ONE can almost visualise groups of youngsters in black T-shirts walking back towards their cars, humming ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ or playing air guitar to ‘November Rain’ around 10 pm the following Sunday, December 9. American hard rock monsters Guns N’ Roses would have just completed their gig at the MMRDA grounds, Mumbai, having done Bangalore on December 7, before heading to Gurgaon on December 12.
This would be the band’s first visit to India, a good quarter century after they hit the global rock headlines with their debut album Appetite For Destruction. While a section of people may complain that vocalist Axl Rose is the only surviving member from the original line-up, and that super-guitarist Slash won’t be here, this would surely be an experience of a lifetime for those who’ve grown up on GNR. And there are many of them.
What one will definitely get is a strong set-list. Besides the two songs mentioned above, GNR has a number of hits like ‘Paradise City’, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Patience’, ‘Civil War’, ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Mr Brownstone’, ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Street of Dreams’ and even covers of Aerosmith’s ‘Mama Kin’, Nazareth’s ‘Hair of the Dog’, Paul McCartney & the Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’. Assuming they’ll render most of these songs, we should have a rocking show.
One actually fails to understand this brouhaha about Slash’s absence. Obviously, those who’re using that as an excuse to stay away know little about the band, except for a couple of videos they’ve probably seen years ago, showing Slash in his trademark hat, face hidden by his hair, biceps bulging, tattoos showing, guitar dazzling and riffs overflowing.
Undoubtedly, Slash is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and was part of the group’s fame in the late 80s and early 90s, even visiting India alone for the MTV launch in Bangalore in 1996. But he left the group some 16 years ago, and has moved on with solo projects or new bands like Velvet Revolver. And though GNR had a long break through the mid-90s, they’ve been touring without Slash for almost 14 years, with Axl pretty much dominating the affairs.
If one looks at the history of rock, line-up changes have been part of many well-known groups, including Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson was out of Iron Maiden for nearly nine years, but the group went on till he returned in 1999. Roger Waters quit Pink Floyd in 1985, but the band continued, and Waters himself continued to do shows featuring Floyd songs. The guitarists of his band, including Snowy White and Doyle Bramhall II, continued to play riffs all of us identify with David Gilmour.
Take Deep Purple too. Ritchie Blackmore was the star guitarist of Deep Purple, and was in and out till he finally quit in 1993. After his departure, Steve Morse continued where he left off. Keyboardist Jon Lord gave a distinct sound to this group, but after he parted ways in 2002, the band had a replacement in Don Airey. Such examples abound, and just show that much as individual members have contributed to a band’s success, their departure does not stop the band from progressing further.
The same may be the case with GNR. The current line-up features, besides Axl Rose, guitarists DJ Ashba and Ron Thal, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, bassist Tommy Stinson, rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. Barring Ashba who joined in 2009, all members have been with the band for at least six years, with Dizzy Reed being around since the Use Your Illusion 1 album days in the early 90s.
Yes, a large number of fans will be more familiar with older GNR musicians like Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, rhythm guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke, and drummers Steven Adler and Matt Sorum. But the good thing about the current line-up is that barring Axl and maybe Dizzy, one may not look at the others with much expectation. Because of this, it’s quite likely that a couple of them may spring a surprise.
Such a thing has happened in India quite a few times. When the Scorpions first came to Bangalore around 11 or 12 years ago, the known names were vocalist Klaus Meine, and guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs. But the man who was a total revelation was unheard-of young drummer James Kottak. Very recently, when Santana played in Bangalore, one was impressed by newer performers like keyboardist David Matthews, drummer Dennis Chambers (more known in the jazz field), percussionist Raul Rekow and trombonist Jeff Cressman, though most fans are more familiar with the older band members who played at Woodstock in 1969.
The great thing, of course, is that suddenly, a lot of rock bands are coming to India. Besides Santana and GNR this year, we’ve had Megadeth, Slayer and Korn doing open-air concerts, and Poets Of The Fall and Third Eye Blind doing the Hard Rock Café rounds. Last year, Metallica played in Bangalore, though their Gurgaon show was sadly cancelled at the last minute. Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Roger Waters, Jethro Tull, Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Mark Knopfler, Elton John, Aerosmith, Joe Satriani, America, Machine Head, Saving Abel and INXS are among those who’ve played over the past decade. Over the next few months, more acts are reported to be in the offing, though details are awaited.
Mumbai, sadly, has a disadvantage in that the entertainment tax is pegged at a whopping 25 per cent, compared to 10 per cent in Bangalore and Gurgaon. That’s the main reason why most shows go to other cities, as things become more feasible for concert organisers. Hopefully, the Maharashtra state government will do something to bring more rock entertainment to the country’s entertainment capital by fixing a reasonable tax structure.
Finally, a few people may argue that many bands are coming to India well after they’ve past their prime, or that they’ve seen better shows in New York or London 20 years ago. But one must also consider the fact that the market in India has opened up considerably in the past few years, and it’s great to see all the great bands come one after the other. Axl Rose may have aged, like all musicians, but he’s still very much a rockstar.
Guns N’ Roses is being presented by Mooz Entertainment in Bangalore on December 7, Mumbai on December 9 and Gurgaon on December 12