“Not In This Lifetime” – that’s the phrase used by Axl Rose in 2012 to describe the chances of a reunion of the classic line-up of Guns N’Roses. Flash-forward 4 years and whilst we might not have a full-house, what we do have is the reunion many had thought impossible – Rose reunited onstage with estranged guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan for the first time since July 17th 1993. They’re joined on this trek by rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer and keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese, meaning this version of the hard rock titans feels like somewhat of a combination between the Guns N’Roses of old, and the contemporary Chinese Democracy-era band Rose has been fronting for some time.
Before the tour, many had been sceptical that this line-up would amount to much in a live setting. Luckily they’d be wrong and all it takes is the opening notes of It’s So Easy for the entire stadium to go ballistic. It’s quickly apparent that the 2016 incarnation of this legendary band have regained some of the fire they’d been sorely lacking for some time. Rose, now recovered from his well-publicised leg injury is on fiery form, dashing around the stage with impressive vigour and although his vocals initially sound a tad shaky, they soon recover to rather fantastic results.
All the obvious hits are accounted for tonight: drug anthem Mr Brownstone, You Could Be Mine, Rocket Queen, and of course mega-hit Welcome To The Jungle. As many expected though, four cuts from 2008’s Chinese Democracy make the cut, and are surprisingly rather good. Slash’s guitar playing adds a whole new dynamic to the tracks, melding with Fortus’ rhythm guitar in a way quite unlike the album versions. Title track Chinese Democracy hits with more of a classic GNR swagger, whilst This I Love almost hits the lofty heights of the band’s classic ballads.
There’s a few more curveballs over the course of the night though – a mid-set cover of classic Misfits track Attitude sees McKagan take lead vocal duties for a fairly faithful run-through that drips with classic punk spirit, whilst Slash and Fortus later duel on an instrumental take on Pink Floyd’s classic Wish You Were Here. One can’t help but feel these are cleverly-placed breaks to allow Axl some rest time, but they still captivate as they should do nonetheless.
When the band really go for it though, it’s truly something to behold. Sweet Child O’ Mine has rarely sounded this good since the late 90s and when the sheer heaviness of Use Your Illusion 1’s ten-minute epic Coma hits, it feels genuinely surprising. Elsewhere, the primal power and the sleaze of Rocket Queen hits like a truck and serves as a reminder that Guns N’Roses had much more to them than the obvious more-recognised singles.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Guns N’Roses show anymore without the inevitable grand piano appearance, and Rose is happy to oblige as the show starts to wind down. November Rain sounds slightly off at times tonight vocally, but its iconic guitar solo from Slash is fortunately near-perfect. Used To Love Her and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door are the follow-ups, and both draw huge singalongs (especially the darkly comedic chorus of the latter).
It feels like there’s really only one way that GNR could end their main set though, and as soon as the iconic cowbell drum intro of ode-to-cheap-booze Nighttrain starts up, the place really lights up again. This is really one of the moments where you can tell how much fun the band members are having, as all three originals and their bandmates crack smiles at the colossal response. Slash and Fortus genuinely shine here, trading riffs as though they’d been doing it for years, and the whole track seems to race along at an even quicker pace than in 1987.
You’d almost think that was it, given the torrent of applause, but clearly the band have other plans. There Was A Time might not be the most obvious choice to start an encore with, but it does a serviceable job of reigniting the crowd, before the huge lighters-in-the-air moment of Patience. One final surprise cover comes in the form of The Who’s track The Seeker, before a triumphant Paradise City puts an end to what has been an extraordinary show, and indeed tour. If Guns N’Roses are truly back with this line-up, then tonight proves that fans genuinely have something to get excited about. We can only hope the band make it to these shores quickly.