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

1297857694206_original

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.

rs-234746-42-61374015

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

img_1643

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!