Guns N’ Roses, with Cosmic Psychos and The Chats.
Accor Stadium Sydney, November 27th.
This was a day a long time coming, and I don’t just mean the gig, delayed near 2 years owing to Covid. This was something 13 year old me had dearly hoped for and 42 year old also dearly hoped for. As a beardless youth (Yes, back in the dawn of time you could see my chin) Appetite for Destruction was the angriest thing I’d heard, and while it’s long been eclipsed on that front (I hadn’t yet heard Slayer for one thing), side A (Kids, ask your parents what that means) still holds a lot of nostalgic power for me. For all I talk about my punk credentials, at heart I’m a metal guy, and the more over the top the better. Call me what you will, just don’t call me afraid to air guitar.
As for Guns, that early fire soon died away in a chemical, financial and egomaniacal haze. With singer Axl Rose the last remaining of the original group, it didn’t feel like Guns anymore. The bad blood between Axl and everyone else was legendary, the endless squabbling and lawsuits, and the seemingly never ending saga that was the Chinese Democracy album, to quote the song Pretty Tied Up:
Once there was this rock n’ roll band
Rollin’ on the streets
Time went by and it became a joke.
We just needed more and more fulfilling… uh-huh
Time went by and it all went up in smoke
So, news of guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan’s return in 2016 for the aptly named ‘Not in this Lifetime’ tour was met with joy and nervousness. Could they set aside all that bad blood? Could they recapture the fire they once had, and lost to drugs and egos? Could Axl’s voice hold up? Could Slash’s top hat still stay magically attached to his head? Did Axl ever destroy the white biker jacket he wore in the Paradise City video, or did he pass it on to Lars Ulrich? Inquiring minds want answers!
The choice of supports was baffling, to say the least. To be fair, Guns have a history with Australian rock, covering Rose Tattoo’s Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock And Roll) back in the day. But choosing two of the more aggressively well, Australian, acts out there, despite the Psychos long history and the Chats hot new thing status, still doesn’t match to me, with the last burst of genuine aggression from the 80’s LA glam scene. Still, that’s why I’m not booking gigs I guess.
I enter the venue and embark on a journey to find my seat as the Psychos are early in their set, and Nice Day To Go To The Pub blares out. It’s frequently a thankless task as a support band, but they do their thing with abandon, guitarist John McKeering showing off his… substantial lack of abs during closer David Lee Roth. Next up, The Chats, and I find myself craving a pub schnitty. Coincidence? The venue’s verging on half full by the time they start, and that’s where things get…. Hmmm. Now, the bass sound for the Psychos I’d expected, but the Chat’s sound is even worse, not helped by the bands seeming tendency to play even faster than on disc. In a smaller venue that might work better, but in a half full stadium it turns the gig into a blur. I’m reminded of the difference in the Ramones albums It’s Alive and Loco Live – the former is at full speed, the latter is at ludicrous speed and the worse for it. Mostly it reminds me of my preference for smaller venues – stadium size pyro and staging are a lot of fun – it’s always amazing seeing the giant Eddie emerge at an Iron Maiden gig – but being packed in a tiny room and 3 feet from the stage while jams are kicked out, that’s a feeling like few others for me.
“Who’s keen for the Gunners? Bad news, we’ve a couple more songs.” That line from Chats singer Eamon Sandwith immediately lodged itself in my ‘Greatest Things I’ve Heard on Stage’ List. Off they go, and then comes the rain. And yes, the gig was in November. *sighs* The skies been threatening all afternoon, and now the heavens open. This delays Guns by about 20 minutes or so, waiting for lightning strikes to pass, but the intro tape finally begins, the bass rumble of It’s So Easy starts up and we’re off and running. I am also off and air guitaring, in news that should surprise no-one. There’s Ukrainian flags side stage and Axl has an Aboriginal flag and kangaroo warning sign on his pants. Nice. He also has a fine line in stage jackets, at least two of which I was disappointed to find replicas weren’t available outside the show, not to mention the hat he wore during Paradise City. Cosplayers, do your thing!
Mr Brownstone and Chinese Democracy follow, as does the first cover of the night, Velvet Revolver’s Slither. First impressions are that Duff McKagan has aged very, very well while Axl’s voice has lost a little of it’s youthful power, that scream still remains. I could make a unfair comparison to Vince Neil‘s recent vocal struggles, but that would mean admitting his voice had any power in the first place and that’s a hill I will die on. Voices change for most people and that’s fine- there’s only one Ronnie James Dio after all. Anyhow, we get the first of several indulgent solos (Link Wray’s Rumble, to be precise), till a familiar echo pedal kicks in and we know where the fuck we are, we’re in the jungle baby! I’m pretty sure my grin is a mile wide at this point. On goes the show – Live and Let Die, despite the middle section, cracks like thunder, and the solos (For Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus) during Rocket Queen have me thinking it’s time to quest to the toilet. Any discomfort is forgotten at the intro to You Could Be Mine – I’m curious what the people around me though what was I doing as I raise my arms to the sky in joy, assuming they weren’t looking at the stage AS THEY SHOULD BE. It’s around this time I notice there’s a sizable gap around me – the people a few rows in front are wearing plastic ponchos or dealing with the rain and most of the people behind have retreated under the awning, so I have several rows to myself. It’s as if the universe went “See the mad fucker air guitaring like he’s possessed – just stay the fuck away from him.”
I’ve no idea if anyone was watching me. At the end one of the friends I went with said “You looked like you were having a good time” I’ve not gone thought their footage yet to see if I made the cut, and I’d likely be incredibly embarrassed to see myself. Live music light’s a fire under me like few other things can. There just seemed to be a lot of folks just in their seats watching the show calmly and those who’ve been with me to shows know that is most certainly NOT how I roll. Once again, my bladder desperately tries to get my attention, as Axl hands the mic over to Duff, but another familiar rumble begins and suddenly I’m going nuts to I Wanna Be Your Dog. I seem to be the only one around me doing so. Philistines. A massive Ukrainian flag on the monitor intros Civil War and Slash get’s another solo. I’d rather have heard Out ta Get Me or Don’t Damn Me myself, but let’s be fair here – the man could walk onstage, fart in a kazoo and leave and we’d still likely go ape shit. Sweet Child O’ Mine induces a massive sing along as the place is lit by smart phones and November Rain feels oddly short. Worth it for the solo though.
We’re getting close to the end of the night and I’m feeling punch drunk with joy and exhaustion. No time to rest though, as the intro to AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie has me up and racing around, albeit nervously, as I’d rather not stack it over the chairs. I love the idea of mosh pits, but I know my tolerance for pain and it’s piss poor. Knocking On Heaven’s Door and Nightrain close things out and I mercifully collapse. A short wait and they return, with Coma and the acoustic double bill of Don’t Cry and Patience cooling things, but the couple in front of me tenderly embracing through the former 2 songs warms the heart and makes me wish my wife was there. The selfie I sent her earlier can in no way explain how happy I am. Live music isn’t her thing (with the notable exception of the upcoming tour by K-Pop group Stray Kids), but she does like seeing me happy.
To end things we get Paradise City, and a singalong ensues, before several thousand rather damp people try to find a train home. A group of people at the train station call out for Adam, a call that’s taken up by fellow passengers. Several calls of “I’m Adam and so is my wife!” ensue, along with “ADRIAN!” It’s good humoured, unlike some post gig moments I’ve had over the years. The 1:47am coastal express from Central brings back unpleasant memories. Soon enough it’s my own bed, and trying not to wake my wife.
Many, many thanks to the friends who bought me a ticket all those years ago – hopefully you could tell how much fun I had. Hell of a show. Not without fault, between sound, setlist and an odd choice of supports, but no gig is perfect, with the possible exception of Maiden in 08, and Birdman at the Gaelic – they opened with Do The Pop and my head damn near exploded. But I can’t complain. 13 year old me got to live out a dream, and 42 year old got to look like a fool all in the name of fun. What more can you ask for?