The Guns N' Roses song "It's So Easy" just might be the most swaggering rock song ever written.
Even coming from an era of dick-swinging, hyper-masculine rock music, it feels gaudy. The song oozes an easy confidence, an arrogance that can only come when your social capital is in such high demand that you become the center of the universe in every room you enter. It's a song that only true rock stars can lay claim to having written.
Guns N' Roses had a few glorious years when they were that band that demanded and earned that attention. A combination of chops, songwriting, and overwhelming popularity made the band seem immortal, but like many potent musical combinations that have come together through the years, Guns N' Roses couldn't keep the magic together for long. It's so easy to bask in the adoration of groupies, fans, and record execs building swimming pools with your money; it's harder to maintain a singular musical vision when your band is full of musical geniuses with authoritarian instincts.
Guns N' Roses' meteoric rise to becoming "the most dangerous band in the world" started in 1987 with the release of Appetite for Destruction and ended six years later when the band released The Spaghetti Incident?, a covers album that displayed infinitesimal amounts of the kinetic energy found on the band's seminal records. Slash would quit the band in 1996, leading to the prolonged hiatus that ended this year with a thunderous return performance at Coachella.
The band's subsequent tour, for which they reportedly might be receiving $3 million per show, stopped at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale last night. The night literally started off with a bang, as the crossed-pistols in the GN'R logo on the giant screens flanking the stage fired in succession to herald the main act taking the stage. Fittingly, "It's So Easy" was the perfect opening song, setting the stage for a reunion concert once deemed so unlikely the band named gave the tour the tongue-in-cheek name of "Not In This Lifetime."
The performance was high-energy and thrilling for nearly three hours. There were extended guitar solos, instrumental jams, Axl Rose on keys, and at least five T-shirt changes for the lead singer. The three original members on stage — Rose, Slash, and bassist Duff McKagan — congregated at the front of the stage at one point and rocked together, a heartwarming moment for fans who hadn't seen anything similar since the '90s. Slash delivered note-for-note renditions of some of his most famous solos, but the set also allowed plenty of time to show off the chops that have made him a guitar legend. Rose's voice was simply incredible to hear live; his range has hardly suffered two decades after the band's prime.
The band followed "It's So Easy" with "Mr. Brownstone" and followed that with "Chinese Democracy," the first of four songs from the benign lump that is Guns N' Roses' most recent album. Slash didn't play on Chinese Democracy, but he ripped out a fine guitar solo when it was his turn to shine on this song. "Welcome to the Jungle" followed, followed by "Double Talkin' Jive," "Better," and "Estranged." That last song lasted 10 minutes, featuring Axl in a T-shirt that read "Show some ass," and it showed the band had more than just hard-rocking tricks in its evening bag.
"Live and Let Die," with perfunctory cannon blasts, and Slash striking his trademark legs-splayed power pose, holding the guitar almost vertically, reminds you that though the band hasn't played together in years, the individual members never stopped performing and writing music. They've been training, in essence, for this reunion tour, and they came to Phoenix in peak performing condition. The band played through a series of lesser-known songs from the band's catalog, highlighted by the powerful ballad "This I Love" from Chinese Democracy. "Civil War" followed and was easily a highlight of the evening. The combination of the spoken word intro, Slash's crushing guitar work, and Axl's on-point vocals made for a pretty magical moment.
Slash stepped to the stage for his moment in the spotlight, playing an impressive solo rendition of the theme from The Godfather. He seamlessly transitioned this into the famous intro of "Sweet Child O' Mine," which got the crowd on its feet once again.
The band closed out the set with "November Rain," "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," and "Nighttrain." After a brief break, it returned for a four-song encore, ending with a cover of "The Seeker" by the Who and finally, "Paradise City."
The atmosphere in Westgate before and after the concert was celebratory. It was a night for ecstatic fandom and reflection on rock music's past, present, and future. There aren't many bands like Guns N' Roses left in the world, bands that inspire and dominate and sell out stadiums. Rock 'n' roll has been replaced by hip-hop and electronica as the music of the young. But for one night, you could forget that no other rock band has sold out a stadium in Arizona in years, that all the bands that do huge ticket sales are decades old, and you could get lost in musical nostalgia and simple, aggressive, from-the-gut rock 'n' roll. Paradise City, indeed.
Last Night: Guns N' Roses at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale
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The Crowd: Huge, packed with people, and enthusiastic. Lots of people in Axl Rose drag and Slash top hats.
Random Notebook Dump: "'Live and Let Die' might be one of the few songs where the cover is better than the original."
It's So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die
You Could Be Mine
You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory/New Rose
This I Love
Band intros into Slash solo - Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather/Andy Williams)
Sweet Child O' Mine
Out Ta Get Me
Jam ("Wish You Were Here/Layla”)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Catcher in the Rye