(Planet Me)
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
 
GUNS'N'ROSES - Nottingham Capital One FM Arena - 19-20 May 2012
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Intro – Chinese Democracy – Welcome To The Jungle – It's So Easy – Mr Brownstone – Sorry – Jam – Estranged – Rocket Queen – Solo – Live & Let Die – This I Love – Motivation – Baba O Riley – Street Of Dreams – You Could Be Mine – Ballad Of Death – Sweet Child O Mine – Another Birkc – November Rain – Bumblesong – Don't Cry – Better - Knockin On Heavens Door – Nightrain – Jam – Madagascar – Civil War – Paradise City

“Freedom Through Musical Integrity”.

By 9am, when the band are due on stage, Thin Lizzy still have 45 minutes to go and Axl Rose may not even be in the country yet. By the time the night finishes, 270 minutes and 9 Axl-Rose jacket changes later, it's gone 1.30am.

When we walk into the suburban ice rink that is Nottingham's Capital One FM Arena, my first thought, at 7.30pm, is to find out what time they are on. The venue manager is wise : “We don't know what time they will be on. It'll be a late night.

By 22.45, the stage has been deserted for half an hour, and a slow hand clap and chant of boos is echoing around the venue. Good thing it's Saturday and there isn't work tomorrow. I've seen a sea of plastic bottles and jeers head stagewise when they pulled this controversial stunt on a Wednesday in London. A Saturday may take the immediate need to get up at Work O'Clock down a notch. But that doesn't make it right.

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By the time they finish, it isn't really a late night, but a beautiful morning. 1.30am (and 15 seconds) and a half-empty Ice Rink spits out thousands of black t-shirts into the night. Fights to pay for parking merge into exhaustion. This is Rock'n'roll.

What happens in between is that the real world stops existing for a while. In this world, in support a band called Thin Lizzy still exist, made up of 3 members of the 1983 touring band, and of other blokes : including Ricky Warwick of The Almighty, who was 20 when Phil Lynott died, and no doubt never imagined in his wildest rock dreams that he would get to live out the moment he played air guitar in his room to Jailbreak twenty five years later, on stage. Living The Dream, Loving The Dream, Being The Dream.

Or Tonight Matthew, I'm Going To Be Thin Lizzy.

Next to him, Marco Mendoza on bass, from Whitesnake, Ozzy, Ted Nugent, Blue Murder, and er Right Said Fred, etc whose CV looks like the contents page of a 1994 edition of Metal Hammer! And tosses out at least three picks per song and his open armless leather waistcoast and spandex trousers dare you to defy his enthusiasm. The keyboardist is utter Spinal Tap (no one can wear a shirt that white and hair that big and not be a God amongst Mortals), as is Scott Gorham on guitar.

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By 9pm, when GNR are due on stage, Thin Lizzy still have 45 minutes to go and haven't even touched “Massacre”, or “The Boys Are Back In Town”.It's a long hour of drenched lager between The Lizzy clocking off at work and GNR appearing. If I were that late, I'd be sacked. Good thing Axl is his own boss. It's rock'n'roll, and dangerous, to keep people waiting.

Guns N Roses and I have history. Not always good history. Their legendary 2006 Hammersmith show, the smallest UK show GNR have officially performed since 1987, was both brilliant – and appalling. By 22.45, the time by which I'd have to leave to catch my train home, the band hadn't even gone on stage. Couches were hastily arranged. Cabs were absurd and expensive. Six years later, I still remember the haggard morning, the abusive text messages, and the hassle and shit of trying to get to a couch in Mile End at 1.30am in the morning with little warning, not a huge amount of money, and work in six hours time.

I know what you are thinking. It's rock'n'roll. But babysitters, hotels, cabs – these are not cheap. GNR might have been able to pull it off when everyone was under thirty, in 1988. Is living like you are 19 when you're 50 rock'n'roll anymore? Who cares. It's rock'n'roll.

Ask anyone of the multitude of my friends who have seen them in the classic years, and the entire of their existence is not defined by how brilliant they are or were, but by three words : “They were late”.

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The first question I am asked when I get into work on Monday morning was “How late were they?

When one of my colleagues, delayed by a train incident, arrives a fraction before 10am on Monday, the first thing I say to him is... “Not as late as Axl.”

That's what the GNR live experience is now. Late starts, late nights, - and aside from those who have to move heaven, earth, hundreds of pounds to babysitters or hotels, and 150 miles – missed gigs. Even at 1am, as the band are thirty one minutes from home time and haven't even started “Nighttrain”, the once packed arena visibly empties : you can quite easily walk around ten feet from the stage. A glance back during the call-and-response part of “Knock-Knock-King On Heavens Door Hey Hey Hey Yeah!” sees a sea of empty blue plastic seats at the back whereas three hours earlier, every damn seat in the house was sold. Everyone of those thousands of seats has had a conversation : and each one of those conversations has ended with the phrase “Fuck it, I'm going home.

Yep, it's so rock'n'roll you piss off the paying punters so they go home before you do.

The next two questions when I got into work were not about wether I enjoyed the gig. They were “How fat is he now?” . And “How many jacket changes?” After all, the girl opposite me saw them in 2010, and counted nine jacket changes. Tonight, Nottingham got nine jacket changes. (And three hats).

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Outside of the world of the devoted and the patient, Axl is a joke. A fat, chronically late, joke.

Is it any wonder that, in 2006, a metal mag had a question which was “What would you get Axl Rose for Christmas?”

Every answer, for every musician I read, apart from one, was the same. “I'd get him a watch”.

Don't shoot the messenger.

But many of us aren't thirty anymore. If you were like me, you bought “Appetite For Destruction”, covertly on vinyl, at the age of 13. I still have the record – with the original Rape-Robot cover. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I heard “Welcome To The Jungle” on MTV, or ITV's Power Hour at 3am on a videotape the next morning, and I knew. This was part of me From the end of the first verse.

The video was probably followed by something like Warrant, or Poison. Or an interview with Bang Tango. Frankly, I already knew how awful those bands were. FFWD. But GNR just made it embarassingly obvious. Those bands, with their unrealistic, cotton-candy dreams of a crazed hedonism, were fiddling with spandex whilst the world around them burned. Twenty years later, and the world is full of self-aggrandising, hollow hiphop/rap – all of whom are going to be obselete as soon as some angry young upstart exploderises their irrelevant boasting. Meet the new primadonna, same as the old primadonna.

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But that was twenty five years ago. Not that GNR do nostalgia. No reunion tours. No looking back. No Slash. No Duff. No Izzy. But there is a lineage. It's still a band. Maybe not the GNR you fell in love with under Thatcher. But it is still a band. Not the most dangerous band in the world : but the most unpunctual.

Having seen them before finish at 1.30am, I vowed never to see them again. But memory is hazy., And you should never trust a liar. I vowed instead to come prepared. But I shouldn't have to plan to travel this far and book a hotel just to see a band.

This time we are prepared. I have located the smallest venue in the smallest city on the tour (Nottingham's converted ice rink that is the Capital One FM Arena), the cheapest standing tickets, and the city that – should GNR finish at 1.30 in the morning – we can walk to in ten minutes, and stay in for under £50. (£150 cheaper than a cab back from London, and £100 cheaper than a hotel in London). But it's absurd that the only realistic gig I can attend is 150 miles away. Bands shouldn't need this level of dedication, or hassle. Changing shifts at work, arranging child care and moving schedules around. Just come on at 8.30 or 9.00pm, finished at 11.00 or 11.30, and we all know the deal. At this point, we're committed. We've paid the money. We're here. A multitude of things have happened to make this night occur. Why quit at this late hour?

But, given that they get on stage at 22.47, I could have seen Black Sabbath's first show in seven years in Birmingham (30 miles from here), left at the end of the main set (at 22.15), driven up here, and been in the venue by the time they'd started their second song.

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It's not 1987 anymore, thank God. The time when you could go out until 2am on a weeknight exist in only a very small window – 10 years or so of your life – and for a band that has been going 27 years, you can guess that that window closed a long time ago.

On one hand, it's Axl's world : we just live in it. And he's not late. We're just early.

On my hand, when you buy tickets and turn up after twenty years of delays and late starts, you're validating the unpunctual and callous disrespect for the lives that work to afford to buy the tickets for shows like this. But who cares. Live a little. Be dangerous. It's rock'n'roll!

It's bullshit. And I don't care who is responsible : someone has to be.

On the other hand, when Guns N Roses do come out, at 22.47, they are astonishing. Magnificent. The best rock show I have seen in decades. They grind AC/DC to dust. They leave Iron Maiden as the enthusiastically haggard nostalgia machine they have inevitably become. And Metallica? Brilliant as they are, Metallica are a different universe and practically incomparable. But the question remains :

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Is it Guns N' Roses?

Yes. It is.

Sure. Their millenial reinvention as a weird alt-rock band (with former members of Nine Inch Nails dressed as aliens, a man in a yellow jacket, KFC Bucket and hockeymask, and ex-Primus, and Replacements members) may at times have shattered the illusion of the old classic rock band they once were, but it is, certainly still, a band.

Yes, Slash isn't there anymore. Neither are Duff, Izzy, Steven, Matt, Gilby, or any number of the fallen guitarists ending in the letter “y” such as Tizzy, Gary, Stevey, Stewy, Han, Chewy, and Trilby. But with any band lasting over 15 years, there are always members that come and go. Aside from U2, not one band has the same lineup that I can remember. Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Nine Inch Nails, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Wonder Stuff, The Mission, AC/DC, Faith No More, Fields Of The Nephilim, the Cure, The Cult, all of these have had lineups change immeasurably over the years. Four drummers, two bassists, nine guitarists.

But the songs remain the same. Having handpicked a set of powerful musicians, GNR-2012 are some kind of rock supergroup – like The Avengers Of Stadium Rock – taking little-known musicians of no small power, and combining them together to create some kind of multiheaded, uber-versatile hydra of metal.

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This band fucking owns these songs. This band pwns these songs. They've never sounded better live. Given the conviction, and passion, these songs are played with you wouldn't know that they didn't pen many of these riffs themselves.

There's probably the moment where DJ Ashba peels out one of Rock's Greatest Riffs and thinks, knows, he's living the dream of being in GNR. Probably played these songs a hundred times at home before the band had heard of him.

It's no mere nostalgia show : the set is drawn equally from each of the official studio records, with 7 songs from “Appetite For Destriction”, 6 from “Use Your Illusion” and 6 from “Chinese Democracy”, alongside one solo song from each guitarist and bassist Tommy Stintson. It's an immense show (at 165 minutes), and refreshingly free of ego : Axl donates space for each member of the group to perform an old-fashioned solo. Sure, it gives him a chance to change his jacket nine times and his hat three times (each time, retaining more jewellry than your average 1998 rapper, Axl being some kind of metal Mr.T), but this is showbusiness, and at it, in a modernised reinterpretation of a 1976 stadium rock show, Guns N Roses absolutely excel.

His band are white hot : each of them (and there are 7 musicians plus Waxl) must have a thought going their head. That thought? Living The Dream! It doesn't matter how many tattoos you have, how ridiculous your hat is, or if the drummer – a one man human powerhouse called Frank Ferrer who used to be in the Psychedlic Furs with guitarist Richard Fortus – looks nothing like you might expect. It doesn't matter that some of the rest of the band have had years in Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue's solo band, or that the longest standing member aside from Axl is Dizzy Reed who isn't on “Appetite For Destruction”, “Lies”, and joined in 1990. What matters is that Axl has picked a set of brilliant musicians who get to live the dream, and be Gunners. The band trade licks and riffs off each other with a telepathic fluidity, the kind of seemingly-effortless strength that comes from several years together. (as the most stable line up GNR have ever had, it's been four years since anyone left or joined). Open your minds, and GNR are a band as good as they ever were.

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And there's no idea where to look. At any given moment, at least one member of the band is on a catwalk, or soloing in the audience, or on a ramp, or throwing picks into the crowd, or standing on something riffing away, or jumping off an amp. GNR might as well be the world's first metal exercise programme.

It's not the original line up : that's never going to happen, But it is one of the best gigs I've seen. And the best GNR gig I've seen by no small margin. This band are fucking magnificent at what they do. When the lights dim, the crowd roars, the opening riff of “Chinese Democracy” peels in razor-sharp hi-definition, this band are in the lap of the gods. Better than Iron Maiden. Better than Metallica. Better than AC/DC. The best rock band of their generation, by a mile. Big,clever/dumb, stadium rock.

Even when the mic stops working and the band can't hear themselves, it is a glorious, powerful, unstoppable mess. As evidenced in near enough every line of “Chinese Democracy”, Life in Axlworld is a one man quest for utter self-realisation : to follow the vision with unceasing relentlessness. “nothing is impossible / I am unstoppable”, he sang on 'Scraped'.

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In ye olden days, Axl might have stropped and stopped the show. Here he simply lets the band carry on and gets his mike fixed. Four minutes later, and the band are peeling out that riff : the uncoiled snake of “Welcome To The Jungle”, and Nottingham is airguitaring away as explosions, fireworks, and lawd knows what else kicks off around them. They've been on twelve minutes,. And its not even 11.00pm yet.

It might just be stupid rock. But its the best there is. Sometimes, oftentimes, there is a cleverness in being simple. There's “It So Easy”, which is arena punk made flesh. There's the factually inaccurate “Mr.Brownstone” (we go on stage around 9?), all of which have the prance and groove of classic rock. Aside from the fact that it is now 11.20, Guns N' Roses are a great rock band.

New material is peppered throughout the show – occasionally falling flat to the audience, but still performed with a passion and belief that belies the relative commercial flatline that is “Chinese Democracy”. “Sorry” is obviously the work of a different band to “Mr Brownstone” : the lyrics are dense, and deal with concepts complex and simple far beyond that of far too much old rock – things like self-awareness, forgiveness, and control. “You want me to bow and submit, but I don't want to do it.” That's a mile away from having a sip and a drink and doing fine.

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Blowing apart the myth that new GNR are a joke and old GNR are legends, this band then run into “Estranged”. One of the immense 10 minute epics that comprised “Use Your Illuision”, with time signatures and key changes all over the place, the band acquit this often unsung, majestic thing with note perfect precision. I'm not sure exactly what this song is about – and I never was. The video made it look as if Axl had used heartbreak as a superpower to evolve into a dolphin. (And there certainly are lots of dolphins on the video screens). On the other hand, for a ten minute song without a chorus, it is greeted with a huge cheer, and an arena punching the air to the fourth verse and getting the words right is... bizarre.

It's quickly back to “Rocket Queen”, and then, the burning, wall-of-fire “Live & Let Die”. By midnight, the night is starting to sag, and Axl is on his second leather jacket. With “This I Love” and “Street Of Dreams”, GNR are into the somewhat slow new-piano-ballads section of the set. It all goes a bit Elton John. Tommy Stintson sings his solo song “Motivation”, which is good. But Nottingham largely tolerates it.

It's OK. We're putting up with this, because we've got “November Rain” in a bit.

At this point, an hour in, the show overall starts to flag. “Street Of Dreams” is prefaced by an instrumental cover of The Who's “Baba O Riley”. Why? Why not perform another song? If Axl needs to give his voice a break, or change his jacket or hat, then play one of the long epics with a six minute wankfest ending so the show isn't sagging. To interrupt the hits with a perverse six minute interruption / instrumental version of Pink Floyd's “Another Brick In The Wall Pt1” (six times longer than the version on “The Wall”) kills the evening. To place between the two biggest songs of the night - “You Could Be Mine” and “Sweet Child O' Mine”, a five minute instrumental by the guitarist from one of his solo albums is an utter buzzkill. Sure, Nottingham creams a collective orgasm when Dj Ashba peels out the opening riff to “Sweet Child”, but at that point it's 12.30 at night, the band have been on over an hour and three quarters, and a rapidly thinning crowd have just had to listen to a five minute instrumental jam they have no idea about. It is an unnecessary indulgence.

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On the other hand, every band needs to have a loo-break song. We have enough time during “Mi Amor 2”, or “Ballad Of Death”, or whatever it is called to go from being ten foot from the stage to the toilet at the back of the ice rink arena, and back again, with time for a bottle of water, and to take our positions just as “Sweet Child O' Mine” starts. It sounds beautiful. The lyrics are amazing. I want to go to bed, because it's 12.40am and I was up at 6.30am with a two year old.

Then its fireworks and “November Rain”. Which is one of the silliest sonsg of all time. But if you can't space in your soul for pompous silliness, if you haven't got space to see what it is and what it isn't, if you can't see that this song is so incredibly sincere and outlandish it goes all the way round from brilliance to bullshit to both and back again, then your ears are liars. The rapidly thinning crowd – that remains – has reached a point buyers call “Perceptive commitment bias”. They've made the decision, and now they must justify it. We're here because we're here because we're here.

Marking 12.45 with a solo song by the bands third guitarist might not be the wisest move. Bumblefoot may be talented, and be able to spit forth pretty much any riff you want in the blink of an eye, but it's not necessarily the best move to manage the crowd's turning mood. However, when “Glad To Be Here” fades, and him and Axl perform an acoustic “Don't Cry”, the audience again turns to good will. Following it with “Better” may kill the momentum of the show., but … It's “Better”.

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One of the best songs there is. Like most of “Chinese Democracy” the song is a densely layered musical jigsaw of confident lyrics that explore the battle for control and identity, and pounded guitars that weld erratic but determined rhythms against the big box of great rock riffs. On the other hand, it's followed by “Knocking On Heavens Door”, which is a great big stadium rock singalong, complete with the audience pulling in the vocal affectations of hey hey yeah yeah yeah, and the splendid, utter riffarama of “Nightrain” which has been closing shows for nearly 20 years. Around Axl, no one else who plays on “Appetite For Destruction” is left in the band, but does anyone care now? These songs no more belong to the old GNR than they do the new, no more than they belong to my cat – these are communal, modern hymns, contemporary anthems, that exist in our minds and collective consciousness far more than anywhere else.

Whilst Axl sings “Loaded like a freight train ONE MORE FUCKING TIME TONIGHT!”, the man next to me tells me he doesn't want to go home ever again. Because this feels more like home than anywhere else does. Sharp on 1.02am, 145 minutes after starting, and the GNR machine winds up as people leave.

Even in the dark, the once packed arena is now 2/3rd full. A sea of blue seats face the stage. The standing area is so spacious you could easily have three games of table tennis at the back.

Three minutes later, and the encore begins with an instrumental jam. Whoo hoo! Why not another song? You haven't done “Scraped”, “Shacklers Revenge”, “Whole Lotta Rosie”, “Patience”, “Rhiad & The Bedouins”, “There Was A Time”... but what we do get is my favourite Guns N Roses song : “Madgascar”. This rolling mantra epic, built on variations of the same elegant riff, with a minimal vocal melody, preaches forgiveness and enlightenment.

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“Forgive them that tear down my soul
bless them so that they may grow old
and free them so that they may know
it's never too late.”


If anything the band are a testament to the insane self-belief that has been vindicated : a triumph of integrity and persistence of vision through the corrupting and diluting influences of others. An analyst would have a exemplary case study with modern Axl, but then, the song melds into the beautiful refrain, as three guitarist trade understated licks, and a montage of spoken word quotes from Martin Luther King, “Casualties Of War”, “Cool Hand Luke”, “Exorcist III”, and self-help books that overlap, interplay, and become a litany, or impressionistic lecture, on human nature and cruelty. And then, the song bumps back into the vocals, and the denounement is that of human freedom from our own prisons :
“if we ever find the truth :

that we have the strength to choose

freedom from the chains

we held together”

This song.This fucking song. Does me. Every time.

Without any pause, it's straight into “Civil War”. And then, Axl says something, the set is cut short, and the band start up “Paradise City”. The Ice rink fills with explosions, fire, tossed guitar picks, streamers, confetti, red silly strong, rock guitars set to 11, and insane noise. It's probably the best single set closing song of all time. At 01.30.15am, the band take a bow, and the lights are raised with an impolite haste. By the time the show ends though, the arena is half-empty, the back of the seating section is deserted, and the insane crush at the front is as spacious as a millionaire's mansion.

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Despite the magnificence of the performance, the sheer width of the songs, the legendary GNR live shows... it's ONE FUCKING THIRTY IN THE MORNING.

Eight minutes later, the venue is empty, a sea of overtimed yellow shirts ushering everyone home, the car parks are teeming with people fighting for change to settle the meter. The promoter is writing a cheque to the venue for £75,000* (a guess) for overtime and it's Sunday out there.Whew. Rock n roll. How dangerous. How magnificent.

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Comments:
This might be my favourite line in a review ever:

"....or any number of the fallen guitarists ending in the letter “y” such as Tizzy, Gary, Stevey, Stewy, Han, Chewy, and Trilby".

I saw them at Wembley Stadium in 1991, and they were late then too with their full classic line-up.

Good to see you guys and glad you had such foresight as to be minimally inconvenienced by Axl's timekeeping.

T
 
I must be getting old!! The waiting was long. They may be good musicians but they sounded crap. Is it the venue.
 
The sound was rubbish at the start and Axl's vocals were barely audible. Got better as the night went on.
 
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