|Obligatory concert selfie.|
I was as excited as any GNR fan to hear the news when it broke. In fact, I was so excited that I felt inspired to write an entire (short) memoir about my love of Guns N' Roses that evolved and took on many forms over about a 30-year period. I won't repeat what I said in that memoir, but, if you like, you can read the (short) memoir in full HERE.
Anyway, it wasn't long after the band reunited that they announced they would play a couple shows together, one in Hollywood at their old Sunset Strip haunt The Troubadour and then another one at the Coachella music festival. A couple shows turned into a Las Vegas concert and then a tour was born, the "Not in this Lifetime" tour to be exact.
Not long after the announcement of the tour, a couple Boston dates were announced. Well, not Boston but Foxborough, Massachusetts if we're going to be specific and I'm going to be specific. GNR would be playing at the gargantuan "Gillette Stadium" - where the New England Patriots play - on July 19th AND the 20th. Gillette Stadium was literally ten minutes away from me. That's right: Guns N' Roses were going to be ten minutes away from me. Holy shit!
Now, it may surprise you that I didn't get tickets right away. This was partly because they were a little bit out of my budget range and also because none of my friends really liked GNR all that much so there was nobody to go with. But then I saw on Facebook that everyone was talking about the concert and buying tickets and I was, like, "There's no way I'm missing this fucking thing!"
I decided to just say fuck it and buy a ticket before they sold out completely. Would I end up going alone? Well, I would worry about that later. I could potentially find somebody to go with down the line. Or maybe I'd just get wasted beforehand and go in and not give a damn that I was alone. I could always say my friends were sitting in "a different section" and nobody would probably ever call me out on such a lie. Not that I've thought all these scenarios through or anything and I do have friends by the way, I swear. Also, being friendless isn't a huge deal, anyway, because sometimes alone time can give you some of the best times of your life. But, I mean, ahem...none of that stuff is relevant. The main goal here was to NOT miss GNR. That's all I'm trying to say.
So I went to the Ticketmaster website and - right off the bat - it was almost as though the universe was trying to stop me from what I was doing. I used two different computers and both were freezing up and getting all slow on me. The server for Ticketmaster didn't seem to work properly either.
When I finally DID put a ticket in my "cart", I was brutally reminded how Ticketmaster likes to rape you in every which way that it can. There was a twenty-dollar service fee added onto the ticket price and some other ten-dollar fee. Maybe there was tax, too, but all I know is that a cheap nose-bleed ticket was about a hundred bucks at the end of it all.
I still wanted that ticket, though, so I proceeded to Ticketmaster's checkout and that was when I realized I couldn't use PayPal at the checkout. Shit! I didn't have...um...what the financial types would call a "valid credit card" at the time (I hereby plead the starving artist excuse) so I needed to use PayPal. But it was credit cards only. No PayPal! Shet!
And this was when I saw the writing on the wall. I'm no rocket astrologist or anything, but I know how to read the signs of the universe, and it seemed like the universe just didn't want me to buy a ticket. At least not now. Maybe I would buy one later. But not yet. Not yet.
Little did I know that the universe had something else up its sleeve.
It was the Fourth of July and I received a message on Facebook from a former Spanish exchange student my family hosted back in the late 80s. Her name was and still is Virginia and she's all grown up now with four children of her own. Her eldest teenage son Pablo was coming to America for a month and would be staying with a host family a couple towns away from me. Virginia was wondering if I was going to the Guns N' Roses concert and, if so, could I possibly take him along?
See, I should explain that Virginia was very aware that I was a big Guns N' Roses fan. She knew this partly because she had read my (aforementioned) memoir but there's actually much more to it than that...
When Virginia came to live with my family in the late-80s, Guns N' Roses were just starting to blow up. She saw a poster on the wall of the bedroom that my brother and I shared at the time. That poster was a Guns N' Roses poster. She was in awe of how AXL and Slash looked and she asked us who this Guns and Roses was? We were, like, what, you're asking us who Guns and Roses are? Are you from some foreign land or something?! Oh, wait, sorry. You ARE...
Apparently GNR was not very big in Spain yet (though later on they would be). She had no idea who they were, but there must have been something about the GNR poster on our wall that was calling Virginia's name. The more time she spent in America, the more she was exposed to GNR what with "Sweet Child O' Mine" constantly being played on the radio and the "Welcome to the Jungle" video being played over and over on the MTV. When she left America, she took the music of GNR with her and she spread the good news of GNR to all her friends and family who would listen. Over time, she became more and more of a GNR fan, to the point where it's safe to say that she was a HUGE fan. And I don't say that lightly. I mean, she actually had the song "November Rain" as her wedding song. That's dedication, man!
Now, it was only about three years ago that I found Virginia on Facebook. My family hadn't been in contact with her in years and - for me - it was almost like getting in touch with a long-lost sister. I was only seven-years-old at the time Virginia stayed with us in the 80s, but she left quite an impression on me. She was really cool and funny with a very down-to-earth sense of humor. There were also a lot of good memories made, one of the most memorable being one night when we watched Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS with her. It was the first time any of us had ever seen that movie and we were all completely freaked out afterwards.
Not to go off on a tangent or anything, but what made our viewing of THE BIRDS even more memorable was that, the day after watching the movie, I actually had an incident with...well, a bird! I was playing on the steps outside our house and a bird started attacking me. I ran inside and the bird tried to follow me in. I quickly shut our screen door and the bird hung on the screen with its claws and it kept squawking at me, pissed as anything. Everybody came to see what all the commotion was about. The bird kept squawking and we had no idea what its problem was; it's not like I was messing with it at all. All we could think about was the movie we had just seen! REAL life was mimicking REEL life! It was just so weird, but it became something we all joked about for the rest of the time Virginia stayed with us.
So, yes, good times were had with Virginia and it was great reconnecting with her on Facebook. Over the past few years, Virginia and I have corresponded on Facebook quite a bit and it was during this correspondence that I found out how big of a GNR fan she had become. She also refreshed my memory that it was here in America, in the household of Burns, where she first learned who GNR even was. I was kind of proud of that.
Anyway, when she asked about the GNR concert, I told Virginia that "as loco as it sounds" I did not currently have tickets. It was possible that I was going to get some at the last minute but I had no idea. Well, Virginia quickly responded and said not to worry. She would buy two tickets, one for me and one for her son Pablo. That way, I could bring Pablo to the concert and she would know that her son would be safe. I quickly responded that, hell yes, that all sounded awesome to me if it was OK with her!
Within only about an hour or so I had two Guns N' Roses tickets in my email inbox, one for me and one for Pablo. Wow, this was actually happening! I was officially going to the Guns N' Roses "Not in this Lifetime" concert. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Okay, I didn't have to do that.
The timing couldn't have worked out better. Pablo was already going to be in Massachusetts. He was a big GNR fan. He wanted to go. I wanted to go. I needed a ticket. He needed somebody to take him there. I was able to take him there. It was a win-win for us both. No wonder why the universe had gotten in the way of me buying a ticket previously. Again, I'm no rocket astrologist or anything but there was apparently a greater plan in the works the whole time.
A week or two went by and I started Facebook messaging with my new amigo Pablo. We came up with a plan where I'd pick him up at his host family's house in Natick, then drive to Walpole to meet my family and then head over to the concert from there.
So the day of the concert arrived and - from the get-go - the plan went seamlessly. When I picked up Pablo, I expected his English to be minimal and I'd have to resort to a combination of Spanglish and charade-like body gestures to communicate. But his English was great. It didn't take long for me to realize I could basically say anything to him and he understood what I was talking about. I was even kind of disappointed that I wouldn't need to use any of the scant amount of Spanish I still remembered from my high school days. I thought it would be an interesting challenge and a stimulating brain exercise. Oh well.
Not only was Pablo's English great but so wasn't his personality and sense of humor. I instantly felt comfortable and relaxed talking to him like he was a long-lost buddy. I could crack jokes and he could crack jokes and it was interesting to see how we were both on the same wave-length despite the fact that we were from two different cultures.
It was also interesting hearing what Pablo found fascinating about America. Riding around with him, it was like having a new set of eyes. He liked the trees we had and the forests. He was impressed that the houses were made of wood (not stucco)! And we had mailboxes and ice cream trucks similar to what he'd seen in the movies. Everything I had learned to take for granted or just not care about he found amazing.
When I brought him back to Walpole, my family was eager to meet him and they were instantly impressed by the young, fifteen-year-old lad. They were able to talk with Pablo for a good hour or so while - giddy as a schoolgirl - I went to pick the perfect outfit for the concert. My family loved Pablo. Everything about him reminded them of Virginia and it was kind of like a surreal trip down memory lane.
|Pablo with my family (photo by me)|
|Me with my family, all ready for the concert (photo by Pablo)|
Despite the fact that my house is only about ten minutes from the Gillette Stadium, it probably took us about a half hour for us to drive to the spot where we were going to park because traffic and police roadblocks, detours and such. Now, as far as parking goes, that actually leads me to the next serendipitous event here...
Shortly after Virginia bought the GNR tickets, I started thinking about where the best place to park would be. Parking at the stadium costs $40! So I didn't know whether it was worth doing that or maybe just getting a ride close-by and walking.
Well, as serendipity would have it, a dog-sitting gig came my way only a couple days after Virginia gifted me with a GNR ticket and the owners of said dogs happened to live right by Gillette Stadium. I went to meet with these people and the subject of the concert came up. They insisted that I park at their place and it was only about a fifteen minute walk to the stadium from there. I could save money and a lot of hassle! Once again, I'm not a rocket astrologist, but clearly the universe wanted me to go see Guns N' Roses. The stars were really aligning for this one.
So I took them up on their offer. I parked at their house with Pablo and it worked out great. It was a nice night so we had a pleasant walk down the road, cut through a dirt path with a frog pond, walked over some train tracks, saw an empty Dunkin' Donuts box, took a right and then a left, fiddled with our ear once and scratched our noses twice, and then...
There was the buzzing sound of people and then an energy that rushed up on me. It was an exciting energy but, to be honest, it kind of felt like a menacing energy as well. I felt kind of intimidated, almost in danger.
The energy came from all the people who were boozing and barbecuing in the gigantic parking lot of the stadium. Pablo and I had no choice but to cut through this crowd and we were both glad we did because it was a really surreal experience. There were people from all walks of life, many of which looked as though they had been hibernating somewhere since Guns N' Roses broke apart more than 20 years ago. A lot of them had skin that looked burnt-out, somewhat sooty and baked-potato-like. These people kind of reminded me of the guys who worked at the carnival that used to come to my town every April. Specifically, I was reminded of the gentleman who operated that ride "The Zipper". Or maybe it was the man who worked the "Gravitron"? Yes, it was maybe that one.
Of course, there were a lot more normal-looking people there as well. But the overall energy, like I said, was a mix of excitement and danger. And I realized this made sense because, shit, everybody was there to see the 'dangerous' band that was Guns N' Roses. Well, they at least used to be 'dangerous'. That's how they were marketed when they first rose to fame back in the late 80s and, heck, by all accounts, they WERE rather dangerous. I mean, people often rioted and some people even died at one of their concerts. But the band has, of course, mellowed out now that they're older.
So Pablo and I wove our way further through the crowd and, as we did, the energy only got more intense. People were drinking and they were drinking A LOT. I kind of wanted to pound a few Natty Ices myself, mainly because the energy of the crowd was overstimulating my senses and I needed something to numb them. But I needed to keep myself together and be a responsible adult. Pablo was counting on me.
We pretty much went right into the stadium as soon as we arrived. Security was pretty tight and we had to go through a metal detector before we entered. They didn't pat us down or anything, though, so I wished I had snuck in some granola bars with me or some other light snack.
Feeling thirsty, I bought a four-dollar Aquafina water bottle from a lady at a small concession stand. I saw the lady take the cap off the bottle and then I went to reach for it but then she said, "No, I keep that." I'm not sure why she needed to keep the cap, but I asked her no further questions.
Lenny Kravitz was opening for Guns N' Roses and his band started playing right around seven o'clock. I must say I was more or less indifferent about seeing Lenny when I heard he was going to be opening. In fact, it wouldn't have mattered to me at all if I missed him altogether. And it wasn't that I didn't like his music; again, I was just indifferent.
Well, let me tell you something: I'm glad I got into the stadium on time to see Lenny. He opened with a song called "Bring it On" and his voice sounded incredible. The word that immediately came to mind to describe his voice was "golden". Both Pablo and I were immediately wowed. It sounded so friggin' golden.
|Lenny onstage as the sun went down.|
Honestly, I kind of felt bad for Lenny, though, because the stadium was nearly empty for most of his set. The people were still outside in the parking lot boozing up a storm. Most everybody was clearly only there to see GNR. Hell, I was only there to see GNR but I just happened to arrive on time and go into the stadium on time and I was glad I did.
|It was a beautiful night for a concert.|
Then, a Guns N' Roses logo appeared on one of the giant Jumbotron screens to the sides of the stage. One of the guns in the logo went off and made this awesome subwoofery sound that literally gave me chills. It kept doing this maybe every thirty seconds or so. It was kind of like a countdown and build-up to GNR coming onto the stage. It was also probably a Siren-like call to all the people still boozing in the parking lot, that they should hurry and get their asses into the stadium.
I don't know what it was about the sound of those gunshots but they sounded so awesome. They were so bigger than life. God-like. Just so awesome. Did I mention they sounded awesome?
I should probably also mention that - by this time in the night - I was sipping my one and only beer of the evening. I had gotten it after a quick bathroom break I took during Lenny's "Fly Away". It was a watery Bud Light and it cost me thirteen dollars.
So, with the faintest of buzzes now tingling my bloodstream, I sat in my seat listening to those ominous gunshots and it felt like I was being transported back to the late 80s or early 90s. I know this sounds weird to say, but I could feel exactly how it felt when GNR played stadiums during their heyday. I'm not sure why I say this but I kind of just felt exactly how it felt like back then. Do I sound nuts? I think I probably do. Or maybe it was just the thirteen-dollar Bud Light messing with my mind. Maybe a thirteen-dollar Bud Light has some sort of magic drug in it that takes you for a little trip. For thirteen friggin' dollars, I would hope it would have some sort of drug like that, for cry eye! I don't want to believe it's only shameless capitalism that explains the thirteen-dollar price-tag.
Anyway, as more time went by, the subwoofery gunshot sounds became more frequent and then there were even assault rifle sounds. Pretty soon, all the seats in the stadium more or less filled up and then some guys nonchalantly walked onstage with no announcement whatsoever. It was AXL, Slash, Duff and the rest! There was no big fanfare. No big, "Ladies and gentlemen - from Hollywood - Guns and fucking Roses!" Nope, there was nothing like that. Just a humble walk out onto the stage and then the crowd suddenly realized what was going on and started screaming in a delayed reaction. The scream started out low but then it started to grow and grow and grow...
I turned to Pablo and asked him what he thought they were going to open with. He said he wasn't sure but - whatever it was - he said it was going to be some loud and strong guitar with very high energy. I agreed with him about the strong guitar, but I specified that it wouldn't be normal guitar; it would be bass guitar. Oh yes. I'm sure fans of GNR know exactly what I'm getting at here...
I told Pablo my bet was on them opening with "It's So Easy".
Sure enough, Duff's familiar opening bass riffs kicked into high gear and GNR broke into "It's So Easy":
"...I see your sister in her Sunday dress
She's out to please
She pouts her best..."
I must say that - no matter how much live footage I've seen of GNR on YouTube and such - it was surreal seeing the band onstage and I mean seeing them in the real world with my own eyes and listening to their music live in its purest form (not on a pre-recorded video). There was a moment where I felt very present and in-the-moment. "This is happening," I whispered to myself. "It really is. Also...you rock, Matt. You smell nice, too."
After "It's So Easy", the drummer pretty much went right into the beginning drums for "Mr. Brownstone" and this was when the reality of what was happening sunk in even further. I was seeing GNR live! And they were playing all my favorite songs. "This is so fucking awesome!"
As AXL sang about the malicious Mr. Brownstone, my nostrils suddenly felt tickled by a skunky odor wafting its way up from the stands below. First, it started out faint and then a little stronger and then...it was wicked potent. Pablo turned to me at a certain point, gave me a look and wrinkled his nose.
"Marijuana," Pablo said.
"Yes, Pablo. Marijuana."
And we left it that. For a moment, I thought that - being the responsible adult - I should quickly remind him to just say no to drugs. But then I got distracted. Because Slash was suddenly playing some familiar-sounding guitar riffs...
The riffs were the opening to "Welcome to the Jungle", which is perhaps my favorite GNR song and probably the only GNR song I know every single lyric to. I can tell you all about how I used to sing "Welcome to the Jungle" at least once or twice a week at various karaoke bars, but I already go over all that in my (aforementioned) GNR memoir.
After "Welcome to the Jungle" came some "Use Your Illusion" tunes and even some songs from "Chinese Democracy" that I never really heard before, though they actually sounded really good.
Overall, I was surprised to see how pleasant AXL was, especially seeing that he has such a near-mythological reputation of being a difficult person. It seemed like he got to a point, like maybe five or six songs into the set, where he realized he was "feeling it" - the performance, that is. It was like he had fully warmed up and he got into a zone. And after that point you could just tell he was having a great time.
The songs that stick out the most throughout the set (for me, anyway) were "My Michelle", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and later "Nightrain". AXL's voice sounded incredible in all of these songs. What's always amazed me about AXL (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is his split-personality-like vocal range. When he's low he's really low and when you hear him sing like this you would never imagine him being able to get as high as he can. It's like Jekyll and Hyde or something. The low voice is some sort of Hyde-like demon inside of him and the high voice is Jekyll almost being held prisoner by Hyde. Yes, that IS the best way to describe it. Please don't raise your eyebrows at me.
As far as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" goes, I've never really been that huge a fan of that song. I don't know if this is because it's a cover or what, but I've just never been a huge fan. However, hearing it performed was a whole different story. AXL did a whole call and response deal where he would belt out "Knock knock knockin' on heaven's door" and then the crowd would shout it back to him. He did this about three or four times during the course of the song and he held absolutely nothing back. What amazed me is knowing that AXL knew he had a second show to do the following night. But this didn't seem to deter him from giving the performance his all, not one single bit. If he blew out his voice? Oh well. He didn't seem to give a shit.
In fact, AXL's voice was what probably impressed me the most about the whole show. I mean, I was prepared to cut him A WHOLE LOTTA slack if his voice just wasn't what it used to be. And even though it probably wasn't as good as it was when he was, like, 27-years-old, it was still really fucking good. I was pretty shocked, actually. You would have expected a voice like his that's taken so much abuse over the years - from his screams and howls and shrieks - to have been weathered. But for a 54-year-old dude who's been singing for years he sounded absolutely incredible. I don't know what he does, but he must take good care of that voice of his. He must drink a lot of tea with honey.
AXL and the rest of GUNS played for more than two hours...maybe even two and A HALF hours. It was a killer set with basically every song you would want to hear with very few exceptions. "Don't Cry" was noticeably missing from the set, but that's honestly the one main song I noticed wasn't performed. And I don't really care about "Don't Cry". I'm more of an "Appetite" fan above anything else and - now that I think of it - most of the songs from that album were played. "Welcome to the Jungle", "It's So Easy," "Nightrain", "Out Ta Get Me", "Mr. Brownstone", "Paradise City" (their closing song), "My Michelle", "Sweet Child O Mine", and "Rocket Queen". All present and accounted for.
Later into the set, a trapdoor opened in the very front of the stage and a piano rose from the pit below. Everybody hollered at the sight of the piano because they knew what song was coming up. Yep, you guessed it: "November Rain".
I actually kind of almost shed tears during "November Rain" but not because it's such a beautiful song, which it is. No, I was getting misty-eyed because it was during this song that I especially noticed how content and at-peace AXL appeared to be. You could clearly tell he was enjoying himself and he knew the show was going well. Between singing the lyrics in the song he would look down at his piano keys and he had this boyish grin on his face. It wasn't a menacing grin, nor was it smug. It was just peaceful. It seemed like he was in his happy-place, perhaps because most of the original band was once-again back together. And really, if you think about it, this was kind of a miracle. It was called the "Not in this Lifetime" tour because AXL had once said publicly that he never thought the band would get back together. "Not in this lifetime," he said. But there he was onstage again with most of the original band members. I'm sure the whole tour has been surreal for him.
That all being said, I would be full of shit if I were to say that the band members looked like they were best buds again. For the most part, they seemed to stay in their own spaces on the very big, non-intimate stage and only interact with each other on a very minimal basis. I mean, in old live videos, AXL would run around the stage, put his arm around Duff and Slash, sing into the mic with them...that kind of thing. But there wasn't much of that going on. There are clearly wounds in the band that will never completely heal. I don't know if they'll ever have that buddy-like dynamic onstage ever again...
Probably not in this lifetime, anyway.
Nevertheless, just the fact that AXL, Slash and Duff are actually back on tour with each other is miraculous enough. Even Steven Adler (as I mentioned before) played a few songs with them at a couple different shows throughout the tour (he wasn't in Foxborough, unfortunately). The only last remaining member out there is Izzy Stradlin and, as far as I know, he's not on any major bad terms with any of the members. I just think he prefers not go back to his days playing with GNR. Maybe he was traumatized by all the band drama, or maybe it was just the craziness of fame that traumatized him. Who knows.
I'm not sure if it was planned or just coincidence that - at one point during the night - Slash and the rhythm guitar player Richard Fortus did an instrumental guitar version of the Pink Floyd song "Wish You Were Here". It was a beautiful rendition and I couldn't help but wonder if it was a call for Izzy to join them onstage. I almost got a little misty-eyed during that one, too.
Before you knew it, 11 o'clock had rolled around and this was around the time when GNR played the crowd-pleasing sing-along song "Sweet Child O' Mine". At the end, AXL shouted "thank you!" and the band cleared the stage. Thinking the show was over, some people actually started to leave (ha, what idiots!) but I smelled an encore on the horizon. I leaned over to Pablo and said "They're going to play 'Paradise City'. There's no way they won't play Paradise City." Well, after a couple minutes, the band did come back onstage and actually played a four-song encore, the last song of which was, indeed, "Paradise City". And what a finale it was. There were all sorts of pyrotechnics and fireworks. Plus, it featured a guitar solo that Slash played with his guitar behind his back.
"Boston!" AXL shouted to the crowd as the song's ending came to a crescendo. "Good...fucking...night!"
And that was it. The concert was over and the band left the stage, though they did come out one more time to take a bow. They all had their arms around each other at this point, which was nice to see. It didn't even really look forced either. The drummer threw his drumsticks into the crowd and the guitarists threw their picks. I think AXL even threw his microphone.
|A photo of the merch truck (on left) I took before the concert.|
After Pablo acquired his souvenirs, we both tried to find our way back to my car, though we had difficulty retracing the same steps we took to get to the stadium. Both the train station and the dirt path were difficult to find. Nothing was lit up and I had to use the trusty flashlight feature that was on my smartphone. There were times when we were a tad concerned we would get mugged and we did pass one particular shady character at the dark, currently-out-of-operation train station that was seemingly waiting for a "night train". Fortunately, we made it back to my car in one piece and I proceeded to drive Pablo back to his host family's home in northern Natick.
I got Pablo back to his host's house by a little after one o'clock. I was back at my own house by about ten minutes before two. Not too shabby.
Overall, the night was a smooth success. Pablo was safe and sound and we had both witnessed one hell of a concert that night. It wasn't an expensive night, either. That one thirteen-dollar Bud Light made my wallet a little lighter, but what can you do? It could have been way worse.
More notably, I guess I sort of scratched something off my bucket list. I saw Guns N' Roses live, and, although it wasn't the entire band intact, it was still pretty damn close. And probably as close as I was ever going to get.
As fun a night as it was, though, there's still one thing that's kind of vexing me. I'm still wondering why I couldn't keep the cap to my four-dollar water bottle. I should have asked more questions. I had a right to know.