"This performance and participation by the audience delivers the seemingly impossible combination of hedonistic piety."
Like the religious on Christmas Eve, the devout are descending on QSAC this sticky Tuesday evening to pay homage to the gods of '90s heavy rock, Guns N’ Roses, supported by Australia’s own heavy rock pioneers, Rose Tattoo.
The Gunners have not graced Australian shores since their Appetite For Democracy Tour in 2013, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Appetite For Destruction (1987).
The bulk of the audience attending appear to be men and women well into their 30s, 40s and above. Members of the 30, 000+ strong crowd are donning traditional rock costuming, including black band shirts, black-lace singlets (or just black bras), boots, and distressed jeans. An air of dishevelment seemed to be encouraged at this event, with men’s faces weathered and unshaven. Fans are showing off their subcultural capital, sporting vintage Guns N' Roses merchandise, which after many years is seeing the light of day (and still fitting!). Bandanas are being worn in the style of frontman Axl Rose, with some attendees dressing as lead guitarist Slash, complete with long black curly hair, aviators and a top hat.
The age demographic and apparel of this concert offers clear glimpses into how many audience members would have spent their youth as die-hard fans in the late '80s and '90s. The raw, unapologetic and defiant attitude of earlier rock subcultures, championed by acts like Guns N' Roses, has become imbued in their identities all along the road to growing up. The presence of younger attendees also evidences a blessed upbringing of being weaned on the Gunner’s anthems, presumably introduced by their parents who have a damn good idea of what constitutes culture.
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Rose Tattoo reprise their supporting role in a salute to the Guns N' Roses 1993 Use Your Illusion Tour. While the stadium is still filing and the crowd seems more preoccupied with stocking up on booze, Rose Tattoo deliver an energising and thought-provoking set. The gravelly vocals are not terribly clear; however, Angry Anderson takes time between songs to impress upon the audience the importance of knowing where you are, and where you’ve come from, and only then can you have vision of where you’re going — “Brothers and sisters, know your history”.
In the final song, Anderson bellows “Australia, stand!” It's a rare thing to see such an expression, when the current socio-political climate makes nationalism so problematic. Rather, Anderson’s demand served as a patriotic call to unify, rather than exclude. Rose Tattoo’s raucous tunes also allows the instruments speak for themselves, demonstrating that you don’t need props, audio-visuals efforts or excessive razzamatazz to present a highly engaging performance.
Guns N' Roses come out in a blaze of glory, with gun shots heralding the band onstage. Punters are chanting ‘Guns – N – Roses’ at the top of their lungs, with hands as devil’s horns raised to the sky in solidarity. The Gunners open their set with It’s So Easy, and to be honest, Axl Rose sounds a little breathless. Looking around, fans' faces are fixed on the two 20-foot screens on each side of the stage, mouths gaping, mesmerised before these legends of their craft. On the final note of the song, fireworks shoot into the air bringing on a thundering cheer from the audience. The band members are clothed in full rock-god regalia, with ripped jeans, chains, opulent and oversized rings, open shirts and bared chests. In addition to his signature top-hat and aviators, Slash is wearing a shirt which says, ‘Unfuck the world’. Axl changes through so many different hats during the set, it makes you wonder where the hell he is keeping them.
The audience sing along merrily with Mr Brownstone, erupting into a cheer as Rose ascends to the limit of his vocal register in his signature throat-tearing scream. Guns N' Roses continue through Chinese Democracy, and crowd pleaser Welcome To The Jungle. Sweat is streaming down Slash’s arm and Axl’s face is bursting with exertion. The camera pans to Duff McKagen’s ivory-cream bass guitar, which depicts Prince’s symbol above the fretboard. This performance and participation by the audience delivers the seemingly impossible combination of hedonistic piety. If Rose’s singing is the prayer, then Slash’s virtuosic showcasing is most certainly the sacrifice, and it is worthy.
The riff of Double Talkin’ Jive reverberates through the stadium, with the crowd screaming the lyrics, “Get the money motherfucker, 'cause I got no more patience”. Slash can be seen on screen, leaning back with his guitar, basking in his own glory. He takes centre stage in a solo which exhibits his improvisational skills with passages in a descending Phrygian mode. It is as if his guitar is singing its own story, adding additional verses between the vocals. Next come Better and Estranged, with the instrumentals drawing from the power-ballad genre and momentum-building keyboard solos by Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese.
Live & Let Die showcases the keyboard, charging the melodic texture with a splash of dissonance. Duff thunders away on the bass with a snug smirk on his face, with Axl lifting the mic stand above his head at the climax of the song. Rocket Queen delivers solos by Slash and Richard Fortus. Fortus’ skill comes close to Slash’s own mastery; however, it falls short of the same smooth transitions between notes. Guns N' Roses perform sparkling renditions of You Could Be Mine, New Rose (by The Damned) — with intro by McKagen — This I Love, Used To Love Her, and Out To Get Me.
Civil War and Coma receive a warm reception from audience members, as some comment on their delight that they are included in the set. The latter dissolves into a lengthy Slash guitar solo. Slash possesses simply superlative skills, ringing out every last drop of the melody with arpeggios. Sweet Child O' Mine is the 17th song of the night and, while audiences are starting to grow weary, a new energy is found as those who have been standing at the back at the bar sprint to the pit to take part in the anthem.
November Rain is performed with Axl Rose at the piano, and truly captivates audiences. The screen effects show rolling storm clouds pouring down rain on a dry desert plain, with Axl’s face appearing in the clouds. As the set draws to an end, the Gunners give a thoughtful performance of Bob Dylan’s Knockin' On Heaven’s Door before stripping off all propriety for an unruly performance of Night Train. The audience is treated to a three-song encore of Patience, The Seeker (originally by The Who), and the debauchery of Paradise City. Fireworks light up the night sky on the final notes of the songs, with Axl’s scream reverberating through the stadium. Attendees thunder their feet in the stands and cheers are raised.
Once of the key points of difference between this concert, and other pop and rock concerts from newer artists in the 2010s, is that vintage rock offers a much greater emphasis on instrumental work. The GA standing price of $90 pales against the 19-song, two-and-a-half-hour set. It is unclear whether the Guns N' Roses will return to Australia in this lifetime; either way, they gave their audience an absolute night to remember.
NOTE: The Music is currently running an exclusive offer for SA readers, in which they can buy Diamond and Premium tickets to Guns N' Roses' upcoming how at Adelaide Oval on Saturday 18 February for 50% off.