It’s been a long, painful process that has taken more than a decade to complete, but I can finally admit it: I was a Guns N’ Roses fan. You can’t really blame me; it’s not my fault I was 13 and just getting ready to rock when the band unleashed its most delectable monstrosity, Use Your Illusion, on the world. Nor is it my fault that my parents expressly forbade me from going to the band’s concert, thus ensuring its enduring status as the proverbial one that got away.
So, when my friend called to say she had scored free tickets to the G’n’R show, I jumped at the opportunity to fulfill what was essentially a long-held dream. I should have known that, like so many of our thoughtless youthful desires, this one would eventually take on distinctly nightmarish qualities.
24 Jun 2007: Acer Arena Sydney, Australia
Things started to get weird when we turned up ready to rock at 9:30 pm and were told Axl wasn’t going on until 11. When 11 ticked over without a whiff of Axl, I entertained myself by repeatedly singing the chorus from the old Nancy Vandal song (“When I Squeeze My Nose I Sound Like Axl Rose”), which was not only mildly amusing, but also helped prepare me for the cartoonish tone for what was to come.
Finally, just around midnight, the lights went down, and the familiar jagged opening riff of “Welcome to the Jungle” thundered into the arena. A gasp rolled through the crowd as Slash stepped into the spotlight, stroking sounds out of his guitar. Seconds later, the trademark hat came off and a sigh of disappointment rippled through the arena when it became obvious that this was in fact an impostor.
Axl strutted onto the stage soon after, all cocky attitude and smug grin. The first half hour of the show was exclusively drawn from Appetite for Destruction, and the crowd lapped it up. It wasn’t long before the pyrotechnics kicked in—so over the top that I half expected a tiny four-foot-high Stonehenge to descend from the ceiling. There were times when every single beat was accompanied by an explosion, or, at the very least, a ball of flame.
A short way into the show, Axl set in motion a disturbing phenomenon that would become the trend of the night. He’d introduce one of his band members and then leave him to do a ten-minute solo while he ran offstage to do whatever it was he was doing back there (refolding a bag of bandanas, perhaps?). These interludes were frequent, quite boring, and included a Hendrix-esque version of the Australian national anthem, which left many members of the crowd scratching their heads.
A short while after appearing back on stage, the drama machine was turned up to 11, as Axl requested the removal of an audience member for some perceived slight. Everyone looked around in confusion, and some time after the next song was finished, he seemed to explain it away as a hilarious play on his “difficult” image. If you ask me, it just made him seem like sort of a dickhead (but then, I didn’t see what happened).
It’s easy to make fun of Axl Rose, but after all is said and done, his show is quite the mixed bag. When he was performing the old G’n’R material, it was like watching a particularly good Guns N’ Roses cover band. When they trotted out the new material from the infinitely delayed but theoretically soon-to-be released Chinese Democracy, it was nails-down-a-blackboard time. If what is on that record sounds anything like what this band produced on Sunday night, then I can’t wait to see what happens when it’s unleashed on a public that’s been waiting 16 long years. Get ready to run, Axl, because you won’t be able to kick everyone in the audience out.
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