*Picture from last night’s show courtesy of The Rock Chick
In the late 80s and early 90s Guns n Roses ruled the hard rock world, and Axl Rose was their king. On a tour they’ve named “Not In This Lifetime” (after what one of them said when asked about a reunion), Guns n Roses rolled into Kansas City like a rock and roll blitzkrieg and sonically pummeled an ecstatic crowd. This was rock and roll spectacle that I haven’t seen since… well, the late 80s. These guys played for 2 and half hours… It was a concert of Springsteen-esque length with more power than I’ve seen in years.
I still remember the first time I heard “Welcome To the Jungle.” I actually saw the video, back when MTV played videos, before I heard the song on the radio. These days I’m more likely to see a music video on the Weather Channel than on MTV but I digress. At first I thought they were just another hair band but after hearing the tune a few times, the sheer menace in their music turned my head. This was dark juju. By the time “Paradise City” came out, with another iconic concert video, Axl in white leather, I was on the bandwagon and their masterpiece first LP “Appetite For Destruction” went into high rotation on my turntable and stayed in high rotation to this day.
But then Axl got the worst case of LSD (Lead Singer Disease) in the history of rock and everybody else in the band left. Axl shouldered on and spent a decade making the deeply flawed, disappointing “Chinese Democracy.” Slash went on to various solo projects and even joined Duff McKagan in the short-lived supergroup Velvet Revolver with the late Scott Weiland on lead vocals. Izzy Stradlin became the Howard Hughes of rock and roll and disappeared. I certainly never thought any of these guys would play together again. Slash and Axl’s feud seemed so deeply rooted that they would never speak to each other again let alone make music together. I was utterly skeptical when I heard rumors that Slash, Duff and Axl were (literally) getting the band back together. I figured it wouldn’t live up to the hype even if they did get back together. I was wrong. The chemistry these guys have is fierce.
I will start off with the meme inspired subject – Axl’s appearance. Yes, he looks awful. He’s overweight but not grossly so. He was energetically all over the stage last night. He had his serpentine dance move on full display. I will admit, he kept ducking into a tent on the side of the stage whenever there was a musical interlude… I have no idea what was going on in there but I assume he was sucking on an oxygen tank. Appearance aside, his vocals were fantastic. His vocal range has not diminished whatsoever. He remains one of the most charismatic performers I’ve ever seen. He even looked, dare I say, happy. He changed t-shirts almost every song and I have to admit, when he came out with a shirt that simply said, “The Bitch Is Back” on it, I had to smile and nod in agreement…
Slash is the most melodic lead guitar player on the planet right now. His muscular, beautiful solos dominated the evening. He holds the guitar almost vertically and tortures the strings. I’ve always loved Slash but to see him live is to really understand how talented he is. I might wear a top hat all day in his honor.
The unheralded guy in the equation is Duff McKagan… We should all look as good as Duff McKagan at his age. My God man, the guy is a Greek God… His bass playing is stellar. I had forgotten how many of their tunes start with his rolling bass fills. Flea is the best bass player I’ve ever heard but Duff McKagan has got to be on the short list of greatest bass players ever.
The show started with two great “Appetite” tracks, “It’s So Easy” and the heroin song, “Mr. Brownstone,” a personal favorite (the song, not the heroin). I was surprised when the old line-up then launched into the title track of “Chinese Democracy.” It was clear GnR was hellbent on doing a song from each of their LPs… Duff even sang “Raw Power” off of “The Spaghetti Incident?” “Chinese Democracy” despite some great riff-age from Slash was the low point in the evening’s performance. Luckily they followed it up with a maniacal performance of “Welcome To the Jungle.” That’s the point in the show where the afterburners kicked in. GnR were in high gear after that. They played all of their biggest songs but what impressed me most was how great the deep cuts were. Whether it was the hard rock blast of “Double Talkin’ Jive” or the epic grandeur of “Estranged” these guys just nailed it.
Slash had a couple of guitar solo moments – one was the theme from the Godfather movie and the other with the rhythm guitarist when they did “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd that left my jaw on the floor. A piano came up from under the stage and after jamming on the outro of “Layla” which was pretty amazing, Axl and the band launched into “November Rain.” Slash’s soloing on that one made my night. Slash’s soloing on “This I Love” transformed that song from a forgotten “Chinese Democracy” track to a highlight. The only song I would have cut from the set list was “Coma.” It was overly long and drug on a bit. On the other hand, the “Chinese Democracy” cut “Better” was simply awesome.
After “November Rain” they played two more songs, a great “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” followed by another personal favorite, “Nighttrain.” I certainly felt like I was on a “Nighttrain” by that point in the evening. The encore was three songs. They sub’d in “Don’t Cry” for “Patience” which they’ve been performing prior to this show and it was a welcome substitution. The cover of the Who’s “The Seeker” was great, despite the Rock Chick leaning over and whispering, “I love this song, uh, when the Who do it…” Finally, the last tune was the epic, “Paradise City.” That was the song that first got me really into this band and it seemed fitting that it would be the song they ended on. The stage lit up in different colors, the fire works went off and my friends, wife and I disappeared into the night. We ended up sitting on my roof, drinking beers and asking ourselves, “did that just happen?”
I have no idea where this reunion will go. I’m hopeful it leads to these guys collaborating on new music. I hope that Izzy comes out of hiding and plays with these guys, it looks like he’s missing out on some real fun. It’s more likely that won’t happen… “Not In This Lifetime.” But you never know…
As a side note, Alice In Chains opened up with a 45 minute rocking set. Jerry Cantrell is a magician on guitar and he and the new front man, whose name escapes me, harmonize just as Jerry and Layne Stayley in the old days…. ah, what might have been. I especially liked the portrait of the naked woman on one of Cantrell’s guitars but that’s another story…
If you get a chance and these guys are in a stadium near you, do yourself a favor and catch an epic, history-making performance. GnR proved to me last night that they still have that magic.