5 reasons Guns N’ Roses still a big show
What I remember most about seeing Guns N’ Roses in 1988 is Axl Rose’s butt cheeks.
The GNR frontman wore a G-string under bare-back leather cowboy chaps the day I saw them at the Texas Jam, his attire perhaps a nod to the fact that the concert was held at the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Every time he turned to run on stage — which he did a lot in those days — we were reminded of his unique assets as a frontman. Which was better than all the reminders in the years that followed of how big of an ass he can be, too.
Seeing the heyday GNR lineup when they were rock’s biggest new thing was a thrill, but it actually pales in comparison with the odd thrill of finally seeing the band again this year (no pun on “pale” in relation to Rose’s derriere).
Granted, the band performing on its current tour is not exactly the heyday GNR lineup. Just three of the five members from that era are aboard: the hurricane-voiced Rose, guitar god Slash and anchoring bassist Duff McKagan. But that hasn’t lessened the excitement around the tour, which as of June was rock’s highest-grossing tour of 2017, with over a million tickets sold to the tune of $151 million so far.
Here are five reason rock fans are psyched for this reunion:
1. It really seemed like it wouldn’t happen.
And when it did kick off last year, it seemed even less likely this reunion would last.
In the same vein (and vanity) of Don Henley’s when-hell-freezes-over comment, which named the Eagles’ first post-breakup tour, the GNR outing has been dubbed the Not in This Lifetime Tour after a quote Axl Rose gave just a few years ago about the prospects of putting the old band back together. He probably meant it at the time.
I would’ve put money on a Led Zeppelin reunion happening before GNR. Slash and Rose genuinely seemed to hate each other.
Not only that, but between their struggles with addictions and Rose’s years of Michael Jackson-like seclusion, it seemed possible one of the principal band members would wind up dead before they wound up on stage together. Also, Rose wasn’t really hurting for money. He had rights to the GNR name all to himself and was still earning good pay playing arenas and festivals with replacement members since even before 2008, the year he finally released the band’s long-delayed “Chinese Democracy” album.
Thus, in a backhanded way, it’s fair to say this tour isn’t all about the money for Rose.
2. They’re all sober and healthy now.
News flash: Rock stars are better performers when they’re not on drugs. The classic GNR lineup added to its notoriety and wrote a couple of its best songs (“Mr. Brownstone,” “Nightrain”) off its members’ many vices, but it also put on some shoddy live shows and ultimately fell apart because of their struggles with addictions.
Slash, in particular, went through some tough spots but came out the other end. The bushy-headed guitarist sounded strong in the mid-’00s playing with McKagan and late Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland in their all-star group Velvet Revolver; and he actually sounded better than ever in recent years with his own band, Slash’s Snakepit.
Original GNR drummer Steven Adler, on the other hand, still looked very bad off in the 2011 season of VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab.” While he’s reportedly clean now, it seems it was too little too late to get him back in the band.
3. They had one of rock’s last seminal albums.
Except for Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” no other rock album of the past 30 years crossed as many barriers and rippled through the music industry with as much force as GNR’s 1987 debut “Appetite for Destruction.” Songs like the rousing opener “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City” are ubiquitous in American culture these days, but back then — when many other metal bands were busy primping up their hair for MTV and piling on the power ballads for radio play — those songs set the hard-rock world ablaze with their return to grimy, thundering guitar riffs and an overall sense of danger.
Big albums like that (and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Metallica’s “Black Album,” etc.) never seem to lose their magnetism, and the acts behind them never lose their drawing power.
4. The fill-in members aren’t entirely nobodies.
More so than Adler, it’s disappointing that the band’s other classic-era guitarist, Izzy Stradlin, wasn’t called back for the reunion.
He says it was for the obvious reason: an unwillingness to split profits with him as a co-founding member instead of as a hired GNR gun. Still, Stradlin’s replacement, Richard Fortus, not only showed off his talent in the “Chinese Democracy”-era GNR but also helped fuel the Psychedelic Furs in recent decades — not exactly GNR-level guitar cranking, but still great stuff.
Drummer Frank Ferrer is a Furs and GNR v. 2.0 alum who also played for a spell in another ’80s alt-rock band, The The. Keyboardist/programmer Melissa Reese is the one true newcomer in the band, but she has done loads of working for video-game soundtracks, which might be as familiar to today’s kids as the songs on “Appetite.”
While it’s of course vital to have McKagan back, it’s too bad Minneapolis’ own Tommy Stinson of the Replacements couldn’t be involved in the reunion after serving 18 years off and on as the bassist in Rose’s remade GNR. (Then again, we’d also rather have Stinson singing his own songs, as he does masterfully on the electrifying new album by his band Bash & Pop.)
5. Just like in the late-’80s, GNR’s timing is impeccable.
Mainstream metal is in a bit of funk these days, and I don’t mean that in a bass-slapping, Red Hot Chili Peppers sort of way.
A lot of the bands played on hard-rock radio stations are groups whose singers are dead, including Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Sublime, and — sadly, as of recent months — Linkin Park and Soundgarden.
Meanwhile, many newer bands seem to have the same mopey, gruff-voiced singer of the Staind variety, so they come up with gimmicks to distinguish themselves, such as covering a Simon & Garfunkel song (see: Disturbed) or starting country bands (see: Staind’s actual singer, Aaron Lewis).
Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses on stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif., April 17, 2016.