Guns N' Roses
The last time we saw the reunited-and-feels-so-good version of Guns N’ Roses, the gang was playing in front of a bizarre mix of diehards and curious millennials at Coachella. At the time, we were pleased with the band’s quick cohesiveness, which after 23 years away from one another, the core members seemed to be getting back into a groove.
As the former debaucherious deans of the Sunset Strip took the stage less than 10 miles from where, A) they first performed as fresh-faced twenty-somethings and B) where they kicked off their tour in April, there was a certain curiosity that piqued some attendees’ interested. For starters, how have they progressed since their date in the desert? Since then, the reformed GNR have played 20 or so shows, so for fans seeing them again, a fair question would be, once the nostalgia wore off course, whether or not they were into the actual music or the idea of something that once was.
Only 13 minutes late, Axl, Slash, Duff and company plowed through a nearly identical set that sprinted past the two hour and thirty minute mark. The major difference aesthetically was Axl. In Indio, the singer was confined to Dave Grohl’s throne due to an untimely broken foot. Now that he was back being Axl, it was easy to forgive his numerous wardrobe changes now that was able to roam freely and being the singer who melted girl’s hearts in the early ‘90s, and the guys every dude everyone wanted to party with.
“Los Angeles, my neighborhood,” Rose exclaimed as twilight was hitting before launching into a roaring “Chinese Democracy. “It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood.”
The singer’s good spirits translated into the crisp 25 songs set, and to the nearly full crowd. Thankfully, the band deviated a bit from the standard set, sneaking in the criminally underrated “Yesterdays,” which was played only once before on this tour, and “Catcher in the Rye” that a steady sonic trust building. Songs that could have been misconstrued earlier as haphazard are crisp. Classics are now in a much more polished state that a veteran rock band — nevertheless a kinda, sorta reunited one — would proud to unleash to their devoted disciples. That's the only to describe the Appetite-era songs that encompassed the set list, with a ferocious “Out Ta Get Me” being a stand out.
Again, Slash made things look effortless handling axe duties that took four other guys to do in the Chinese Democracy era. Unlike some of the slight hesitancy to let loose during the early shows, the top-hatted one really let things rip during his solos, especially “Coma” and “Estranged.” Gliding through GNR classics was nostalgic, but there’s was a definitiveness to his playing that straddled the line between comfort and cockiness that will continue as the band’s tour hits Australia and Japan in 2017. There isn’t a guitarist, when on, can compete with Slash’s virtuosity and charisma.
Seeing GNR at Coachella felt right for the right reasons. Seeing them at Dodger Stadium confirmed something else: you’re never too old to grow as a unit. Usually a band with members in their early-to-mid 50s are starting to enter autopilot mode. There wasn’t that feeling. It was easy to see that Axl was giving maximum effort as confidently slithered across the massive stage. His earlier mentioned wardrobe changes weren’t due to stylistic set choices, but simply due to him exerting so much energy — like in his prime — that he was soaked from giving it his all. Say what you want about the 54-year-old, but there aren’t many singers, rappers or pop stars who can pull off sprinting around a stage at a stadium like Rose, which leads us to Duff McKagan. The buff bassist is the glue that holds the whole band together, and was never frazzled. A constant pro, McKagan provided soothing harmonies that filled out songs, while his bass held the band together, and not once did he ever seem anything but a steadying influence.
By the time the theatrics of “Paradise City,” fireworks, explosions and all, closed out the set, the slickly polished production confirmed what was set forth at Coachella: Guns N’ Roses really is back. Few, if any bands, can pull off an explosive stage show to go along with a marathon set. With only two dates left on their North American run, the true test begins once the good feelings subside: what does the band have left in the tank in terms of new music? Then, and only then, will we know if this GNR truly is back and leaving the coulda/woulda/shouldas of the past 23 years in the rearview mirror.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.