QSAC Stadium, February 7, 2017
After Guns N’ Roses finally went nuclear in the 90s (the entire band were either fired or quit – except for Axl Rose), Elvis headlining Glastonbury seemed more realistic than the Gunners ever getting back together.
But if ever there was a year for the impossible to become reality it was 2016 – yes, the year of Trump and Brexit was also the year that the GN’R nightrain hit the tracks again.
And so, last Tuesday night at Brisbane’s QSAC Stadium I found myself watching Axl, Slash and Duff sharing a stage in this city for the first time ever (“Guns N’ Roses” had visited Brisbane before, but the quotation marks are there for a reason; they were really Axl Rose solo shows under the GN’R name).
OK so it isn’t the complete classic lineup – there are some notable MIAs meaning it’s more of a blend of eras: The ‘classic’ trio of Axl/Slash/Duff joined by Dizzy Reed (keyboards) of Use Your Illusion vintage, Richard Fortus (guitar) and Frank Ferrer (drums) from the Chinese Democracy years, and new member, Melissa Reese (keys, synths, backing vocals).
Old school GN’R alumni Izzy Stradlin (guitar) and Stephen Adler / Matt Sorum (drums) are absent, but hey, considering Axl once said “not in this lifetime” about a reunion (incidentally, this is called the Not in this Lifetime tour), we’ll take it.
But anyway, you haven’t come here for a Guns N’ Roses history lesson, have you, so I’ll cut to the chase and answer the question: is 2017-Guns any good?
Yes. Very good.
Sure, Axl looks less like the sinewy, whippety rocker of yesteryear, and more like a melted candle (with oddly white teeth), but he can still scream like a banshee. There might be the odd high note missing, but he sounds better than he has for a long time.
His vocals, together with the Slash-Fortus twin guitar attack and the tight rhythm section come together for a massive sound that fills the cavernous QSAC.
Some concerts have one or two ‘holy shit’ moments where the audience collectively loses it and a sea of mobile phones emerge. This was full of those moments.
The opening strains of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Axl bathed in a sea of light tinkering away at the ivories on ‘November Rain’. A NYE’s display worth of fireworks during a climatic ‘Paradise City’. Slash’s guitar solo segueing into that iconic ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ riff. It’s basically a live greatest hits show set to fireworks.
The set is dominated by Appetite songs, glued together by half a dozen UYI tracks, two songs each from GN’R Lies and The Spaghetti Incident (Duff taking vocals for ‘New Rose’), a trio of covers and oddly, three songs from Chinese Democracy.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall when Axl told Duff and Slash they’d be playing Chinese Democracy songs (for those not in the know – these were recorded years after Slash and Duff had left in bitter circumstances). It probably went something like this:
Axl: oh yeah, we’re playing Chinese Democracy songs on the tour.
Duff: err no.
Axl: we are or this tour’s over.
Somehow though, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Better’ and ‘This I Love’ make it onto the set list. They’re decent songs from an album better than it’s given credit for, but they’re also songs no one wants to hear and for most they’re no more than the chance to grab a drink.
Despite this olive branch from Slash and Duff, I am not sure if Axl and Slash have really patched things up. They’ve said in interviews that they have, but theres no chemistry between the two. During Axl’s band intros, his tone is decidedly flat when he introduces ‘… Slash’.
Who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. Maybe everything is fine. Maybe it isn’t and they’re just tolerating each other for the money?
Honestly though, 2017-Guns N’ Roses are so good it doesn’t even matter. After two decades of acrimony and controversy, the Not in this Lifetime tour finally lets the Gunners’ music do the talking again.
Welcome back fellas.
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings Cover)
You Could Be Mine
You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory intro (Johnny Thunders cover)
New Rose (The Damned Cover)
This I Love
Civil War (with ‘Voodoo Child’ outro)
Guitar Solo (Slash)
Speak Softly Love (Theme From The Godfather, Nino Rota Cover)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Used to Love Her
Out Ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
The Seeker (The Who cover)