Guns ‘N’ Roses – Westpac Stadium February 2, 2017

When I was 13 I attended my first live rock show at Wellington’s Athletic Park.  It was KISS.   And it was 1980.  The night was appalling.   The show started late and there was trouble from the crowds, who were predominantly young drunk males.   The local constabulary were also over-exerting their authority, as was their custom in those times.  But that was the half of it.  The real reason was because the weather.   Wellington had bought itself a full force southerly, blowing horizontally across the stage, so strong that you could see the microphone chord flapping with urgency.  None the less, it was brilliant.

Tonight was not quite as violent as that night in 1980 but it came close with a pretty filthy  50 knot wind and intense squalls washing across the harbour and into the Westpac Stadium.  In fact, it was so heavy the trains, scheduled to run after the event were washed out and had to be replaced by buses.  Early media reports told of fans blocked out by flooding and turnstile issues.

It was looking like the clouds would disperse when Aussie rockers Wolfmother kicked it off.  But that was short-lived.  Halfway into the first track the driving rain had made it down the back of my neck and was trickling down to my undies.   Mind you, that’s nothing compared to how leader singer Andrew Stockdale must have felt.   He was more used to playing smaller, but drier, stadiums in US and Europe where they’ve been touring for the best part of last year, pushing their new disc Victorious.  Dressed like they fell out of bed in the 1970’s the band rumbled through a short sweet set of Led Zep and garage rock inspired numbers finishing up with their big radio hit Thieves In The Night.  Their sound was intense and meaty.  Perfect for an outdoor venue as it roared around the ‘Cake Tin’ auditorium and crept through the entrance points.

As the stage clears the rain rolls in for good and darkness finally falls.  G ‘n R are notoriously late.  Tonight they don’t disappoint.  There’s comments that Axl’s pizza might be cold or he’s too busy signing boobs.  Old rumours die hard.  They finally saunter on 45 minutes after curtain call to an enormous video of pistols and a Looney Tunes sound track before kicking into the staple It’s So Easy and a few fireworks with Axl immediately assuming the position – which he keeps up for the whole night – strutting around the stage like peacock in leather and plaid.  Over the night he changes into many t shirts and awful leather jackets, partly to get some dry clothes on and partly for extra coolness – it’s his thing.  His ‘look’ was a jumble of clashing layers, like he fell into a clothing recycle hamper – but this was just another expression of his restlessness, just like Slash expressed his own laidback cool by wearing only one outfit, including leather jacket and a sleeveless red T-shirt, throughout the evening.

I’d done very well on the seating and so Axl’s only a few bodies away from me as he struts up and down the catwalk.  He’s lost weight and is looking a bit leaner. Now in his early 50’s his energy levels are still as high as when they toured Use Your Illusion 1&2 in 1993.  And his voice is in check too, as he blasts out his trademark war cry on Welcome To The Jungle.  Credit must to go to the video crew who have made a stunning animation of a city comprised of stacked flickering TV screens.  Given the recent American election visual overload we’ve all just endured the images and the song, even just feel so right for the moment.
Predictably, the band churn through their ‘normal’ set (you can google this up) covering highlights from Appetite For Destruction, Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 and Chinese Democracy plus a few covers including Duff McKagan singing The Damned’s New Rose (with an intro of Johnny Thunders’ You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory)

There’s a couple more covers in the mix including Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here done as an instrumental by Slash with help from Fortus, segued to the coda from Derek and the Dominos’ Layla played by Rose on piano.  Essential Slash gives us a master class of shredding and deft licks second to none.  Slash performing live has always been awesome and tonight he’s just perfect.  He also ploughs through a very gnarly, if elongated series of solos on Coma, and a medley of movie themes including Speak Softly Love (Theme From The Godfather).  Who knew that’d work?

Overall, there are no surprises in this 2 + hour set.  They cover the bases well.  Most of the Chinese Democracy songs (except the title track) could have been left off, I suspect.  Fans may think differently.  But there were also highlights, like a blistering version of Live and Let Die.

Given that McKagan, Slash and Axl had been at the epicentre of the infamous 1993 Use Your Illusion Tour (aka the breakdown tour) it’s no surprise that it’s all about taking care of business.  You don’t really get a vibe of good camaraderie exuding from the stage.  This might have been partly due to the weather.  However, Axl certainly enjoyed himself, egging on the crowd to ‘smile’ and totally loving the energy of the near capacity crowd who were partying it up like it’s 1993.  But that’s all the rapport he gave during the night.  With the exception of acknowledging what city they’re in right now  this could be anywhere.  Any day.

I did a doubletake when I saw guitarist Richard Fortus for the first time.  With short stringing hair, leathers and a hook nose he was a dead ringer for Izzy Stradlin – even played his rhythm guitar the same way.  It was great to get a few glimpses of the latest member of the band Melissa Reese, with her wild tea-blue hair she ran the keyboards and a DJ console, even sang backups for Duff a couple of times.  G n’R have gone through drummers like bottles of Jack but I don’t think they’ve come across someone so quietly assuming but so very ‘present’ as their current player Frank Ferrer.
He not only kept perfect time bust did well to add plenty of colour through his grooves on tracks like Sweet Child O’ Mine and the blistering Civil War.

It was a long set – two hours and 40 minutes – with lots of extended solos and instrumental interludes including another highlight with Slash’s spacey, almost jazzy solo during Rocket Queen,  and a few nods to their influences.

It’s been a lifetime since G ‘n R have been here.  Many thought they’d never come.  I hope for those first timers that they’ll take away similar memories to my first show with KISS.  Like them, Axl and co. really turned up and put on a brilliant show, despite the bad weather.  Long gone are the days of refusal to appear because of minor technicalities.  This band shows maturity and respect for its fans and that made a great show tonight whatever the conditions.

words:Tim Gruar

photographs copyright Alexander Hallag

Guns ‘n Roses set list:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Mr Brownstone
  3. Chinese Democracy
  4. Welcome To The Jungle
  5. Double Talkin’ Jive
  6. Better
  7. Estranged
  8. Live And Let Die
  9. Rocket Queen
  10. You Could Be Mine
  11. New Rose
  12. This I Love
  13. Civil War
  14. Coma
  15. Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)
  16. Sweet Child ‘O Mine
  17. Used To Love Her
  18. Out Ta Get Me
  19. Wish You Were Here
  20. November Rain
  21. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  22. Nightrain
  23. Don’t Cry
  24. The Seeker
  25. Paradise City