I love to see great up-and-coming rock bands play live in a small club, up close and personal, before they get huge and only play arenas and stadiums. On June 8th of 1985 I witnessed the band Guns N’ Roses play in Seattle, Washington at a small rock club called the Gorilla Gardens. It was Guns N’ Roses first show in Seattle, their first official “tour” (albeit a short one), and just their second show with the classic line up of Axl Rose, Duff McKagen, Steven Adler, Izzy Sradlin, and Slash. According to the book Watch You Bleed: the Saga of Guns N’ Roses, original guitarist Tracii Guns and the original drummer quit the band just three days before they were set to embark on this short jaunt to Seattle, but they got Slash and Steven Adler (who had been trying to put together a band of their own at the time) to replace them.
Duff McKagen was a well known Seattle rock musician back in the day before he relocated to California to make it big. He was an active musician in the Seattle underground punk rock scene and had played drums or guitar for countless Seattle punk rock bands in the early 1980s, bands such as the Fastbacks, Cannibal, the Fartz, Ten Minute Warning, and scores more. At the same time I myself was a budding punk rocker just getting into the scene and looking to join my first punk rock band as a bass player. I first met Duff when I auditioned for his band Ten Minute Warning (I didn’t get the gig) and would see him at all the punk rock shows and parties. In 1984 or so Duff made the move down to Los Angeles to get into the L.A. music scene and that, of course, is when rock history was made and he joined up with Guns N’ Roses.
I remember seeing fliers posted around Seattle advertising the Guns N’ Roses show at the Gorilla Gardens. The flier said “GUNS AND ROSES… FEATURING EX-TEN MINUTE WARNING MEMBER DUFF McKAGEN…. WITH THE FASTBACKS…SAT. JUNE 8…ROCK THEATER.” The Gorilla Gardens was a pretty cool all ages rock club located in the Chinatown district of Seattle. It was a decent sized venue which featured two show rooms. One, the Omni Room, was where they had the punk rock bands play. The other room, the Rock Theater (the room in which GNR played) was where the heavy metal bands played. On weekend nights when there were shows going on in both rooms there used to be fights outside the club between the punk rockers and the heavy metalers, as back then they did not get along so well. My own band played the Gorilla Gardens several times and it was a big part of the scene in 1985 as there were not too many other places at the time where punk rock bands could play.
According to the book Watch You Bleed: the Saga of Guns N’ Roses, the members of Guns N” Roses made the trip up to Seattle in one vehicle while roadies drove their gear up in a second vehicle. Unfortunately, both vehicles broke down on the way and Guns N’ Rose had to hitch hike the rest of the way to Seattle only to find out their gear did not make it. Seattle band the Fastbacks were also on the bill so Guns N” Roses used their drums and amps for the night.
I went to the show with my girl friend and my room mate Slats (who was a good friend of Duff’s and a local punk rock musician/character). While the opening bands played we drank in the bar next door to the club but made our way into the Rock Theater in time to see Guns N’ Roses play. I’ve read in books and on other websites that only 10-20 people attended the show, but as I recall the crowd was maybe 20-30 people in attendance. It was a much smaller crowd then expected, after all — this was Duff’s first show with his new band from L.A. and he did have a lot of friends in Seattle.
All I really remember about the Guns N” Rose show at the Gorilla Gardens (besides the smallish crowd) was that Duff was wearing some sort of Japanese kimono (which looked pretty cool) and paced back and forth near the drum set while playing his bass. I recall one of the guitar players was wearing a black top hat (must have been Slash) and one resembled Johnny Thunders (must have been Izzy). The singer (Axl Rose, of course) looked to me like Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, with the same long, straight hair. My impression of Axl was that he was trying to be Bruce Dickinson, actually. We watched the entire set a mere ten feet in front of the stage and got a good look and listen to this band who would, just a short time later, become the hugest rock band in America. To tell the truth, I do not recall which songs they played that night except that I believe they played an Aerosmith cover or two. None of the songs really stood out to me that much, but they seemed to play okay and definitely had the “rock star” look down. Most of our friends who attended the show did not seem to be too impressed, but it was still a fun show.
After the show was over, we drove back home to our house on Capital Hill only to find 20-30 people (pretty much everyone from the show) standing on our front lawn. Apparently, my room mate told a few people at the show we were having a party that night and everyone showed up, including the members of Guns N’ Roses. The lease was in my name and the landlords lived right next door (they hated us and kicked us out after our six month lease expired) but what the heck… we let the punk rockers in and cranked up some music and drank some beers.
I played DJay and cranked some punk rock music while our guests partied down. The party didn’t last too long, however. A fight broke out in the living room and then spilled outside to the front yard. People were yelling a and screaming. Some crazy punk rocker had a gun and started firing shots into the air while the fight continued. Soon the police showed up in force responding to reports of gun shots and dispersed the crowd. I, of course, had to talk to the police and explain the situation (I told them someone lit firecrackers). The party was over.
Supposedly, Guns N’ Roses was only paid $50 for their show in Seattle (they were supposed to get $300) and all the other shows they had booked were canceled since they had no gear. They had to bum a ride back to Hollywood and this little “Hell Tour” of theirs was inspiration for the song “Paradise City.” Take me back to the Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty… oh, please, take me home… This was the only time I ever saw Guns N’ Roses play, as the next time they played in Seattle they were huge and only played arenas.