GNR – THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
26 years ago, a 16-year-old Jeremy (that’s me!) and some buddies headed out to our first concert – Guns n’ Roses for their Use Your Illusions tour (with Skid Row opening!). Izzy was still in the band at that point (for a few more months anyway), but Steven Adler was gone. That concert was simply amazing. Even factoring the nostalgia of my first concert, I remember being blown away. Now, with Slash and Duff back in the fold and the “Not In This Lifetime” tour finally making it to Cleveland, I was getting to see the closest rendition to that first concert.
I wasn’t expecting this concert to be better than that. You only have your first concert once, but the reviews and comments I’d heard from friends who have seen this Guns n’ Roses tour have all been glowing. So, with that information and the fact that tickets cost $250, I did have some expectations. How did it live up? The concert was good. Not mind-blowing. Nowhere close to the best concert I’ve ever seen. Just good. Which, I’ll admit was a little disappointing. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like:
Slash: Slash was simply amazing, hands down the biggest reason to see this show. He carried the night and I’ve heard those comments about other shows. With the spotlight on him for every song, he didn’t just deliver. He crushed it. And, it was fun to see him shedding next to Axl again. But, this wasn’t a surprise. He’s been touring regularly for years with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators and is always on top of his game.
Duff: Like Slash, Duff is holding a lot of the songs together with his bass. He’s got good chemistry with drummer, Frank Ferrer (who also deserves credit for a solid performance). He sings a lot more backup vocals than I remember from the 90’s, but maybe I’m remembering wrong. Duff may be one of the most underrated bassists out there.
Three and Half Hours: The show was three and half hours. You don’t get that from bands very often. The best part is that it didn’t feel that long. There were some songs that dragged a little, but there was never a sense of “are they done yet?”. Even as they kicked into “Paradise City,” I still wanted to hear more.
Axl’s Voice…on some songs: We’ll get more into Axl’s voice, but he was spot on for a few songs. Especially, it seemed, that he was locked in on most of the Appetite for Destruction songs. “My Michelle” was one of the best songs of the night for his voice. When his voice is on, it brings back the magic of the original band.
Axl’s Voice…on most songs: The biggest concern everyone had for this tour was how Axl would sound. His voice had been shaky at best before Slash and Duff returned. Initial reviews were hugely positive. Add to that his singing with AC/DC. Unfortunately, his voice didn’t hold up for the majority of the songs. Even the songs you really want to hear get cringingly bad when his voice is off. “Civil War”, “Yesterdays” and “Coma” were especially bad. He sounded like a pained Miss Piggy. I have a hard time believing that he just had an off night. If you know you can’t hit the notes, just take the song out of the set. And, as much as I like a long concert, cut it back an hour. You’ll still give more than most people expect and you’ll help your voice that much more.
Set List: The set list, although long at 32 songs, is really just meh. There were five songs from Chinese Democracy. Five. The title track and “Better” I can live with because they’re actually decent songs. Anything else. No. During “This I Love” and ”Prostitute,” most people either hit the bathroom or the beer line, were having conversations or staring at their phones. “Madagascar” was the worst of them all, as the entire song sounded like it was recorded.
They also pulled out seven cover songs. It’s fun to hear a cover song or two, but that’s a lot. Now, to be fair, that includes “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die,” but, they’ve been playing “The Seeker” by The Who for multiple tours. A good song, but I don’t need to hear Guns n’ Roses play it. I will say that “Black Hole Sun” sounded great.
Some songs, like “Estranged” and “Yesterdays,” are fan favorites from the CD’s, but just don’t hold up well live. “Estranged” especially is a song I love to hear, but live it just drags on. Even the band looked a little bored playing it.
“Double Talkin’ Jive” may have been the best song of the night, driven by Slash’s expanded intro and outro solos. They also did eight songs off of Appetite which was great, but why not work in songs like “Out ta Get Me,” “Bad Apples,” “Pretty Tied Up,” “Breakdown,” or “Bad Obsession?” There’s plenty of time if you get rid of the Chinese Democracy songs!
Sound and Mix: The sound and mix of this show was terrible. I don’t know if part of it is intentional to try to highlight certain players at certain times and they did a bad job of making changes. But, in many cases, the guitars were too far in the mix. Axl’s voice would cut in and out during songs. The keyboards would be up too high. It was just a mess most of the night.
Two Keyboardists: I’ve often joked about Dizzy Reed being in the band, let alone being the only member other than Axl to survive since the Use Your Illusions days. But now, there are two keyboardists with Melissa Reese. It’s overkill. The majority of the songs don’t need keyboards at all and it takes away from the songs and the sound that made them famous to begin with.
This tour was never billed as a reunion. So, Slash and Duff are back, but they’re just picking up where the band was at the point they re-joined. And it feels that way. I never had the feeling that the “original” Guns n’ Roses is back. It’s nice to see Axl, Duff and Slash, but it still feels like Axl’s gig.
Overall, I’m glad I went and got to see it. But, I don’t need to see it again…especially at $250 a ticket. I’m hoping this run is winding down and Slash can get back to his solo band. His solo songs are better and closer to what Guns n’ Roses should sound like than Chinese Democracy. Of course, if they go for a full reunion with Izzy and Steven Adler, all bets are off.
Have you seen the “Not in this Lifetime” tour? What did you think? Did Axl sound any better for your shows?
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Duff vocals)
This I Love
Guitar Solo/Theme from The Godfather
Sweet Child o’ Mine
Used to Love Her
Wish You Were Here
Black Hole Sun
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door