Guns N’ Roses, Fex Ex Field, Landover, Maryland, USA, June 26, 2016
25 years ago. One quarter of a century. That was the first and last time I saw Guns N’ Roses live. It was a golden era for the band. The original lineup was mostly intact… the only exception being original drummer Steven Adler had already departed and had been replaced by Matt Sorum. Dizzy Reed had recently joined as the band’s official keyboardist. At the time, GNR was riding high on an extreme wave of popularity, having just released their highly successful dual albums: “Use Your Illusion” I & II. The band’s live shows were well know for two things; and awesome live performance and Axl Rose showing up very late. The night I saw them back in 1991 was no exception. The opening band (Skid Row with Sebastian Bach) ended up playing for an hour and a half despite only being scheduled to play 40 minutes. We were then “treated” to a screening of the entire original “Evil Dead” movie to keep us from getting bored. Things got a little tense as annoyed fans were yelling and throwing chairs due to the delay. But when Guns N’ Roses finally took the stage at 11 pm (scheduled start time 9pm), they gave us a full 2+ hour blistering set of their unique brand of hard core Rock N’ Roll that we had come to see! It was a great night despite the late start and a show I still fondly remember to this day.
The following years were not kind to the band. Internal turmoil saw the loss of all original members except for Axl, with several of the secondary members being fired or leaving as well. No new music was released until 2008’s “Chinese Democracy”, and tours were few and far between. GNR seemed like a band in demise that was destined to never recapture its former glory. This year seemed to change all that, as… after another departure of several members, it was announced that a reunion tour was in the works, aptly titled the “Not in This Lifetime” tour (Axl and Slash had sworn they would never work together again). Original members Slash (guitars) and Duff McKagan (bass) were rejoining the band. The remaining lineup would consist of not original, but definitely long term members: Dizzy Reed (keyboards for 26 years), Richard Fortus (guitars for 15 years) and Frank Ferrer (drums for 10 years). Brand new member also on keyboards was Melissa Reese. Hopes and excitement for this reunion were high, in the industry itself, among long term fans, and for me as well. When the tour was announced, I grabbed tickets right away. Could the band recapture the original “magic”? We would see.
The show that I attended was in Landover, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC in the USA. It was held at a large outdoor sporting arena and despite the show not being sold out… attendance was high. Ticket prices were very high as well, but that didn’t keep the thousands of fans away! The audience was definitely a mixed bunch, with older fans from the band’s heyday, as well as droves of younger fans here to see the band for the first time. What all the audience members had in common… is that they were all excited… and they were all loud. They had been waiting a long time for this reunion… and the wait was almost over!!
The opening band for the evening was Alice in Chains, an old school hard rock band that got its start in the late 80’s, about the same time Guns N’ Roses was on the rise. The band’s unique sound did much to propel it to a high level of popularity through the 90s. Despite the death of original singer Lanye Staley in 2002, the band has had a very stable lineup since its reformation in 2005-2006 with new vocalist, William DuVall. Alice in Chains’ set list was a reasonable length for an opening band: 9 songs. The majority of the songs came from their older albums and included such crowd favorites as “Rooster’, “Them Bones”, and “Man in the Box”. There was one song played from each of their newer albums. Despite being very familiar with their music, I never saw Alice in Chains perform live ‘back in the day”… but I thought they put on an impressive, energetic show on this night. Definitely a band that can still entertain an audience!
After about 40 minutes for a set change, Guns N’ Roses hit the stage pretty much on time. Definitely a big change from the band of yesteryear! It was really great to see Slash and Duff back on stage with Axl after all this time. I was a little disappointed that original guitarist Izzy Stradlin wasn’t a part of this reunion, but long term guitarist Richard Fortus did an awesome job. I was surprised that he was even more energetic than Slash and I found that he frequently drew my attention from the other members with his onstage energy. Slash, Duff, and Axl, although all looking a bit older, didn’t look much different onstage than they did a quarter of a century ago. It was a high energy show, with great light and a respectable amount of pyro without being over the top. I had been worried about Axl’s ability to perform, due to his recent surgery to repair a fractured foot; but he was just as energetic as ever. He was a fantastic showman, and his voice was still over the top phenomenal!
As you might expect from a reunion tour, the band performed a really long set. There were twenty four songs in all with an additional guitar duet with Richard and Slash. There were 20 songs and the duet in the main set with four encores. The entire length was over 2 ½ hours! The show started with the high energy “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” and what followed was an awesome trip down memory lane with several newer songs from 2008’s “Chinese Democracy”. The evening was a great and balanced mix of songs across the band’s entire career. There are too many songs to list here, but they pretty much played almost every song a fan might want to hear! The set list has varied a little from night to night on the tour. The final song of the evening was, as expected: “Paradise City”.
No doubt about it… this was a fantastic night of fantastic music. After all these years, this band still has what it takes to entertain you… and they do it very well. However, there hasn’t been much talk from the band on what exactly happens next. Axl has stated in a recent interview that he does intend to release new GNR music in the future, but whether Slash and Duff have returned as permanent members… or if this reunion tour is a “one and done” event remains to be seen. My advice… if you are or ever were a fan of this band… see them now!!… this tour!!! They are on a roll and the future is yet to be written! Welcome to the Jungle!!