My son asks me about Guns N Roses these days. Quite often actually. He is getting hooked on hard rock – KISS, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, selected Beastie Boys, that sort of thing. And he’s always been into the Appetite For Destruction album – because it’s one of the few CDs I still own, and round and round it goes in the car. Plus: Swearing! Which I remember being my big obsession too – when Appetite was released I was at intermediate school and it was such a thrill to hear this much swearing in music we were allowed to listen to…
A couple of years on from there – well it’s half a dozen actually, but who’s counting…I saw the band at 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 in 1990, 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. (Silent Night, Deadly 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.
The thing that made this the best gig ever was the timing. I haven’t been to any of the G’n’R reunion shows – of any kind. I saw Slash live – solo. And it was SHIT. But I was jaded. And didn’t care. Seeing Gunners at the peak of their pomposity was something. Older people – the reviewers of the day – had their whinge about the long delays, the sound, whatever. But none of that matter. These were the days when you felt like you were in the presence of gods – just to see them strut their stuff. Duff pumping out a punk cover. So fucking what eh! (Actually lots of covers throughout: Attitude, Live and Let Die, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and a bit of Nino Rota). Slash layering in the theme from The Godfather as part of his wickedly over the top guitar solo. A drummer solo that one reviewer said went for 20 minutes, but was probably three or four max. These – back then – were all amazing things. art of the spectacle.
I look at that setlist again – it was perfect. It was so stupid. So utterly glorious. To be 16 or whatever I was and just basking in it. Your favourite band. And the world a bit smaller for the fact that these gods were there. For you to worship at their feet.
Well, that’s how it seemed at the time…