The early nineties saw a brief overlap of musical tastes within the heavy rock genres, and by this point the grunge sounds of alternative rock had crossed-over to mainstream popular eighteen months earlier, and the hard rock/heavy metal/glam metal bands of the late eighties were coming to the end of their reign. At the top of the bill of a hard rock showcase’s most memorable concerts was the band who, along with Nirvana, could lay claim to the title of Biggest Rock Band in the World in 1992, Guns ‘n’ Roses.
When they arrived in Australia in 1993, the american band Guns ‘n’ Roses were bigger than any stadium. So they played racetracks, exceeding the noise mere cars could make with their epic head-banging rock. At Calder Park, 75,000 people turned up on a stinking 42-degree day to see charismatic singer Axl Rose rip through hits from the group’s million-selling albums “Appetite for Destruction,” “G N’ R Lies” and “Use Your Illusion.”
It was a brilliant disaster, culminating in a State Ombudsman report to Parliament. The Calder Park gig was pure chaos. Women were forced to urinate on the ground in view of other concert-goers, one teenager became comatose after her medication was confiscated by security guards and there was no shade for volunteer first aid staff treating the 1,726 people who became dehydrated — a severe shortage of drinking water forced people to sip from toilet water supplies. Finally, police argued with public transport officials after thousands were stranded and later dumped in the city late at night.
Guns ‘n’ Roses had evolved from a raw L.A. based five piece amalgam of Rolling Stones/Aerosmith blues-based riff rock, classic heavy metal, and punk fury, to a bloated but polished stage show augmented by a keyboard player, female backing vocalists, and a horn section, mixing intricate big production numbers and ballads with their original frantic hard rock.
The band’s highly anticipated twin album set “Use Your Illusion I & II” had been released in September 1991, and two months later founding member rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin left the band, taking with him his songwriting talents and raspy backing vocals as well as his Stones/Faces style rhythm thrust. He was replaced by the similarly imaged Gilby Clarke, who along with keyboard player Dizzy Reed was added to the core of lead guitarist Slash, drummer Matt Sorum, bass player Duff McKagan, and frontman/vocalist Axl Rose. Rose’s ego had spun so far out of control by this point that he travelled separately from the rest of the band, and it was rumored that he was helicoptered in at the last minute especially for this performance.
The day of the gig was a scorching 42 degrees celcius in Melbourne, and the punters in the shadeless, open raceway sweltered in long lines for expensive bottled water and inadequate toilet facilities, as local sleeze-metallers Pearls and Swine opened the days proceedings, featuring their current single “Where Can I Get Arrested”. They were followed by the reformed Rose tattoo, led by Angry Anderson, who were a leading influence on the formative Guns ‘n’ Roses. GNR had included a cover of the Tatts’ “Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock ‘n’ Roll)” on their “Live Live a Suicide” EP and “GNR Lies” album, and that song was performed on the day by Rose Tattoo. After a strong set including the classic “Bad Boy For Love”, the Tatts’ struck up to play “Nice Boys” just as lightning cracked in the sky behind them.
The change came in the break between Rose Tattoo and Skid Row, the pouring rain turning the banks of the raceway to mud, adding the spectacle of sliding headbangers to the day’s entertainment, along with calls of “more tits, more tits” in response to the dampened T-shirts of female punters. Skid Row, led by the giant frontman Sebastian Bach with his flowing blonde locks, played an awesome set of classic heavy metal – showcasing their current EP, “B-sides Themselves” along with many songs from the brilliant “Slave to The Grind”, as well as the hits from their 1989 debut, such as “I Remember You” and “18 and Life”.
As day became night, Guns ‘n’ Roses took the stage in a blaze of their classic-era glory with the anger of “Welcome to the Jungle”, and the heavy-groove-crunch of “Mr Brownstone”. The super-charged dramatics of the Paul McCartney & Wings James Bond theme “Live and Let Die” followed, before McKagan injected a dash of punk with his furious Misfits cover “Attitude”. “Patience” and “Civil War” were well-received classics, before Rose took to the piano for “It’s Alright” and “November Rain”. Drum and guitar solos bookended the hard rocking first “Illusion” single “You Could Be Mine”, followed by the breakthrough hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine” which was met with a huge response from the massive audience. Another cover closed the main set, the live favorite, Dylan’s ”Knockin’ on Heavens Door” (with an intro from Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed”). Two more big GNR classics provided the encores, the ballad ”Don’t Cry” and “Paradise City” which gave an appropriate climax to the show. The long commute home as thousands piled out of the arena simultaneously for a packed car-pack and under-supplied buses, is best forgotten, but the day’s music will live in legend.
The Illusion toured finally came to an end in July at Buenos Aires after 28 months and 194 shows, and was the last time the original Guns ‘n’ Roses performed together. The covers album “The Spaghetti Incident” appeared later in the year, but the magic was gone and Guns ‘n’ Rose splintered and fragmented, with Rose continuing the name with Reed and a host of new musicians. Slash officially left the band in 1996, and McKagan finally announced his departure in 1997, however the band had been inactive since 1994.
In 2007 Guns ‘n’ Roses announced they were back for a June concert at Rod Laver Arena. As they did 14 years ago, rockers Skid Row and local heroes Rose Tattoo supported the controversial L.A. band who fell apart in spectacular fashion and haven’t released a studio album since 1991.
They announced a world tour which went by the name of the album that Rose — the only original member of the line-up that went to Australia — has dabbled with for more than a decade: Chinese Democracy.
Even by the record industry’s standards of insanity, ego and excess, the estimated $18 million that had been sunk into “Chinese Democracy” was a stunning achievement. Producers and executives despaired as Rose retreated to his Malibu mansion full of snakes, religious paraphernalia and weaponry. He became a recluse, reportedly sleeping all day, looking up his name on the internet and communicating almost entirely by email.
An internet post from the band’s tour manager announcing — not for the first time — that “recording for the album has been completed”.
But Rose has been active. Guns ‘n’ Roses played 80 shows on the first leg of their world tour. Only two needed to be rescheduled, said local promoter Paul Dainty, who was confident cancelled tours, false starts and no-shows were behind them.
“There’s no question as to their reputation (but) that’s more in the past,” he said. “They’ve done 80 shows in the northern hemisphere … that’s proven they can do it.”
Few bands have experienced as tumultuous a history as Guns ‘n’ Roses, yet its millions of fans witnessed the rise, fall, and stunning rebirth of the most notorious rock and roll band of the 1980s.
Official music video of Sweet Child O’ Mine, Guns n’ Roses. Remastered in Widescreen and High Definition (HD)