Erik D. Harshman
I should start off by saying that this show was really the pinnacle and high point of my summer for a few reasons. The first is that (aside from Joan Jett one week later), this is the only big stadium “summer” concert I’m seeing this year, it marks the first time I’m seeing Guns N’ Roses ever live, it marks the half-way point of summer, also, as Pro-Pain, like Jungle Rot one year prior, has canceled their June show at Fubar, this is the really the only show I was super looking forward to this summer and, finally, well, I was witnessing music history. As the title of the tour states, no one (even the band members) thought this would ever happen.
With that said, why waste time? Let’s jump right into it like Axl Rose would!
The opening act got off stage quickly enough and GnR took the stage around 9:40pm or so. However, they (probably purposely) made us wait by taunting us with an animated graphic of their logo (the guns in their logo would fire, then twirl and reload, then turn into Uzis and fire, etc.).
They finally took the stage after some intro music. I told my girlfriend that I thought they would open with “Welcome to the Jungle.” I was shocked (but delighted) when it turned out to be “It’s So Easy.” Not my favorite song, but a good opener. Then perhaps my favorite GnR song followed: “Mr. Brownstone.” Despite myself, I held up my phone and recorded.
I just want to take a moment here and point out the irony: during nearly all of GnR’s hits (meaning, any song off Appetite…), we laughed and commented on the oceanic valley of cathode blue small rectangular glows we saw; everyone was recording video, snapping pictures, etc. I just remember (vividly) the riot at Riverport Amphitheater in 1991 when GnR played there. My brother was there (even had the whole thing recorded on a pocket cassette recorder… which he loaned to a local news station for $50 for them to play on the air). And to this day, Axl still (apparently) hates St. Louis and will not play there as a result. Why is this ironic? The object of Axel’s ire (which caused him to lose it and stop the show 1/3 of the way through) was a man in the front row videotaping the entire concert. How amusing that 25 years later everyone is recording the show and Axl can’t do a damn thing about it!
Anyhow, with only four hours of sleep under my belt, over five hours of driving and the intermittent immense heat (which inevitably gave me a heat headache) I veered between feeling elated at my first time seeing GnR, witnessing music history and feeling a bit wobbly (meaning fatigued to the point of collapse).
But, as you can see below, the set was amazing and could galvanize anyone (even one as road weary as me) into euphoria.
I’d heard that opening night in Detroit was a smash, but I was afraid that they would only play one set list for the entire tour.
We got some songs I was not expecting, but was immensely grateful that we got, like “My Michelle” and “Better”. We also got a slew of covers (I honestly didn’t know that “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” was a cover) that GnR has, quite frankly, made their own; a testament to how powerful they are as a band. On the note of “Better” (one of the few songs they played off the debacle that was Chinese Democracy), I actually like that song… It’s one of three songs I transferred from my burned copy of Chinese Democracy (I burned it from my brother) onto my GnR playlist on my iTunes. I was delighted they played it, but confused as to why the rest of the band would consent to playing songs from an album Axel recorded with the band name, but without the original members. For example, Fear Factory (with guitarist Dino Cazares back in the band as of 2010) does not seem to play any songs from their 2004 and 2005 albums Archetype and Transgression live (albums that Dino was not in the band for). I’ve wondered if it is a contractual obligation (on behalf of the rest of the guys in the band) or if the guys in the band simply don’t care.
At any rate, some of the songs I merely phased out on (as I’m not a hardcore GnR fanatic like a lot of the fans there… I’m a perhaps exaggerated casual fan), like “Rocket Queen” and “Civil War”. But I perked up for my favorites and was much pleased at “Mr. Brownstone,” “Better,” “Welcome To The Jungle,” “My Michelle,” “November Rain,” and “Paradise City.” Those alone were worth the ticket price for me.
Sure, I was disappointed that we didn’t get some songs I wanted: “Yesterdays” (a song I’ve recently become incredibly addicted to and a song that would’ve perfectly acted as an anthem for a tour that seems to be about burying hatchets), “Breakdown” (a song that probably wouldn’t sound too good live anyway), “Pretty Tied Up” (… Yeah… Why didn’t they play this one?!), “Since I Don’t Have You” (one of their many covers they made their own… and probably the only hit single off the amazing Spaghetti Incident) and their Spaghetti Incident cover of Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” (which would have been a perfect song to signal the newly reformed Guns’N’Roses for the new millennium).
Now, everyone seemed to be getting along perfectly, though it was suspicious that Axl and Slash never seemed to be on the same side of the stage at any given time. Axl and Slash also didn’t ever seem to physically touch; not in the near-homoerotic way Steven Tyler and Joe Perry used to. But, at the end of the show, when the band came out for a group bow, Axl and Slash were right next to one another, did link arms and seemed okay with it. Incidentally, rumors abound that the band is back in the studio, making music together again. Slash is suspiciously mute about it (why would he not be, given the band and Axl’s past?), but Axel seems vocal and hopeful about the prospects. And why not? All things old are becoming new again.
At any rate, Axel’s wardrobe and outfit choices were about as ridiculous as one might expect: cowboy hats, black leather jackets, fedoras, frilly jackets, etc. And it’s clear that he’s packed on a bunch of pounds (but has lost some of the pounds that he had back in the early 2000’s). And yes, he does look older in the face and got a bit winded at times, but for the most part he had the energy and sounded just as good as he did in the 80’s (so I’m told; I was in the single digits of age then). All this did not stop Axel (and even a slightly chunkier Slash) from sweating gratuitously throughout the show; I mean it was raining off of these guys! But hey, rock star excess gets to just about all of them. The fact that they wear it relatively well and still have the drive and abandon to get out on stage (when most would put them “past their prime”… though these terms don’t apply to men like Axl and Slash) is admirable and remarkable. Incidentally, though, bassist Duff McKagan and keyboardist Dizzy Reed, as one might expect, looked untouched by time. But, then, the limelight was off them, so they probably didn’t gorge and binge as much as the two icons.
And then there’s the moment everyone is talking about: when Steve Adler took the stage. Now, Adler joined the band on stage a few days earlier (July 6th) in Cincinnati, but I was entirely unaware of that occurrence and his presence there that night. He performed “Out Ta Get Me” and “My Michelle” with the band and you could not have seen a sea of more happy faces. I guess I retract my original statement… Perhaps I am a GnR fanatic. I don’t feel like one, though. My lack of knowledge of their history, a lot of their body of work and their members chagrins me. Ah well. Anyhow, Adler seemed to be having a fine time, smiling and banging the drums like he’d never left… But he did leave after two songs (perhaps it would have been smarter to have Adler come back just before the end of the show and help them close out the night). Draw your own conclusions as to why he was there, or why he even agreed to be there at all. Indeed, Adler’s being kicked out of the band in 1990 for his rampant drug use is the stuff of legends (and clichés in the annals of rock). Though you wouldn’t know it by the way he played that night in Nashville; he wailed! In the end, who cares what his drug use did to him or his relationship with the band? He was there. He had fun. We had fun. End of story.
Other highlights saw Slash bringing out his double-necked guitar more than a few times (a staple of many 80’s artists and their inherit excess) and Nissan Stadium (which is huge) was mostly full. This is reassuring news, as big summer concerts have been hobbling along for some time now (as the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival ended its eight-year run last year).
And then came the finale.
Sure, they saved a lot of the slower songs for the end, like “November Rain” – on which Axl still kills it on piano… though it was sad not to see Slash standing on the piano while Axel played, and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” And, sure, there was a gratuitous amount of solos (my theory is that these solos gave Axl time to recover and reenergize). But when they came back for the encore, we all knew what was coming. Ending with “Paradise City” is perhaps one of the best ideas they had the whole tour. It really ended the night with a high note of joy and kept everyone smiling and singing well after the house lights were turned on and we stampeded (slowly) out to the parking lot. Just after “Paradise City” (which is, perhaps, GnR’s true anthem), there was a flourish of fireworks and a jubilee of confetti shot into the air. Then the group bow, then they were gone. They played until about 12:30am. Most artists half their age don’t have this kind of stamina or passion. Amazing.
Truth be told, it was all worth it. The drive, the money (the show cost me around $430 when all was said and done), the fatigue… I literally witnessed music (and rock) history. But more than that, think of the joy this event will bring to people’s lives for years (even decades) into the future. People who got to see GnR in their heyday, got to see it (sorta) all over again. People who’ve never seen GnR (either the original band or the Axl-only line-up) got to witness something magical. Sure, it wasn’t the lightning in a bottle most people probably witnessed in the 80’s and 90’s in some small hole in the wall, some rundown theater or some large amphitheater, but it was close and in the end that’s all that really matters. We don’t need that exact moment in time repeated over and over, that’s no fun, no use to us. We’ll take a similar moment, or a new moment (one that, and I know this is unthinkable) has flaws that make it all the more real and human for us.
I’ll take that over perfection (or the nostalgia-tainted view of perfection) any day.
Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
If you like this show/tour you might also like: Aerosmith, Cheap Trick / Joan Jett, Def Leppard / REO Speedwagon, Alice Cooper
GnR’s Set List:
Looney Tunes Intro
The Equalizer (Harry Gregson-Williams song)
- It’s So Easy
- Mr. Brownstone
- Chinese Democracy
- Welcome to the Jungle
- Double Talkin’ Jive
- Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
- Rocket Queen
- You Could Be Mine
- Attitude (Misfits cover) (with “You Can’t Put Your Arms)
- This I Love
- Civil War (with “Voodoo Child” outro)
- Coma (with band introductions)
- Sweet Child O’ Mine (with “Speak Softly Love (Love )
- Out Ta Get Me (with Steven Adler)
- My Michelle (with Steven Adler)
- Slash & Fortus Guitar Duet (“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd)
- November Rain (with “Layla” piano exit intro)
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
- The Seeker (The Who cover)
- Paradise City