It will be 24 years – almost to the day – since the band’s previous New Zealand show (we’re not counting the Axl-only version) and in celebration of this week’s news I thought I’d reminisce about that Auckland show in February of 1993.
It was just the third big-name international show I’d seen. I was at high school and growing up in the provinces was lucky to get to one show a year really – it started with Eric Clapton, and the end of the following year I saw Dire Straits with Hothouse Flowers. I missed 1992 and 1994 but made up for it ’93 by seeing Guns n’ Roses and then, just a month or so later, Paul McCartney. And U2’s Zoo TV tour at the end of the year. It was the year of big stadium shows.
I was such a huge Guns n’ Roses fan at the time of the concert. After school on the Friday my mum drove me over to Napier where I would be hooking a ride with my aunty and uncle. They had one of those trucks that wasn’t quite a twin-cab; a cab-plus, or whatever they were called. Half-sized seats in the back. I sat with my legs sideways from Napier to Tirau where we picked up a friend of mine who lived in Matamata. It was legs under chins from there to Auckland – and staying with my brother and his friends in the basement of a flat, watching horror films late into the night.
My uncle reckoned he was only there because his wife wanted to go – he talked about how he was going to take his Walkman and listen to his Elton John tape.
When we got into the venue the first thing we saw was a guy dressed like Slash and drinking straight from a bottle. He passed out a few hundred metres from the main entrance. We didn’t even know of the film Heavy Metal Parking Lot at this point.
We were in the special sealed-off front section, restricted to the first 10,000 ticket buyers or something. Souvenir tickets and they were filming portions of the show for a music video. There was a wall blocking off the rich bogans from the poor bogans. We walked along the fence and my uncle taunted those on the other side, a phoney royal wave, and then a flick of the fingers. He was overcome by the spirit and would not be listening to any Elton John.
The opening act was Dead Flowers – I don’t remember much about them, they were just finishing when we got there. But we did catch Skid Row. We weren’t really fans but it seemed a big deal that an international act was on the bill with another international – I remember thinking 18 and Life was comically bad. But they’d done their job, curtain-raised.
There was a big delay before the main band took the stage and we waited. And waited. And then they started and a few songs later walked off due to some technical difficulty. And it was a pain. But they returned – and when they were on stage they delivered. It was pretty terrific.
Welcome To The Jungle. We felt welcomed. A little snatch of The Stones’ Wild Horses, then half the crowd trying to whistle to Patience, Axl sitting down at the grand piano to deliver November Rain; turning up on stage in an All Blacks jersey to sing Civil War – it was really a series of non-sequiturs as songs – but it was glorious. Magical. Those oily riffs and the big, explosive drumming (particularly on You Could Be Mine and Double Talkin’ Jive).
Most of the best songs were played and the huge stage show was impressive.
It was Axl’s birthday and the crew arrived on stage with a cake and everyone in the audience sang to him.
And then – after an epic Paradise City – it was over. I have a memory that the hideous My World, the final song from Use Your Illusion II was pumped out over the speakers when the lights when up and the show closed. I remember it being hilariously jarring.
My uncle was, overnight, the world’s biggest Guns n’ Roses fan. Slash was his favourite guitar hero since Peter Frampton.
And it was a long trip back in the heat to Hawke’s Bay in the half-seat of the cab-plus the next day.
But it was worth it.
Good luck to all and any attending 2017’s GnR show – I hope it’s the reunion you’re after, and/or makes up for not seeing them in 1993 or 1988.