Sunday, September 24, 2006

Axl and Alice and Muse, OH MY! 

I'm fairly certain that I went to the best concert of my life yesterday. Actually, there's no "fairly" about it. Certainly the best. And there were a host of shitty opening acts, too!

As I've mentioned here before, yesterday, I went to KROQ's Inland Invasion. It's an all-day music fest and this year's headlining acts hadn't performed in quite some time: Alice in Chains and Guns N' Roses. But it had an auspicious start. First off, the venue (Hyundai Pavillion) is a good hour and twenty away from anything, nestled in an orifice of Rancho Cucamunga or Upland or one of those Inland Empire dumps. Before we even parked, I made up my mind to never come back out here again unless it was for a really really special reason (so probably never). Arriving at about 4:30 p.m. we were fortunate enough to miss a few of the lousy KROQ acts, but not all.

30 Seconds to Mars - Actor Jared Leto has a band. Someone should take it away from him.

Papa Roach - I don't really like their music, but I have to admit that they weren't half bad as performers. Very spirited and unabashedly honest about who they are. It's just that it was Papa Roach.

Avenged Sevenfold - Do I even want to waste time writing about these meatheads? They're stunningly awful. With cries to the audience of "I want you to kill eachother (mosh and whatnot)," it's not hard to figure out that their fanbase is amazingly stupid. There were video monitors screened on the stage behind the bands. Everyone had trippy graphics except for Avenged who chose to show their own music videos. If someone told these knuckle-dragging screamers that they could make a video just purely of them masturbating, they would. So in love with themselves.

The highlight of this early session was unquestionably a couple of dolts sprinting for their lives behind us, tearing across the entire lawn and chased by at least a dozen security guards. It was more like a train of security guards, as, funnily enough, they were sprinting in single file. So these dozen security guards finally catch up to the two trouble-makers, beat them down, 'cuff 'em, and escort them out. That was better than anything that had been on stage to that point.

Then it was the headliners' turn. This is the point in the evening, about 7:30ish, where I started cheering.

MUSE - Very little crowd interaction, but damn it, they didn't need it. They flawlessly and brilliantly played, blasting through their set. So skilled, so talented. Unreal transfer from recording to live performance. They fucking rocked! I'm sure we've all heard the knock, 'Radiohead with guitars,' but Muse is so much better than that condescending label. I hope all the preceding bands took note.

ALICE IN CHAINS - AHHHH! They said it would never happen again after Layne Staley died, but AIC has returned and, stunningly, they sound as though they haven't missed a beat. They're as good as ever. They acquired a new singer, whose name I don't know, and the guy is an exact match of Staley's voice. Absolutely spot-on. To hear a recording of each, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Hardly any theatrics, just the straight-up rock that Alice in Chains is known for. The set included "Dem Bones," "Damn that River," "Heaven Beside You," "Angry Chair," "No Excuses," and "Rooster." They closed with "Would?" but the highlight of the set was undoubtedly when they brought special guest Chester from Linkin Park out to sing "Man in the Box." Chester from Linkin Park? That's a KROQ exec pulling the strings, no doubt, because no AIC fan, myself included, could give a damn. But "Man in the Box" was the highlight because every single person there, I'd say at least 2,500 - 3,000, sang along at full blast. So impressive was the crowd performance that we couldn't even hear Chester and I'd say that no one was complaining about that. This was only AIC's second show since returning and, again, they sounded just amazing. You'd never know they've been off for so long. Everyone was blown away.

When Alice in Chains finished their set, it was 9:15 and there was a scheduled break of about 45 minutes for people to run to the bathroom, get refreshments, whatever while the stage set was changed. G N' R was slated to come on at 10:00. The layout of the venue was very simple. A proscenium stage with two tiers of seating. Closest to the stage were "the seats," premium seating. Towards the back was the lawn, general admission. In between the two was a walkway divide that security could patrol, as each section was fenced off. For the benefit of those in the back, KROQ provided jumbotron screens that showed up close what was happening on stage. During the intermissions, though, they would show music videos. The problem is, they only brought about seven videos. This turned out to be a major problem during the wait between AIC and G N' R.

Anyone who is anyone knows that Guns N' Roses were known least of all for their punctuality. But after a long day in the sun and massive consumption of alcohol, not many in the crowd were receptive. 10 pm came and went and everything on the stage seemed to be set to go. 10:15... 10:20... and all the while, the same few music videos are blaring throughout the pavillion. When they looped for the third time, the crowd began to get powerfully unruly. Sitting on the lawn, you also happen to be amid a lot of trash. At concerts, those lead to trash fires. Several of them! Just behind me we could both see and inhale the burning plastics. Mmm... noxious... But that wasn't even the best part. Shitty music over the p.a. and a never-ending wait lead to groans. Those groans turned to boos. Soon enough, those boos turned to projectile launching. Remember the Seats and the Lawn? The haves and have nots? Well, they went to war. Some jackass lobbed a water bottle into the lawn section. This prompted retaliation and before you could say, "Avenged Sevenfold sucks," trash was flying all over the sky. It was fun! You had to have your head on a swivel, but it was pretty hilarious. Trash and water bottles became FULL water bottles and the stakes were raised a little further. One guy on my side (the Lawns), a burly Hispanic guy, not wearing a shirt, about 25, and decked out with a mohawk, rushes to the front, cheering, "Yeah! Bring it! Me too! I want in!" He was just a funny looking character to begin with and he was just so excited. Moments after he charged forward -- THUNK! He catches a water bottle thrown by the enemy. "YEAH!!!" It's not just Mohawk who is cheering, everyone on the lawn was going apeshit. Our guy just intercepted a bomb and we (especially him) were busting with elation. He then fires it back at the seats and pegs some guy straight on in the head. Another roar from the crowd followed by a chant of "Fuck the Seats!" Soon, security tries to impose their will and break up the chaos, but they weren't very effective. The shitty KROQ music is still blaring over the speakers and then, in a moment of pure Westside Story, the Lawns and Seats became Sharks and Jets. "Chop Suey" by System of a Down (another regrettable band) was playing. After the halting ruckus portion of the song is over and it segues into that pretty chorus, the Lawns and Seats showed down, arms extended out, and sang to eachother. A chorus of "Chop Suey" between two warring factions while plastic bombs were still being lobbed at either side... you can't make this stuff up, people. That carried on for a few minutes more and then...


Everyone quits the war and immediately goes balistic! No mistaking that one single chord. Everyone knew what it was. The whole place goes dark. Ba-na-da-nananana... Ba-na-da-nananana... There's only one song that that guitar chord leads to. And then, in the darkness...

"DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE FUCK YOU ARE?!" Boom! Pyrotechnics light up the stage and there's Axl Rose rocking the shit out of "Welcome to the Jungle." It's 10:50 and the main event is finally underway, off and running. After that intro, the set continued:
- It's So Easy
- Mr. Brownstone (Signs of Axl's age first showed here. No one can tear up their voice like that and expect to be intact.)
- Live and Let Die
- Sweet Child O'Mine
- Knockin' On Heaven's Door
- You Could Be Mine
To prolong Axl's voice and make it last, Axl introduced each member of the band -- Robin Fink from Nine Inch Nails, Tommy Stinson from The Replacements, Brain from Primus, Dizzy Reed, and the other two guitarists whose names I can't remember. Sporadically, throughout the show, he would introduce them between songs and each would solo on their instrument. Extended solo. The point was two-fold, 1) Give Axl a chance to catch his breath and 2) show the world that each one of these "new" members fucking rock at what they do.
- Out To Get Me
- November Rain
- My Michelle (duet w/ special guest SEBASTIAN BACH!! 15 years ago, could you ever possibly imagine?!?)
- Don't Cry (guitar only!! One of the extended solos. What balls to carry this song off without lyrical accompaniment.)
- Patience
- Night Train (end of set -- wink)
Mixed in there was one song, the title of which I don't remember, from Chinese Democracy and both of the new tracks that were leaked onto the internet. Couldn't tell you what those were called either, but they sound right about like what you'd expect the natural progression of Guns N' Roses, in the year 2006, to be. Satisfying. Also, one of the musical solos transformed into a guitar faceoff which then segued into Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." People didn't realize it until the notable chorus, but it was incredibly pretty. Style points from end-to-end. I lost my voice during "Out To Get Me" which was ONE HOUR into their set. They would playing for two hours and fifteen minutes. 2hr 15min. YO!
- another song from Chinese Democracy
- Paradise City
There was a curtain call to follow. Again, 2 hours and 15 minutes of brilliance. The band had two warmup gigs in New York before touring in Europe, but this show last night in Southern California marked their official return to the American music scene. Gone were the images of four years ago when Axl and a rag-tag bunch surprised the MTV Music Awards, only to disappoint on every level imaginable. That performance was embarrasing. But last night? That was a different group. The new G N' R is a lean music machine, concerned as much with showmanship and they are with attitude. It was a committed performance. Electric. Axl will never be able to race through lyrics like he did before and the image of him that we all remember will forever remain in memory, but all other parts of the group were tip-top. And as the group took a bow, Axl had some inspiring parting words for the crowd. He was happy, smiling ear-to-ear, proclaiming how indebted he was to the fans for spurring this comeback and how committed the group is to making performances like tonight's a regular thing. It might sound cheesy, but it felt historical to me. The one-time biggest band in the world is back. Seeing them in concert is an experience I was certain had passed by long, long ago. But now, I can joyfully cross it off my list of things to do before I die.

Can you believe these tickets were a mere $35? I was dead on my feet by the time the show was over, but obviously, it was worth every penny. Best concert ever.

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