The Axl Effect

The Axl Effect

(Story previously published at  

For as long as I can remember, I’ve doled out dollars to take in concerts. This first started in ninth grade, with Streetheart and Aldo Nova rocking the old Winnipeg Arena. Back then, our gaggle of junior high pals were the babies in the crowd, hanging with the old people and breaking curfew to catch the end of the show.

Today, many of the babies in the crowd are old enough to be my offspring, and my concert-going friends are nearing old people status. But there’s still nothing like breaking curfew and staying out much too late on a Monday night for the sake of rock ‘n roll…

I’ve waited years to see Guns N’ Roses, never thinking I’d actually get the chance. Rumours and reports over the years have painted lead man Axl Rose as temperamental and unpredictable. He’s been known to walk off stages early, or even show up for gigs too ‘stimulated’ to play. Providing he even shows up at all. It’s considered a long shot to get a good show out of Axl Rose. So I figured I’d long since missed my chance.

A “head-banger” in high school with big 80’s hair and a heavy metal habit, oddly enough, I started listening to Guns N’ Roses years after their heyday. Long after touring had ceased. Television documentaries revealed differing perspectives about the band, while mail-order music clubs offered complete catalogues. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I became a fan. With no hope of ever seeing them play live.

Until one day it was announced that Guns N’ Roses were touring again – and coming to town! I was going to get to see them once in my life.

Of course the ‘nay-sayers’ piped up immediately. It’s not the real band. It’s only Axl Rose. It’s not this. It’s going to be that. He’s not going to show up. It’s gonna start at midnight. And so on. Nay-saying aside, I was willing to take the chance and hooked up with an old high school friend to venture out in near 30-below weather to see what the night – and Axl – would bring.

The crowd was a good mix of young and old, big and small, weird and nerdy. All shared one thing in common – craving a good night of rock ‘n roll. Collectively hoping for a show. Hanging around the concourse between opening acts was half the fun, where we ran into other friends we hadn’t seen since high school. It was a blast from the past, sharing laughs and stories, and eagerly awaiting what was to come. Or perhaps what wasn’t.

No one was sure what time Axl would hit the stage, but midnight was the speculation. It was rumoured he was for sure in the building, because members of the Winnipeg Police Service had escorted him to the venue. Regardless if that was true or not, the gossip added to the growing mystique and uncertainty. Would he decide to play tonite??

Finally, the lights went down and the crowd began to roar. We abandoned our concourse clan and rushed inside to the blackness of our seats. On the way up – and I mean waaaaay up – the familiar opening chords of Welcome to the Jungle began to reverberate behind us. We were gonna get a show!

Back at home-base, with only a handful of rows between us and the rafters, we had a terrific birds-eye view of the stage and pulsating crowd below. Smoke wafted in the air up there, as everyone jumped to their feet to claim some prime dancing real estate. It was midnight. And the party had just begun.

It was apparent right off the top that Axl was in fine form – his voice belting out the tunes, driving each note home. He nailed every vocal nuance, even adding a few new ones along the way. He was so totally ON, and gave our ears exactly what they expected.

Guns N’ Roses!

The musicians who roamed the stage were spectacular – younger guys who undoubtedly grew up influenced by Guns N’ Roses, now backing up Axl. Two lead guitarists added his flair and style to the songs, freshly filling out that GN’R sound while keeping true to the classic flavour, and alternating stints of body surfing along front row fans. These guitarists were living their dream. And you could tell.

It appeared so was Axl, right there in front of our eyes, all the time groovin’ and shaking, sliding and shimmying along the stage, dancing and kicking in time to the timeless tunes. His moves were mesmerizing, his energy nothing short of energizing.

He played just about every GN’R hit you could want to hear, and then some. All of my favourites were on the song-list, including the infectious Mr. Brownstone, and Dylan ballad Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. He even drew from more obscure tunes like Used To Love Her (But I Had To Kill Her) – a favourite that got the entire crowd singing along. At one point, Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys joined the band onstage – not something I expected to see in a billion years – performing a harmonious little number with Axl and Sebastian Bach. It was bizarre and hilarious. And far from over.

The pyrotechnics continued into the wee hours, while the band played on and on, and on some more. One gem after another, each one better than the last. The entire crowd of 11,000 was up dancing through most of it, loving every minute of it.

But sadly, as Axl sings in November Rain, “nothing lasts forever” and the music finally stopped at 2:15am – nearly two-and-a-half hours of full-on music later. If there was a full-on Guns N’ Roses show to be had, I’m sure Winnipeg got it.

Those who braved the cold and cash and dared to break curfew were treated to an extraordinarily unforgettable performance. Axl absolutely delivered. And so did Winnipeg – giving him such a “warm welcome” he walked back out on stage at the end of it all declaring “you people are amazing! Good f***ing night!”

Indeed it was.

Winnipeg showed Axl a good f***ing time, giving him an adulating audience with undivided attention. Who knows, maybe it provided him the opportunity to fall in love with entertaining all over again. From my vantage point, it sure looked like he did. And watching it happen was magic. I was thoroughly rocked.

Rumours and perceptions of Axl Rose aside, perhaps playing our frigidly cold fair city reignited his spark for the stage, rekindled a passion for performing. Maybe playing Winnipeg restored a little bit of Axl’s own faith in rock n’ roll.

He certainly restored mine.