Guns N' Roses play at The Palace of Auburn Hills near Detroit Dec. 1, 2011. (Photo Credit: Guns N' Roses)
Usually when a band downsizes from arenas to clubs it's a sign that things are not going well. But when that band is Axl Rose's Guns N' Roses and they interrupt their never-ending world tour of big rooms to give fans a special treat with their first-ever Las Vegas residency, well, that's a good thing.
The legendary rock band will headline the aptly named “Appetite for Democracy” series at the 4,000-capacity Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Vegas for 12 shows that will run from Oct. 31—Nov. 24. GNR will perform a nightly gig comprised of a set list formulated exclusively for the Joint, spanning hits from their landmark 1987 debut, “Appetite for Destruction,” to their most recent effort, 2008's “Chinese Democracy.”
The gigs came together thanks to a combination of factors, according to Paul Davis, vice president of Entertainment at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. “We do shows based on building a relationship and they [Guns] played New Year's Eve weekend and then the Mötley Crüe residency [at the Hard Rock] caught their eye,” he said of a three-week stint by fellow hard rock legends in early 2012. “That piqued the interest of their agent and manager and it stirred up conversation, so we started talking several months ago.”
Tickets for the run go on sale Aug. 17 and are priced at an affordable $45 plus fees for GA balcony-level spots (and $65 seated balcony) and are tiered to $85 for GA floor spots, $115 for Orchestra, $129.50 for tables and $179.50 for suites. Davis noted that the farthest seat from the stage in the entire venue is only 170 feet. After kicking off on Halloween, the concerts will take place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights throughout November, including a Sunday night show on Nov. 18.
Davis said GNR, which features sole founding member Axl Rose, come into the residency with “open eyes,” explaining that if you count the total available seats over the run (in excess of 40,000), the booking has to offer something for the veteran act besides a payday. “It has to be something the band wants to do careerwise to make a statement,” he said. “When they come in they will take the property over for a month and we will convert the whole property over to a brand for the artist, just like we did with Mötley.”
That means that when you arrive at Hard Rock there will be “no question” that it is a GNR takeover, from specialty drinks and menu items to custom felt on the craps tables, branded door hangers, custom ash tray stamps with the band's logo, GNR-branded phone greetings and signage as far as the eye can see.
In addition, though he wouldn't discuss the payday, Davis said there is a financial upside for the band, since they can lower expenses by cutting down on travel and road costs. “They don't have to bear the rigors of touring and being in a different city every night,” he said. “They can chill out and work on other things.”
One of the advantages of playing Vegas is that, unlike any other market in the nation, the population turns over every few days, meaning there are fresh faces to sell to several times a week. “The people who are there on Wednesday won't be there on Friday or Saturday,” said Bobby Reynolds, vice president of booking at AEG Live, Las Vegas. “With the Mötley residency we learned that there's a sweet spot at Hard Rock with 12 shows, maybe even less, and the Guns and Mötley demo are very similar, so we think this is the right number.”
Reynolds would not discuss Guns' guarantee for the run, but he said the cost savings of not being on the road definitely factors in and the final number is “pretty close” to what the band would make grinding it out in arenas. “I think a lot of artists want to pursue this kind of thing, especially with a commitment that isn't so overwhelming,” he said. “You find out if you like it, if you like being in Vegas for a month at a time. It's a nice change for them to call a place home for a minute, get a ton of branding – you won't get that kind of branding at an arena – and they will be fully embraced by the property.”
The proximity to Los Angeles means that the group could potentially pull in some special guests and, at show time, the band can simply take an elevator down to the venue and be assured of playing to a totally different audience every night.
In a city known for home stands by the likes of Elton John, Celine Dion and Bette Midler, The Joint has made a name for itself with a series of rock residencies, beginning in 2009 with a two-year stint by Grammy-winning guitar god Santana. The venue has also hosted a monthly residency by superstar electronic DJ and producer Tiësto that kicked off in 2010 and the early 2012 string of shows by Guns' fellow Los Angeles hard rock pals in the Crüe.
“I think the stigma [of playing Las Vegas] has been put to rest for a long time,” he said of the fading image of the Strip as a place for artists past their prime playing showcase rooms for pensioners. “Vegas is a cool city, the shows at the Caesars Palace Colosseum are great, Cirque has great shows, there are nightclubs and we have some other shows [in the works] that will further separate from that stigma.”
Noting that Kenny Chesney brought his full stadium setup to the Joint when he played there, Reynolds was confident that the still-in-the-works staging plan for GNR will be unique, pack plenty of pyro and be something that will wow longtime fans used to over-the-top excess in basketball arenas.
“Clearly my job is to fill dates on the calendar and when you're running a building like The Joint you don't have the luxury of an in-house hockey or basketball team and we don't do family shows, so you have to look for ways to fill as many dates as you can,” said Davis of the push to find new and unique residencies. “When we started with Santana it piqued a lot of interest in the industry, but it takes a special combination of artist, brand and ticket-selling ability to make it work.”
And while he knows there are no guaranteed layups in the industry, he expects the majority of the shows to sell out. Davis figures 30-50 percent of ticket buyers will be local, with some heavy viral marketing hitting the Southern California market, as well as online appeals aimed at the band's huge international following. “We're being aggressive with the marketing plan and leaving no stone unturned.”
Contacted for this story: Paul Davis, (702) 693-4099; Bobby Reynolds, (323) 900-3833