Inside Guns N' Roses' Massive, 250-Person Stage Production

Glendale has been renamed for one day.EXPAND
Glendale has been renamed for one day.
Jim Louvau

Between a Clinton running for president, a new Star Wars flick, and the Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” tour, you’d be right to wonder what decade this is.

Maybe “How Many Times In This Lifetime?” would have been a more appropriate tour, though it certainly packs less of a punch.

These are indeed confusing times, but you’re definitely living in the past if you think rock 'n' roll excess hit its peak during the heyday of elaborate stage setups à la Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes.

Today, Guns N' Roses will convert the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale into “Paradise City” and their stage production is baffling, bigger than Axl Rose’s personality, keeping hundreds of people employed. While a press conference with the band would have been great, we also know better than to have expectations of Guns N’ Roses. No one expected Axl to finish Chinese Democracy, no one expected a 2016 reuniting of Axl, Slash, and Duff McKagan, and no one expects Axl to show up on time. why should we have expected a traditional press conference?

Instead, the tour’s production manager, Dale “Opie” Skjerseth, met with the press on Sunday for a brief look behind the scenes and into the massive amount of work that goes into pulling off a show like this.

Skjerseth lives in Phoenix, though you’d never know it by how much time he spends on the road. Between traveling with Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, and other big stadium tours, his plate is constantly full and his road crew, consisting of 125 people, might as well be his second family. Between that crew and another 125 locals at each stop, it takes about 36 hours to prepare the stage. Yes, a lot of hands are necessary in unloading and erecting the contents of 20 production trucks and 16 steel trucks. In fact, it takes 8 to 10 hours just to unload the aforementioned steel trucks.

But according to Skjerseth, the most elaborate part of the setup isn’t the amount of steel, but rather the interactive video display. Three large screens (left, right, and center) incorporate graphics and sync with the band's every move, ensuring that there’s not a bad seat in the house. Let’s not forget that the crew travels with 106 speaker cabinets, 300 lights, and according to Skjerseth, “enough power for a small village.”

When all is said and done, this is just one of three different stage setups that they’ll have used on this tour. Taking all this into account, as well as an elaborate pyrotechnics display each night, suddenly a crew of 250 people feels more and more necessary. Skjerseth is pretty confident though, noting that University of Phoenix Stadium is one of the easiest buildings to work in. 

“It’s probably the best in America. The grass is gone, and we drive the trucks right into the building. It’s easy to work with, and everyone here is very welcoming. It’s state of the art, and there’s no other like it,” he says.

He also seems happy to be back home and sleeping in his own bed, even if it’s only for three days. After this, he’ll continue on tour through the beginning of December.

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When asked about how this tour was unique compared to other tours, Skjerseth talked about how well organized and planned out it was, making one wonder just how chaotic other tours can be.

“It was unique in the way that everyone came together when we met in January. We started putting the show together, everyone got together on paperwork and answered e-mails right away," he says. "There was plenty of time to be ready. That was the unique part. Plus, I tour with AC/DC, and Axl was with me, so we could communicate then, which worked out well.”

Now we know what Duff drinks during the show.EXPAND
Now we know what Duff drinks during the show.

Skjerseth also spoke about how every show on the tour is different, and when talking about the band, it’s obvious that he’s a true fan, and that this is more than just a day job for him. He seems just as nostalgic as anyone at the pre-show event, discussing his favorite songs and how enjoyable it is to be working with one of his favorite bands. Skjerseth promised the hits as well as some deep cuts and surprises.

“They’re playing all the songs they know, and more.” This statement holds up when looking at their set lists over the previous weeks, and with a show time of two hours and 45 minutes, they certainly have time to dig deep into their back catalog. While it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll pull out, “My World” from Use Your Illusion II, fans should definitely be ready for anything and expect the unexpected.

Guns N' Roses play University Of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Monday, August 15.

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