Vini! Vidi! Vici! Guns N'Roses came, G-N-R saw, and this particular group of Gunners that founder Axl Rose put together, most definitely conquered.
I'll be the first to admit I was absolutely stunned at just how good this edition of Guns truly is. Axl's voice was spot on throughout the non-stop, two and a half hour show. The cast of characters surrounding him were superior in every way to the original collection of musical misfits. As far as the show itself, no expense was spared, including a fireworks display for those stuck on the lawn.
Okay, I am going to say it again. This was an outstanding concert. In fact, this show was so good, I actually enjoyed the five songs from Chinese Democracy that found there way into the set list. Listen, there is no way I would ever denounce the incredible 4-year period where Axl, Slash, Izzy and Duff created music that sold 80 million copies worldwide. What I am saying is 20 years later, this particular ensemble gathered on stage, played Guns N'Roses songs to absolute perfection. If this was your first G-N-R experience, you absolutely walked away in awe. If you were fortunate to catch this band live between 1987 and 1991, well, you know the kind of roller coaster ride this group could put you through. For those Guns veterans, and there were thousands of them in the crowd, you more than likely walked away from this xperience just as shocked, and delightfully surprised, as I was.
I have not seen Guns N'Roses in concert since the Use Your Illusion tour 20 years ago. That musical odyssey was a near disaster in every sense of the word. You never knew if Axl was going to show up and perform in whatever city Guns was in. Crowd control was always a problem with near riot conditions always a temper tantrum away. When Rose actually decided he would take the stage, usually two hours after the scheduled time, you were sufficiently ticked off enough you could care less. Tonight, the inevitable delay was a different story altogether, and social media could be thanked for that.
The opening act, The Swords, went on stage promptly at 8 p.m. When they finished 30 minutes later, this crowd of some 12,000 people did not grow restless wondering if Axl was going to show up. They just kept on drinking. The masses already knew, by checking their phones and connecting to the Internet, that G-N-R was regularly hitting the stage between 10 and 11 p.m. every night. As I found out through a little snooping, the fines to the city for violating the city noise ordinance had already been paid. Alcohol was going to be flowing freely until after midnight. No one inside was nervous a riot would break out. In fact, this crowd was in a festive mood anticipating a great show. A lot of people knew exactly what songs would be performed, how many, and in what order, Again, trusty cell phones came to the rescue allowing people to surf the Internet and check out set lists from past performances. My how the times have changed!!
I really cannot get over just how outstanding this version of Guns N'Roses is over the original edition. In a nod to this group's storied past, there is even Izzy (Darren Ashba) and Slash (Richard Fortus) look-a-likes playing guitar. The Replacements Tommy Stinson on bass obviously bears no resemblance to Duff McKagen, but his musicianship is equal to, and some would say superior, to the former. The drummer was Frank Ferrer, and the remaining holdover from the Use Your Illusion days, Dizzy Reed, did his dutiful work on the keyboards.
Many in attendance this evening had never seen Guns in its rawest form. In some ways, that was probably a good thing. For the veterans in the crowd like myself, there was a brief moment of time, say the first six months, when it really was exciting to watch the original line-up perform on stage. Tonight it took eight people to duplicate what the original five created. Who cares! They absolutely did the music justice.
There is going to be people out there who will argue that nothing could touch the lineup responsible for creating Appetite for Destruction. I'm not going to argue that point, especially since I was fortunate to chronicle the opening adventures of this band in the pages of Jam Magazine. For instance, when Guns N'Roses opened for The Cult six weeks after releasing their debut album in late July 1987, I was at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas to do an interview. The band was not a traveling circus at this point, and Axl was very much the business man the entire group took its cue from. I unknowingly interviewed Izzy on acid, only to have Axl and Slash apologize for the incident and speak to me on record for 45 minutes about the group. Ten weeks later, I was at the Fair Park Coliseum when Guns unexpectedly replaced Faster Pussycat to open for Alice Cooper. Hell, I even helped escort these guys to the legendary On the Rocks nightclub in Deep Ellum. There they jumped on stage and played five songs from Appetite for Destruction. And then there was January 1988 where I walked up and down Sunset Strip with Axl Rose in Los Angeles. There he openly discussed the past, present and future of the band while warning me not to drink an open beer because the police would arrest me. Unfortunately, six months after that Sunset moment, I witnessed the fall of this once mighty band. Success had transformed these five musicians from hungry to satiated, especially Axl. The ensuing debacle known as the Use Your Illusion tour sealed the fate of this once great band. My point in recounting this little trip down memory lane is simple. I know my Guns N'Roses. When I tell you this current collection of musicians hand-picked by Axl, are far superior to his former mates, you can take it to the bank.
Tonight, I witnessed what a clean and sober Guns N'Roses would have sounded like if booze, drugs and egos had not destroyed the original incarnation. The 2011 edition of Guns was exciting as well as mesmerizing. The songs throughout the entire set seamlessly flowed together. Even the cover tunes segued smoothly into G-N-R staples like "Live and Let Die" and "November Rain." In a nutshell, tonight's set included three songs apiece from the Use Your Illusion albums; eight songs from Appetite; five from Chinese, one from GNR Lies and five instrumental covers.
This was not the rock band your parents warned you about growing up. Rose had indeed matured as a singer. The band had even found time during the day to visit the children's ward at Medical City Dallas to spread good tidings and cheer. In the old days, the only mentions of a hospital would have been prefaced by the words "riot" and "people hurt." There would be none of that this evening. Perhaps the wrist band that allowed you into the pit said it best. No moshing and no body surfacing.
Yeah, today Guns N'Roses is a band your parents would warmly embrace. I can hardly believe I just wrote that line, but hey, sooner or later everyone just simply grows up. "Paradise City" indeed!
Dallas Set List:
Welcome To The Jungle
It's So Easy
Richard Fortus Guitar (James Bond theme)
Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings)
This I Love
Out Ta Get Me
My Generation (The Who, Tommy Stinson vocals)
Dizzy Reed Piano Solo (The Who Baba O'Riley)
Street Of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
DJ Ashba Guitar Solo (Mi Amor)
Sweet Child O' Mine
Instrumental Jam / Axl vocals (Pink Floyd Another Brick in the Wall)
Axl Rose Piano Solo (Elton John's Someone Saved My Life Tonight / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road)
Bumblefoot Guitar Solo (Pink Panther theme)
Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)
Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan cover)