As the world disintegrated on Thursday night*, I was at Ford Field in Detroit watching the first show of the new Guns N’ Roses tour. This was the third time I’ve seen GNR; the first in Seattle in October 1992, and the second in April 1993 in Portland. I don’t mind stadium shows, although I haven’t seen one in a while. Thursday’s show was the first of the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, which brings Slash and Duff McKagan back into the fold. Feel free to debate whether Axl, Slash, and Duff are sufficient to constitute “Guns N’ Roses,” but if your answer is “no,” then the band hasn’t existed since 1991.
Alice in Chains opened, which we missed because really, there are limits. GNR hit the stage at 9:43, two minutes ahead of schedule. Several friends had asked me “what if Axl throws a tantrum and they only play for fifteen minutes and then cancel the tour?” to which I responded “Well, that would be awesome.” There were hiccups; in particular, the sound effects associated with the pyrotechnics were off, and unnecessarily distracting. And halfway through It’s So Easy, the first song of the set, Rose looked visibly winded. A lot of folks seemed to notice this; I thought to myself “first song of the first concert; gonna be a long tour, Axl,” but he recovered quickly.
Axl somehow convinced Duff and Slash to do three tracks of Chinese Democracy. I’m not nearly as familiar with CD as with the rest of the catalogue, although I don’t think it’s a bad album. And I’m happy that it hasn’t been expunged from the history of the band. The inclusion of the songs (along with a few covers) suggests that Rose, in particular, still wants to do something interesting and challenge the audience, rather than becoming a greatest hits act. There were no extra musicians on stage, no background singers, no orchestra; the stripped down set worked particularly well for November Rain, which plays better in such conditions than with the full regalia.
With respect to Axl… it may shock some readers that a fifty-four year old man can add a few pounds over his thirty-one year old self, but let me assure you that this is a thing that can happen in the real world (Slash also seems just a bit stouter than he was in the 1990s, although Duff looked like he had somehow lost weight). Although Rose’s drug use has been overstated, he endured some significant health problems in the 1980s and 1990s. On balance, Rose is almost certainly more healthy now than just about any time in his GNR tenure. And while he may be a bit slower and less slinky than he was in the early days of the band, it’s only a marginal difference; he remains a remarkably energetic front man, and his voice is still quite strong.
With respect to intra-band relations, Axl and Slash worked very well together. I’ve heard that relations between Duff and Axl are still quite bad, but it didn’t show up on stage in any meaningful way. Overall, the entire band performed very professionally, and worked well as a unit. If GNR is your thing, then you should give the tour some consideration.
*Yes; I was, in fact, frantically checking my phone for Brexit updates during a Guns N’ Roses show.