stones, Neil Young, A damn Beatle, The Who, and Roger Waters. Come early May, my worst fears simultaneously collided with a dream come true. I’m going to have to go. Damn. I signed up to any and all pre-sale information and subscribed to online mailing lists supposed to keep me up to date with all the latest info and developments. Soon enough legitimate info began trickling out and we knew the price of tickets and we knew that they were planning on building a makeshift stadium in the middle of the polo grounds. Holy shit. Not only that, but behind the stadium would be the general admission area, my usual stomping ground. One that is also usually the foremost section of any gig. $400 to spend the weekend behind the stadium? Imagine paying ANY amount of money to stand outside Western Springs and watch Foo Fighters on a big screen.That being said, all 6 acts on their own fully eclipse bands like the Foo Fighters, not to mention when they’re all together playing the same gig.

If I was a semi-wealthy, or even semi-passionate Californian, it’d be a no brainer – Go dance with a few mates and a few drinks in the desert for a few days for a few hundred bucks. Easy. Decent weekend. However, coming from New Zealand, hypothetically, why pay all that money to be at the very back. I wondered, what would the other, seated, tickets be like? Too much of a gamble? Hang on..Yes, there is a general admission pit at the FRONT of everyone else!  Of course there is, no promoter worth their salt would waste the opportunity to charge people premium prices for the premium spot(s). $1600 to be in front of everyone else. Shit, it’s worth the bragging rights alone. A guaranteed spot within the first few rows for some of these acts individually would reach the $1000 range easy.  Even at the very back of this section you have a better view than 95% of the people there, you’re standing in front of 85,000 bodies. Hard to comprehend sitting at your computer analysing a bunch of not to scale lines pretending to be the ‘site map’ on the festival’s website, and in a strange way it’s almost harder to comprehend when you’re actually there experiencing it. It’s like the desert’s most awesome mirage. If it hadn’t been for some of the breathtaking aerial photography, I don’t think I would have ever fully realised the scale.14570760_646593188852332_6827367877076541211_o

Tickets for Desert Trip went on sale on Monday the 9th of May at 10.00am (their time), 5am our time. Before even going on sale a second weekend was announced due to interest/demand in the virtual waiting rooms. My goal was to buy one of the hotel packages that were being sold that included accommodation and the tickets for the weekend, so without so much as a wink of sleep I opened up pages to purchase (each counting as one ‘place’ in the waiting room), on my phone, my laptop, Abbey’s laptop, the PS3, the PS4, and Abbey’s phone. 5am ticked over, and we were immediately glued to our respective screens, switching between devices every few moments in the hope that at least one of our little men had walked his way across the screen (which meant you’re through, free to buy tickets). Eventually all around the same time we had multiple options so quickly snapped up our preferred hotel, sweating and with a captive heart beating its fist against my chest in anxiety,  we entered credit card details and clicked ‘submit’ with relief.

“Card not valid. Please contact your bank”

No, no, no, no, no, no. It’s supposed to work, I even asked customer service specifically if my card would work and was told unequivocally ‘yes’. Banks aren’t the easiest places to get hold of in the best of times, not to mention when they weren’t even open. It’d be no use – this thing was going to sell out instantly. We’d missed out. For shits and gigs we tried each card multiple times but to no avail. We were even charged a few bucks for each attempt. I was deflated. Beyond angry. So angry that it was like a calm plateau somehow, numb almost. Abbey retreated back to bed, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Sitting on my floor jamming multiple screens, all featuring multiple options, it seemed it couldn’t just be over. Surely not. It was all going so well, I have the damn money all I want is to hand it over! Please take these thousands. I managed to borrow someone else’s credit card, but would have to wait until my transfer hit their account. By that time the festival would be sold out (Duh Max, you have no chance), but wouldn’t hurt to at least try, right?

Desert Trip posted on their Facebook page less than two hours after going on sale “Thank You, Desert Trip 2016 is now Sold Out”. 85,000 tickets times 6 days, that’s a lot of people, a lot of money. In my search for this elusive “other” option I happened upon what seemed perfect for people like me. ‘Like me’ in the sense that they were, inadvertently or otherwise, unprepared. What were Desert Trip Premium tickets?

Around 9am that morning, 4 hours after tickets went on sale and sold out, I sent a text to Abbey (who, remember, was under the impression we tried and failed. Did our best, not to be.) reading: Check your Facebook.

On her Facebook page I had posted a screenshot of the confirmation email I had just recieved featuring 2x 3 day Pit Standing passes, with a caption referencing the meme flavour of the week; Ha! Got ’em!

Music Memories – 18 Jan 2008

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The all-encompassing aroma of marijuana and cigarettes wafted over the stadium gates and in to my nose like a heat seeking missile, or a pie cooling on Marge Simpson’s windowsill. Dave and I both made bug-eyed expressions of “We know what that smell is!”, subtly enough as to not get ‘caught’ and thus thrown out of our first festival – not taking in to account that you’re actually allowed to comment on drugs without being implicated in their smuggling. I readied my ticket to be scanned. The entrance was like a portal in to some kind of alternate reality where circus sideshows are 50,000 strong and they happen on the hottest day of the year. Foot-high mohawks adorned the leather-clad punks’ heads, and girls had piercings in places I didn’t even realise could be pierced. This was what I had come for, this was the Big Day Out; it was midday and Rage Against The Machine were due on at 9pm. As I wandered around the site in awe of my first ever festival experience, my pupils widened and my jaw unhinged itself and began swaying like an open door in the wind. It was hard for my newly 15 year old brain to deny a blonde in shorts so tight they seemed painted on willing to cut me a ‘deal’ on these little party pills that were supposedly soon being made illegal. Can’t go wrong, I thought.

Looking over the two main stages at one end of the field I felt like a dictator, all the little freaks bobbing in unison before me to their favourite bands confirmed a love affair with live music that has continued through the present. It was easily the largest, most powerful mass of people I’d ever witnessed in my life. Before that day the only gigs I had been to were Tenacious D at the Logan Campbell Centre, and Guns n Roses about 6 months before at Vector Arena. Both venues paled in comparison to the expanse that was Mt Smart Stadium.  I had never before witnessed such a palpable feeling of togetherness; the electricity being stored by the crowd and then being released in seemingly random and sporadic successions of bouncing and cheers made me doublethink my ‘dictatorship’ and planted the first seeds of understanding when it comes to famous musicians and their infamous egos. By mid-afternoon the stadium was full – every space had been occupied like a fitted sheet and it became clear to me and everybody else there that this was to be something different. Nearly 50,000 ticket holders, over 100 acts, but it seemed that everyone was there for Rage. As Shihad were in the midst of belting out ‘Home Again’, (that song sounds cool, I thought to myself, have to look that one up.), I figured that would’ve been the last opportunity I’d have to get even remotely close to the band once they took the stage.

Readied in my proudly scummy uniform of a Sex Pistols shirt and frankensteined denim shorts, it became apparent that security had begun blocking off the entrances to the D barrier which leads to the pit – and if you can make it – right up front. The mood took an almost sinister undertone as everyone realised what was happening. A dreaded figure appeared from the mass of bodies, perhaps sprouting from an armpit, and asked me just how badly I wanted to be up front. In typical 15 year old manner I replied in a way that made me seem more keen than I probably was. We got to the front for Tenacious D, thanks to the kind crowd noticing I was with my little brother – amid cries of “Let the little dude through!”, could be heard me: “I have to go with him, he’s my brother”, and the seas parted. At Guns N Roses I had seated tickets (not by choice) and looked down enviously upon the crowd being welcomed to the jungle. So, a mosh pit of this magnitude was more or less going to be a brand new experience for me.

bdo-ticket-2008The hairy maniac beat me to the punch, I looked over barely having got my reply out and see him prying barricades from the security’s hands like a crazed prisoner. We had literally only met each other 10 seconds earlier and already a majority of the barricades security was attempting in vain to put up were successfully crowd-surfing further and further behind me while the rest of the crowd rushed through the gate despite the three guards’ feeble attempts to regain control of the situation. According to footage on the news later that night, a similar situation had eventuated just after Rage started their set, during ‘Bulls on Parade’.  What made it seem so easy, and everybody so confident, was the fact that at that point a few thousand people became one mass all with a common goal – which was achieved. It gets to a point where no matter what these people had all drunk, or taken, throughout the day, it’s all less effective at a certain point than the natural adrenaline that flows just when you need it. Almost on cue with the lights going down a giant red star illuminates the backdrop like the sun, its power similar as the crowd response suggested – it was unparalleled total ecstasy, you could feel this unconditional love for the band rising in you as the roars from the crowd grow in strength like a snowball. A militant silhouette sporting an afro strides on to the stage like a school principal, ready to scold the students for their behaviour on last week’s field trip. He casually walked up to the microphone.

“Good evening…”

I’m sure he said more, but the crowd made sure to drown out whatever that was. From those first words the entire field was in his grasps, spinning and bouncing like his own boiling cauldron, adding ingredients like fists in the air, “get the fuck ups”, whenever necessary in order for this rap-wizard to concoct his perfect gig. Judging by the faces of the band members when the house lights came on at the end illuminating us all, the ceremony had been a success and the audience successfully intoxicated and possessed by their chants and war-songs. Waiting on the corner of Beasley Ave for my ride home I heard two ladies probably in their 30s, veterans perhaps of past events featuring Nine Inch Nailses, Courtney Loves, and Marilyn Mansons, walking together on the footpath and one said to the other in perfect elementary simplicity “Well, that was a bundle of fun.” I laughed out loud, and again at home in bed ears ringing, feet thumping as I slowly regained feeling. Forgetting all the political agendas, tidal mosh pits, blood, and spilt beer, regardless of whether you’re 15 in a Sex Pistols shirt, or you’re 30 with a floppy hat and a nice Pinot, the Big Day Out is always a great, big, bundle of fun.