Photos by: KimberLee Vaughn
You know that feeling, music lovers, when you’re watching a band live or on the telly – they’re a big band that’s been around for ages like U2 or The Who – and they’re playing one of their big hits, a song you grew up with, fell in love to, etc., but it doesn’t sound the same, it doesn’t feel the same.
What it feels like at best is a nostalgic rendition of the song, and at worst, played by a cover band. And then you start to wonder, maybe they’re just too old, maybe I’m too old? Maybe the song lost its relevance with time, or the radio played it to death for thirty-plus years of your life and you’re just fucking sick of hearing it.
Guns N’ Roses were always critically-acclaimed and appealed to the masses; news of the reunification of GN’R’s original line-up (minus Izzy Stradlin who declined and Steven Adler with ongoing health issues) triggered the badass 80’s kid in all of us. The burnouts who grew up to be Harley guys, the jocks who are now suburban dads, the women who still wear mullets in 2017, and the ones that don’t – we were all ready to go straight back to living 1989.
But Axl and Slash were like “Yeah, fuck that.”
But everything we’ve ever known’s here…
Something weird is happening, something I didn’t expect. We’re three songs in and I don’t feel 13 again yet. The video screen behind the band is showing images of neon-coated urbanscapes, cartoonish skeletons doin’ it doggy-style and flying gold clocks, the kind of futuristic shit you’d more likely see at a KMFDM gig. Slash’s top hat, Axl’s leather coats and waist-wrapped flannels, all cultural staples of that generation, have been updated but I can’t explain it. They look the same, but somehow, different.
Us fans we’re a little different, too. Come a long way from the days of setting concert venues alight if Axl didn’t show up. I caught a guy in a baseball cap and Ambercrombie shirt trying to encourage the a young girl working security to headbang along with him to “Welcome To The Jungle”. She wouldn’t do it but she did laugh and smile a lot. About half way through the show, a man with his clearly disabled wife had somehow made their way down to our section from the nosebleed seats and were hoping we’d make room – his Mrs. wasn’t handling the heights well. She couldn’t speak, she looked confused and kinda scared, clinging to her husband’s arm. Four of us made room for her, one of us was able to get her to make gestures and even got a big smile from her at the end of the night. “She’s the sweetest girl you’d ever want to know,” her husband said to me. “But sometimes things just happen.”
Nobody ever told us, baby,
How it was gonna be….
Every song you can imagine and every one you can’t somehow ends up on this playlist, resulting in a damn near three-hour long set. Seriously. The show started at 7:40. By 10:00, I’m starting to wonder if the Q sells coffee but these guys won’t stop playing long enough for me to go get a cup anyway. Surprises include the cheeky “I Used To Love Her” and several tracks from the break-up album, Chinese Democracy. “Rocket Queen” featured an extended solo from Slash with robotic effects added to his voice and guitar, still implying that this is not really meant to be a trip down Memory Lane. McKagan, drummer Frank Ferrer and guitarist Richard Fortus (Psychedelic Furs, Love Spit Love) took the spotlight to roll in “You Could Be Mine”, perhaps the greatest driving song of all-time (unless you’re in a semi). Also making the cut are “Estranged”, “Double Talkin’ Jive”, “Yesterdays”, “Sweet Child O’Mine”, “Civil War”, “Nightrain”, “Mr. Brownstone”, “Patience”, “Coma”, “Don’t Cry” and “Paradise City”.
Guns N’ Roses is revered for their ability to re-create other people’s music, sometimes one-upping the original. The Wings’ cover “Live And Let Die” from Use Your Illusion I is far better than its predecessor and the audience sings along to it as if it were GN’R’s song. It came early on in the show and Axl’s delivery of the line“You gotta give the other fella hell” was our first real indication that he’s still got his pipes and they’re in this for the long haul. We also heard a sombre “Black Hole Sun” primarily led by audience vocals, the popular “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, an instrumental duet of “Wish You Were Here” by Slash and Fortus, and The Misfits’ “Attitude” by former punk-rock bassist McKagan from The Spaghetti Incident?
The 1998 EP GN’R Lies featured much less, the only real disappointment of the night. If there were no Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses would be the Greatest Blues Band That Never Was, and it would have been the icing on the cake to have heard more of that gritty blues sound that carries Lies. I would have melted into the floor had an acoustic “You’re Crazy” come out.
Regardless, unless you came here looking for a time machine back to the 80s, there’s nothing to complain about. Slash has gone from a young power shredder with the potential to be a guitar genius to actually reaching that potential (and the upper body muscles to prove it, ask the entire female audience). Tonight he’s wearing a cut-off T depicting Hotel Chelsea, where Sid and Nancy spent their last days, and he has a sticker of Prince’s moniker symbol on his guitar. As a friend of mine puts it, “Slash is just everything.”
Axl Rose is also everything. Finally. He is well aware of his vocal capabilities and is very much in control of when and how he uses them. His voice did start to wear down toward the end, but he let the audience do some of the work, rested up a bit and finished super-strong. Realistically, who’s vocals wouldn’t be a bit dodgy after three hours of singing?
Most significantly, it appears W. Axl Rose has finally become comfortable in Bill Bailey’s skin. Young Axl was angry, vulnerable, heart firmly planted on sleeve. Even in the first re-incarnation of GN’R, Axl was still so….isolated. Something still wasn’t quite right. But the Axl we have now is confident and authoritative. He takes himself much less seriously now; it’s both really mature and really sexy in that way that self-confidence naturally makes guys hotter. This is not the Axl Rose my mother warned me about and I blatantly ignored.
And this is not the Guns N’ Roses we remember. This GN’R is a band that has come to terms with itself just as much as the individuals in it have come to terms with themselves and each other. This allows them to move on and move forward, to be a band in the now, and stave off the old-man-nostalgia tours for another decade or so.
So what’ll happen to us, baby,
Guess we’ll have to wait and see…