Friday, 3 February 2017

Adult Gig review: Guns n Roses, Not in This Lifetime Tour, Westpac Stadium

Earliler this week, as Guns n Roses landed in Wellington, I made a joke. I should've known not to really, as it turned into a self fulfilling prophecy.

Because the weather last night was awful. I rocked up to the stadium on an eerily empty train around a quarter to six, hoping the lines might be short enough to get in relatively quickly and settle down to see support act Wolfmother. The wind was driving a heavy shower across the Fram Wilde Walkway, and I was not regretting any of the four layers I had packed myself in. Reaching the queue for the gate, it soon became apparent that it was not moving at all, and sure enough, soon across the PA system came a message apologising for a 'technical weather-related issue' preventing the gates from opening at the advertised time of 5pm. So we waited, in driving rain, the wind getting up, on an exposed, elevated slab of concrete. Phone battery steadily decreased. Finally, at 6.30, fifteen minutes before the opening act was due to start, the line started moving, and we were in! Just enough time to grab a cider drink and a lager drink (Stadium drinks limits prevented the addition of a whiskey drink and a vodka drink for the true rock n roll experience), grab my wristband allowing me access to the pitch, and I entered the bowl just as Wolfmother took to the stage.


Wolfmother performed with a flourish, and probably deserve more of a review than half a sentence, but then the wait for the main act started. Through the week, promoters had been promising an 8 o'clock start, saying Axl Rose's diva behaviour and habits of forcing crowds to wait hours before starting had mellowed with time, and were firmly a thing of the past now. So hopes were high of a short wait. 8 o clock came and went.

So did half past 8.

I could feel my refreshments working their way down my bladder. I knew if I made a dash to the toilet, it would no doubt be sure to bring the band to the stage. There was no other option though: I pushed my way back from my position near the front of our section, and made a dash into the stands.

I got back. 8.45 came and went. Finally, at five to nine, with a brag that they 'put the punk back into punctuality', there they were.

Slash, ageless in his top hat and glasses, but presumably due to stadium smoking regulations, minus his trademark cigarette.

Duff, his bass proudly sporting Prince's symbol, as if to boast that although 2016 had killed off half the world's musicians, somehow it left its most dangerous rock band untouched.

Richard Fortus, Slash's replacement since 2002, but looking like he'd been there all along.

A Fred Durst look-a-like on the drums. I mean, he was wearing a red cap backwards, anyway.

And Axl. Not the bloated, past it Axl who became a punchline with his rotating pool of session musicians in the early 2000s. But not the skinny, runty Axl of the late 80s and early 90s, threatening to tear the band apart at any moment with his self-absorbed douchery either. Maybe he has finally matured. His voice may not be quite what it was 25 years back, but he was committed to this performance, ripping in to It Ain't Easy, following up with Mr Brownstone. Four songs in and we were being screamed at that we were in the jungle, and we were gonna dieeeeeeee. It was a cold and wet jungle, but there were fireworks, and it was fun, and no one cared any more about the late start.

Axl, making sure the wheels don't fall off once more

I was in the cheap seats, which were a slight misnomer, being general admission (standing), and upwards of 170 dollars plus booking fees. Still, from half a stadium back, there were few problems with view of the stage, and with massive screens flanking either side, it didn't really matter. The acoustics of Westpac stadium have never been great for any of the three concerts I've attended there, but no one seemed to care, this was Guns n Roses, a band no one had thought they'd ever see again, let alone in NZ, and they weren't going to let slightly sub-par acoustics derail it.

Hit followed megahit, interspersed by the odd lesser known song from Chinese Democracy, then by slightly indulgent Slash guitar solo. Perhaps fittingly, he ripped into the theme from The Godfather, then segueing into the opening riff of Sweet Child of Mine, and 32,000 voices rose, and screamed back at Axl about  smiles that remind of childhood memories, and faces that take away to special places, and the nostalgia was real. Because this song is our childhood memories, and this place seems so very special right now.

And the rain continued to come down. Or rather, horizontally into our faces, because this is Wellington, and there's wind, too. But nobody cared, not the fans. Not Axl, who was getting  drenched in water and sweat and changing shirt and jacket every second song. Not the music journalists, who were writing Cold February Rain headlines in their heads. No one.

Yeah, I was guilty of that one too

Through the furious last quarter of the set (Slash and Fortus duelling on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here! Axl getting the ivories and intense pyrotechnics out for November Rain! Knockin' on Heaven's Door! And of course Nightrain!) and they were gone, off the stage. I had just enough time to wonder if Axl would leave us waiting half an hour for an encore, and they were back, with Don't Cry, a cover of the Who's the Seeker featuring inexplicably creepy tuatara audio visuals, and a stonking run through Paradise City with more fireworks to finish. It was lapped up by everyone.

Given the pyrotechnical imagery, I'm wondering if November rain
is more akin to some sort of golden shower 

Except maybe by the guy standing next to me on the train home, who made his views loudly known whilst we waited 15 minutes to depart the station ('who's driving this thing, Axl Rose?'). Apparently the sound was awful, Axl can't sing, the wristband system for audience on the field was overkill, the opening number was a weird choice, they shouldn't have done a Who cover in the encore, and they didn't play Patience. But you know what? That guy can GGF.

Because for three hours, Wellington was in the presence of a band that a year ago most thought they'd never see together again. And despite the rain, despite the wind, despite getting a bit passively stoned, it was a bloody awesome three hours.