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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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?