So, a few months back I wrote a piece on the much lauded Guns n Roses “reunion”, saying what an awful idea it was. My argument was basically that it was a cynical money making venture and that Axl could not and would not cut it, as he has been largely shit for the last 20 years. I also suggested that the shows would be nowhere near as good as they were back in the day and that it was one more nostalgic nail in the coffin of modern rock.
Then I saw the videos of the performances from the U.S and it was pretty damn obvious that Axl was actually cutting it. Maybe not like a hot knife through butter, but there were high notes and enthusiasm, and not just in GnR, but in AC/DC too. And with a broken foot.
So the question is, did I eat my words?
After a functional set from the uninspired choice of opening act, Brazilian rockers Plebe Rude, and a surprisingly short interval, in which we got to see the really quite beautiful logo variations on the backdrop, the Looney Tunes theme blared out and it was showtime.
‘It’s So Easy’ kicked things off and we all went mental. Seriously. Once upon a time Guns n Roses was known as the most dangerous band in the world and for the first 15 minutes or so it was easy to see why. The crowd was like a raging sea as it bounced as one to the punk energy of the opener and the swagger of ‘Mr. Brownstone’, even ‘Chinese Democracy’ got people jumping before the teased intro to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ eventually sent everyone ballistic. For a few moments Axl, Slash, Duff and Co rocked as hard as they ever did; sure they are a little slower and a little rounder, but they still know how to deliver a good old fashioned hard rock banger.
‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ immediately calmed things down a little and calm they stayed, for the underrated ‘Better’ and an absolutely epic performance of ‘Estranged’. Despite proving spectacular and one of the highlights of the night, this was the first of many rather indulgent mega ballads – we got them all, bar ‘Patience’.
‘Live and Let Die’ was predictably frantic, prior to the cool bass groove of the sorely underrated ‘Rocket Queen’; the already lengthy track gaining an extended midsection and sexy skeletons on the backdrop. There was another surprise in ‘Out Ta Get Me’ before the heroin chic of the tireless Duff McKagan pounded out the bass riff to ‘You Could Be Mine’ to get the crowd bouncing again. Although Axl was mostly excellent, reaching most of the high notes, it was here and more notably on ‘Coma’ that he struggled – the fast sections tripping him up a little. A mid set breather was due – cue Duff and his version of the Misfits‘ ‘Attitude’.
‘This I Love’ preceded the epics ‘Civil War’ and ‘Coma’ before the obligatory Slash solo of Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather). It was all great stuff and the top hatted one still shreds, but the dude has been playing the same damn thing since I was a kid – talk about playing it safe. Was it then necessary to do an instrumental duet with Richard Fortus on ‘Wish You Were Here’? Sure, it was awesome, the crowd sung it, people cried and Slash and Richard nailed it, but two solo slots?
Sandwiched in between were the unbeatable ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and the surprisingly fun ‘Yesterdays’, which proved much more enjoyable in the live arena than on record. In a neat twist they then segued ‘Wish You Were Here’ into the piano outro from ‘Layla’ to get Axl on the piano.
Only one song could follow, and follow it did. On the one hand November Rain epitomizes everything that is pretentious and overblown about GnR and can so easily turn into an awful lumbering spectacle of over indulgence. Thankfully though, the front man seems to be in a good place right now, despite him and Slash virtually ignoring each other all night, and he crooned his way though with technique and urgency, delivering one of the best vocals of the night. For some reason most of the crowd seemed to have balloons to go with cell phones and it all made for a quite beautiful spectacle, even more so as the massive full moon emerged above the stadium right on cue – I guess these kind of shared moments are the whole point of such nostalgic outings. Fair play Axl.
Two hours in and the vocalist was visibly enjoying himself as he rolled back the years to dart around the stage to conduct the crowd in a sing off on ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. By now it was utterly shameless enjoyment of timeless classics, and we were certainly getting our money’s worth.
We rocked again for set closer ‘Nightrain’, but it was back to the ballads in the encore of ‘Don’t Cry’ with more extended guitar work. The Who‘s ‘The Seeker’ offered an irresistibly big riff, but we were really only waiting for ‘Paradise City’ to rock to an explosive close. And it did not disappoint – mosh pits opened up, swathes of bodies bounced as one and it was genuinely wild abandon in the crush – it almost felt like 1990 again.
So, all in all, I guess you have to take your hat off to Guns n Roses – they are still a mighty proposition and deliver a fine performance. They are seasoned pros and know how to work a stage and get a crowd going, despite the minimal interaction between band members and between band and crowd.
Are they still dangerous? Not really, but they do rock and they are a pretty tight unit; they put on a show but it’s not over produced and works well with less people on stage – no horns, no backing singers, a cool backdrop of images and minimal pyrotechnics keeps it lean.
Is Axl the vocalist he was 25 years ago? He’s a damn sight closer to it now than he has been in the last 15 years. His range is impressive and he works the mic, but the impression is that age has taken it’s toll a little and slowed up the delivery, there may be an element of tiredness too.
Are they just in it for the money? Surely that is a factor, but then again they do seem to be enjoying themselves, so I’ll reserve judgement. Also, they may be raking in the cash, but at two and a half hours long their set is pretty damn good value.
Is it all just shameless nostalgia? Sure, of course, but when you are this good and the material still cuts it, then why the hell not? Quite how long the night train can roll on without new product though is open to question, as is whether or not the relationships will endure. In the meantime though, they are well worth the trip down memory lane.