Each few years the music industry as a whole has a mega reunion that drives excitement and intrigue. With the noted exception of The Smiths, by now nearly every band that could have reunited has. This year, it’s Guns N’ Roses turn to reclaim their place. After years of acrimonious tension—and even an infamous quote by Axl Rose claiming “not in this liftetime”—the main three members of the group Duff McKagan, Slash and Rose finally buried the hatchet. mxdwn was fortunate enough to be at their first show back at the Troubadour (coincidentally the first venue the band ever played in the ‘80s) and the show was one for the ages without a doubt. From there, the band embarked on the beginning of the now tongue-in-cheek named “Not in this Lifetime Tour” and a pair of headlining shows at this year’s Coachella Festival.
Speculation dogged the band until these shows started happening. Could Axl Rose still sing? Would the band even take the stage on time? Would someone scream at someone else? Whatever happened to Izzy Stradlin? Probably the biggest surprise was that the three core members and the mostly new band (save for Dizzy Reed) showed up to work with professionalism. Yes, no fights, no late arrivals and Axl’s voice more on point then it had been in years. G’N’F’N’R is back. Festival dates behind them, tonight was the first of two huge shows in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, arguably the first real hometown show for them yet.
True to form of the last point Slash and McKagan were still active members of the band in the early ‘90s, the band played just shy of three hours straight. Except for “Don’t Cry” every major hit the band is famous for made an appearance before the night was done. In its totality though, the show was a bit uneven. Definitely not bad, and impressive in terms of overall quality, but several odd choices hampered what could have been a precision assault of a set.
On the plus side, the players sound tight and pristine. Slash and Richard Fortus compliment each other well. Expectedly, Slash has tons of intricate solos over the course of the evening, but Fortus has his own share at one point dueling in leads on an instrumental cover of “Wish You Were Here.” Drummer Frank Ferrer hits with a convincing fury living up to the Matt Sorum’s presence there in the ‘90s (think the opening pummel of “You Could Be Mine”). Longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed perfectly plucks the serene lines of “Estranged.” And most importantly, the mix overall is solid. Every instrument is audible, not drowned under bottom end or guitar crunch. Add all that together, and when Rose’s voice sounds on point, it’s magic to behold. Songs such as “Sweet Child of Mine” and “Night Train” rock with stunning ferocity.
However, on the bad side, the show lost momentum a couple of times. Following a stretch that included stellar cuts “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Double Talkin’ Jive,” “Estranged” and their Paul McCartney/Wings cover “Live and Let Die,” a meandering slate derailed the manic enthusiasm of the crowd. Immediately after the cathartic power of “Live and Let Die” came an off-pace, jammed-out version of “Rocket Queen.” “You Could Be Mine” followed, but where there should be promise in one of their most ferocious songs, it fell a bit flat as at various points Rose couldn’t seem to hit some of the song’s more complex histrionics, doubly odd considering he did fine on other songs as “Civil War” later on. The band followed that with a cover of the Misfits “Attitude” featuring bassist McKagan on lead vocals. Neat, but not really what anyone here wants to see. Lastly, a song most people even in this crowd likely do not know from Chinese Democracy “This I Love.” Those four easily derailed the momentum created by the preceding four.
Other curiosities included the entirety of the super dark “Coma” from Use Your Illusion I. Diehard GNR fans surely were stoked for that song’s inclusion, but the bleak state of that tune’s lyrics didn’t match the fun-loving spirit that most of this sold-out crowd came to revel in. Furthermore, several points allowed for long instrumentals. One including a rocked-out version of the love theme from The Godfather, the other a worked-out instrumental take combining Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and the latter half of Derek and the Dominoes “Layla.” Each time Rose returned afterword with a slightly different outfit and/or hat. Are the rumors true? Is the strain so hard on Rose’s voice that he requires constant breaks to rest his vocal chords? We may never know, but one thing is for certain: they were another segue that drained momentum rather than added to it.
Yes, for every wonderful moment like the piece-by-piece perfect “November Rain” or the enraptured singalong on their Bob Dylan cover “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” there was an equally perplexing moment such as four cuts from Chinese Democracy or an almost race-to-the-finish “Paradise City” as the set’s final number. There’s no question that the reunited Guns N’ Roses have the chops, drive and songs to legitimately live up to the stature of being a stadium-filling band. There might be a need to trim some of the fat from the set though for longevity’s sake. This could have been a lean two hours and had the crowd riveted for every single number.
The best moments came in the form of their seminal greats. Direct numbers like “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” had the crowd on their feet and dancing. “Civil War” impressed with its complexity of scale. “Patience” had 30,000 people longingly singing every word. “Sweet Child of Mine” crushed, every 10 seconds or so playing like the most unforgettable melody ever crafted. “Estranged” showed the band could go long with remarkable grace, never losing the crowd’s attention or lingering on an idea too long. That’s really the band’s most undeniable trait too. The current members (and former ones such as Izzy Stradlin) had top-of-the-game command of songcraft. When at their best, the songs play as timeless masterpieces. For all Slash’s technical skill, it’s really the fact that he plays guitar solos like a series of ten immaculate melodies as strong as the establishing melody of the song itself that makes him a genius.
It’s easy to poke holes in something this accomplished from an armchair. There’s a skill level on display here few bands in rock and roll have ever attained and none of us have had to put on a three-hour show and not suck at it. But for all the nostalgia, and how deeply ingrained fans affinity for Guns N’ Roses is, it’s impossible to not want them to be the best formulation of the group imaginable. To surpass expectations and play as living legends.
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Civil War (with “Voodoo Child” outro)
Love Theme from the Godfather (Nino Rota cover)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Out Ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover) / Layla (Derek and the Dominoes cover)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Catcher in the Rye
The Seeker (The Who cover)
File photo by Gary Moratz