Come gather around children and I’ll take you away to a mystical time called ‘the early 90’s’ and I’ll regale you with a tale of one of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever attended…Guns n Roses at Calder Park.
The early 90’s were a very different time. Your ability to get good concert seats was determined by your willingness to sleep out in the carpark of Doncaster Shopping Town rather than by the speed of your internet connection. Young men in Commodores blasted heavy metal out of their speakers and felt nothing but disgust for people playing doofy dance music. And the hottest ticket in town was Guns n Roses. I had done the requisite wait in the cold at Doncaster and had got my ticket, and was pretty much like Charlie on his way to the chocolate factory (however I did not have some octogenarian tagging along for the ride).
I was 17 and was going to start Year 12 the next day…so the concert had a real ‘final fling’ feel to it, and I was a pretty massive Guns n Roses fan. So the fact that we had to wait for about 2 hours in the city to get a bus out to Calder Park in 38 degree heat didn’t seem like such a problem. Similarly, when we arrived at Calder Park and security threw out all of the food and drink I had brought with me (a packet of Monte Carlo biscuits and an eggflip BigM) I was willing to tolerate it…after all, surely there would be food inside…and I had mistakenly purchased the eggflip BigM because the yellow ‘M’ looked like the yellow ‘M’ on the banana BigM. What wasn’t so good, was that somehow during all of the bag searches and pocket emptying, my ticket had disappeared. The ticket I had spent cold hours of the morning lining up for, the ticket that a scalper had offered $100 (roughly equivalent to $1.3Billion in today’s money) for just 10 minutes ago was gone! It was hot, it was windy, and I suddenly had to face the reality that I may be heading home without even entering Calder Park.
Just then, I saw a spindly tree about 20 meters away, and wedged in the fork of one of its branches WAS MY TICKET! It must have blown off the table when I emptied my pockets. I bolted over and grabbed it before it blew any further and walked into Calder Park.
The support acts
From memory Rose Tattoo were the first band to play…but I don’t really remember because I spent their entire set lining up for some food from one of the 3 food vans that were there. There were at least 10,000 people in the ‘A reserved section’ where I was (the remaining 60,000 were restrained behind a cement barrier) and none of us were allowed to bring in any food or drink…so yeah…I reckon 3 food vans with 3 people working in them was just about right.
Next up were SkidRow. From all accounts when the lead singer (Sebastian Bach) did the triumphant hands in the air salute to the crowd after one of their bigger songs, the drummer snuck up behind him and pantsed him…and I think the guitarist was heading off to join the army and so had his long ‘metal’ locks shaved off on stage. I say ‘from all accounts’ because I was back at the food van explaining that my dim-sims were still frozen in the center, and that I would kind of like some cooked ones.
We had already sweltered in close to 40 degree temperatures for most of the day…then an enormous wind storm came through. I can still vividly remember all of the people on one of the hills at Calder Park throwing their polystyrene cups in the air and the wind catching them and creating swarms of white cups…ah, then I think a few people threw some plastic chairs…which only flew a few meters…and didn’t end so well.
Fortunately the wind storm only lasted for about 10 minutes…not so fortunately we then got rained upon from a great height for about half an hour. It was an absolute deluge, and suddenly the guy selling ponchos for $5 who I had laughed at during the extreme heat, seemed like a freaking genius.
Then the lightning started.
Legend has it that the reason the gig was out at Calder Park was that Axl Rose (the enigmatic lead singer) had been told by his clairvoyant that if he ever played in a town starting with ‘M’ then he would die. Technically Calder Park was outside of Melbourne at that stage…but the wind, rain, lightning and massive scaffold structure, probably had Axl checking a few local council boundaries.
The actual gig
By about 6pm we had gone from stinking hot in shorts and t-shirts, to drenched in shorts and t-shirts…and then inevitably cold and wet in shorts and t-shirts. The only water we had access to had come from the sky, we hadn’t eaten, and Angry Anserson hadn’t even arrived in the Batmobile as he had done at the 91 Grand Final. So I think it’s fair to say that the general consensus amongst the crowd was ‘Well I sure hope Gunners put on a good show…or we are going the riot the bejesus out of this place!’
Well they did put on an awesome show. They played songs off their new double album, songs off Appetite for Destruction and even a Misfits cover. They were freaking awesome! My personal highlight was when Axl threw his wireless microphone out into the crowd. There was at least a 5 second delay between him throwing the mic and the sound engineer turning the signal off. So you got to hear the mic sail through the air end on end, then land in the crowd…then the sounds of at least 8 bogans beating eight shades of shit out of each other in order to get it. It was beautiful.
Then after an encore of ‘Paradise City’, the gig was over.
We walked back to where the buses had dropped us off, only to find that the buses taking us home were in fact on the other side of Calder Park. Then we heard that all of the buses were full and had gone.
So we all started walking along the Calder Freeway back to Melbourne. It’s hard to describe the sight quite of 10,000 thousand sunburnt, damp, hungry and exhausted bogans walking along a the side of highway. But if anyone has seen the episode of the Walking Dead where all of the zombies were walking along the highway…you’ve got a pretty good reference point.
Some of my strongest memories of the walk were:
- seeing a guy in a Mr. Whippy can auction his final can of soft drink, for about 15 times more than he would normally have charged
- hundreds of people converging on the BP in Taylor’s Lakes, and simply eating the food right off the shelves…as a helpless service station attendant just looked on
- spending my last 30c on a phone call to my Dad to come and pick me up.
So Guns n Roses are back in town…do I think this could all happen again?
Not really…and if it did, there would be so much righteous indignation and whining on social media, the internet would probably need a cup of tea and a lie down.
But I’m so glad that it did…and that I was part of it.
And if I have one last parting piece of advice I wish I could have passed on to myself, it’s that spending all day in the sun headbanging leads to a both sunburnt and very sore neck…but no matter how sore your neck muscles are, forgetting you’re sunburnt and rubbing deep heat in is a really, really, really bad idea.