Sunday, 18 June 2017

Guns N' Roses - London Review

It is safe to say that the news that the legendary duo of guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan were rejoining the American hard rock band Guns N' Roses, and band which they helped to catapult to stardom in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was easily the biggest news in the rock world last year. Since Slash's departure in 1996, and McKagan's the following year, the band's huge world-wide fan base were pining for a reunion. What followed were years of line-up changes and delays, as frontman W. Axl Rose worked on the band's sixth album, the infamous Chinese Democracy, which would eventually be released in 2008 to mixed reviews. By this point Rose was the band's only founding member left, although long-time keyboardist Dizzy Reed who joined Guns N' Roses in 1990 opted to remain with Rose. In some respects, the final Chinese Democracy release perfectly captured the multitude of line-ups and vibes Guns N' Roses had evolved through throughout the ten year period it was recorded. The finished product featured performances by members who had long left the band, so it really is a conglomeration of songwriting and performance styles. While I loved the album from the off, many did not and it certainly became a divisive topic among the band's fan base. The touring that followed often featured large chunks of the newer material in the set which put many fans off attending the band's shows, and the often erratic behaviour from Rose that saw tours cancelled for arbitrary reasons and lengthy waits at shows for the band to actually come on stage definitely gave Guns N' Roses somewhat of a negative reputation. The touring cycle for Chinese Democracy ended with a residency in Las Vegas in 2014 and Rose put the band on hold for an end-of-tour break. What followed were months and months of rumours concerning many of the then-current members of the band. It was heavily rumoured that Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal wanted to leave the band to focus on his own music, and he did eventually announce his departure, as did bassist Tommy Stinson and guitarist DJ Ashba. As you would expect, the rumour mill went into overdrive at this point and many thought that was the perfect opportunity for Slash and McKagan to return to the band. There had of course been plenty of rumours of this nature in the past, but this time the fans were actually right! On the 1st April last year, Rose, Slash, and McKagan played their first show together since 1993. Joining the three original band members were Reed, guitarist Richard Fortus (who has been a part of Guns N' Roses since 2002), drummer Frank Ferrer (who has been a part of Guns N' Roses since 2006), and the band's newest recruit Melissa Reese who contributes extra keyboards, backing vocals, and percussion. This show at the Troubador in Los Angeles was the springboard for the band's current and lengthy Not in this Lifetime... Tour which has already covered North America, and is currently wending it's way through Europe.

Although I saw a fantastic show in Nottingham in 2012 from the then-current Guns N' Roses line-up, I knew that this tour was really not one to be missed. A show at the London Stadium was announced towards the end of 2016 which sold out as soon as it went on sale. A second date was added due to the demand but I was initially hesitant to commit due to the high cost of the tickets. Luckily for me, this second show did not sell out so it allowed me time to ponder my options and weigh up the pros and cons in my head. I then changed utilities company and I had a rather large rebate from my original company. This extra money in my account made the decision for me and I decided to take the plunge and buy a ticket for the band's second night in London. The London Stadium was built for the 2012 Olympic Games, and is now used by West Ham United Football Club. It is in Stradford, East London, and has good transport links which makes it a good choice for large concerts of this nature. While it is smaller than the new Wembley Stadium, which was hosting The Stone Roses on the same night that I was soaking up the atmosphere at the London Stadium, there was still room for thousands and thousands of fans. Despite a combination of errors on my part which included booking a Travelodge in the anonymous North London town of Whetstone and not leaving early enough initially from Plymouth, which meant I spent most of the day on the tube without any real time to rest, I got down to the London Stadium in plenty of time for the main event. The opening act, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, were just finishing their set as I got to the stadium and I took my seat in time to catch indie rockers The Kills. Usually I like to review the support acts at concerts I have been to, but I really have very little to say about The Kills. Their set was extremely unmemorable and just seemed to lack the power that an occasion of this nature deserved. Bands like The Cult and Alice in Chains had opened for Guns N' Roses in America and it seemed like The Kills were a very poor substitute for a band of that calibre.

Any notions of Guns N' Roses making their fans wait for hours on end for the show to start were soon dispelled when the band hit the stage bang on their allotted start time of 19:45. Instead of going for something grand, the band came out fighting with the punky energy of It's So Easy from their 1988 debut album Appetite for Destruction. It was clear to see from the off just how rejuvenated all of the members of the band are at the moment, and what followed was well over two and half hours of music from all portions of the band's career to date. The Stone-esque groove of Mr. Brownstone followed, and this allowed Slash to really let rip for the first time, peeling off the bluesy solo with ease while Fortus held down the rhythm. This was the first of many excellent solos from Slash throughout the evening, and he consistently displayed why he is considered one of the best guitarists in the business. Fortus is certainly no slouch either and was allowed healthy amount of chances to show off his skills too. The first of those came with Chinese Democracy, the first of three songs from that album retained in the current set, which featured a shredded solo from him which followed on nicely from a more bluesy effort from Slash. This hard-hitting anthem was one of my personal highlights of the early part of the show. Welcome to the Jungle of course received one of the biggest cheers of the night, before the bluesy strut of Double Talkin' Jive was the first real 'wildcard' number of the set which morphed into a lengthy Eastern-inspired jam session towards the song's end. Better featured more Fortus, including some impressive sweep picking, before the piano-led epic Estranged was the first real moment of class. Led from Reed from behind his piano, Rose crooned his way through the dramatic song with ease as the crowd lapped up Slash's bluesy leads. Rocket Queen also saw a large reaction from the crowd, and the sleazy number definitely whipped up a storm on the pitch below. The mid-section was dragged out with a guitar duel between Slash and Fortus, which was extremely impressive, before the sleazy vibe was continued with You Could be Mine. McKagan took the lead on a rousing version of The Damned's New Rose, which helped to bring back the punky energy of the show's opening few minutes. Many of the songs in the set were introduced with little snippets of other songs, which helped to really diversify the evening. New Rose opened with a short section of Johnny Thunders' You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory, while Civil War was rounded off with a few bars of Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Child (Slight Return).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the real 'big guns' were left for the show's second half. After the more light-hearted Yesterdays, the juggernaut of Coma was wheeled out to the delight of the many of the band's hardcore fans. The lengthy song has never been a favourite of mine, but the hard-hitting riffs and excellent bass playing from McKagan made it a strong moment of the show. Slash's customary guitar solo spot followed, which included a great rock 'n' roll tribute to the late Chuck Berry and his now-classic rendition of the theme music from the 1972 film The Godfather. When this transitioned into Sweet Child O' Mine the place erupted, as is to be expected, and even the people around me who you could tell had been dragged to the show against their will by family or significant others were on their feet and singing along with Rose. The tough rawness of Out ta Get Me really was the last real back-to-basics number included in the set, before it was left mainly to the band's remaining epics to see out the show. While Rose's grand piano was being set up, Slash and Fortus treated the crowd to a gorgeous instrumental rendition of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here which showed the talent and finesse of the band's two guitarists. Rose then launched into his signature power ballad November Rain, after a short jam based around Derek and the Dominos' Layla, which was definitely one of the show's overall highlights. I would say that the song is Rose's singular greatest moment to date, and it always sends shivers down the spines of many when played live. Hearing Slash tackling the many heart-wrenching guitar solos again after so many years made the song extra special tonight and it rightly received a standing ovation from the huge crowd. A cover of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun was a bit of a curveball, but it was done in tribute to the late Chris Cornell and Guns N' Roses managed a surprisingly good version of the grunge classic. The equally poignant Knockin' on Heaven's Door, dedicated to the victims of the recent Grenfell Tower fire and the recent terrorist incident that took place on London Bridge, also featured plenty of mournful soloing and chances for Rose to encourage the crowd to sing the lines back to him. The main set ended with the raw power of Nightrain, which provided a powerful change of pace from the more dynamic few numbers that had preceded it. An encore was of course to follow and the final ballad of the night, Don't Cry, went down really well before Rose surprised everyone with a hard-hitting and high energy version of AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie, a song that band used to cover back in their early club days. There was only one was the show was going to end however and the all-time classic party anthem Paradise City provided a perfect close to the evening as confetti streamed out over the crowd and as the band took their final bow the place really erupted. The setlist was:

It's So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die [Wings cover]
Rocket Queen
You Could be Mine
New Rose [The Damned cover]
This I Love
Civil War
Guitar solo
Sweet Child O' Mine
Out ta Get Me
Wish You Were Here [Pink Floyd cover]
November Rain
Black Hole Sun [Soundgarden cover]
Knockin' on Heaven's Door [Bob Dylan cover]
Don't Cry
Whole Lotta Rosie [AC/DC cover]
Paradise City

When the dust settles this will definitely be seen as one of the very best concerts that I have ever been to. Their 2012 show in Nottingham was probably my overall favourite until I saw Bruce Springsteen at Wembley Stadium last year. Whether this latest evening with Guns N' Roses will topple Springsteen from his pedestal remains to be seen but there is no denying that this show was easily worthy of that accolade. I really hope this tour leads to a permanent arrangement of this current version of the band as I would love to see what these seven musicians could come up with in the studio. While I know there are many fans that are not happy that this is not a full Guns N' Roses reunion, as Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler are not involved, I feel that this particular line-up of the band is probably their strongest yet and I really hope they continue to go from strength to strength!

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