Some people say that an old dog can’t learn a new trick. What if the new trick is actually an old one that the dog hasn’t experimented with yet? Guns N’ Roses gave a somewhat succinct answer to the oft unanswerable question format of ‘what if?’ on Wednesday, August 30th, when they covered James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The crazy hairdos that took America by frenzied storm in the eighties with “Appetite For Destruction” embarked on a reunion tour in April of 2016 called, “Not In This Lifetime.” Probably, when someone originally brought up the idea of a reunion tour, either Slash or Axl replied with an unequivocal, ‘not in this lifetime, buddy.’ The name seems ironically appropriate as the tour enters its second year. On Wednesday, the group reached behind their own era, playing songs from the early and late sixties.
Axl Rose has covered Brown’s “I Feel Good” before. His voice is meant for it. But he’s never played it all the way through, and not with the band’s original members. The cover, half faithful to Brown’s sound, half faithful to their own, was a roaring success. Rose’s deliverance had all the energy and panache that Brown would have expected a good cover to have. Slash still plays the same licks he did in ’87, yet somehow they still sound fresh. Due to no change in his defining characteristics—the hair and the hat—Slash actually kind of looks the same as he did in the eighties, from afar.
Rose made an announcement before playing Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman.”
“We’re going to play something we’ve never played before. It might not be your thing, but we’re just trying to pay a tribute to someone. It’s not what you think.”
Everything other than that final, “It’s not what you think,” makes perfect sense. Rose, clearly out of genuine respect to an influence and inspiration, chose to play this song by the late Glen Campbell. Those who have read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s profile of Rose for GQ will immediately recognize the voice he puts on for the cover as ‘Devil Woman.’ One of Rose’s “five or six different voices that are all part of me,” ‘Devil Woman’ is what you hear on the Guns N’ Rose’s most musical tracks. “November Rain,” “Patience,” among them, they are songs where Rose’s musical soul seems to tremble through sharp vibrations in each note—the luscious hybrid of a silvery whistle and a throaty lament. Rose’s sweet and sour voice captured Campbell’s melody beautifully, and even evoked whispers of other Guns N’ Roses songs that are perhaps direct descendants of Campbell’s. Rose ended the song with a simple tribute, “For Glen.”