You can’t blow the roof off a sta­dium that doesn’t have one, but they damn well tried

Pop Guns N’ Roses

The Guardian - - THE CRITICS JOURNAL - The clothes are new, but the good news is the band are old … Axl Rose and Slash Pho­to­graph: Marc Grimwade/WireI­mage

Queen El­iz­a­beth Sta­dium, Lon­don

Iwon­dered if it was silly. Me and a bunch of other fortysome­things go­ing to see Guns N’ Roses, a band we loved in our youth when they seemed so wild and pul­sat­ing and deca­dently mas­cu­line. Those sin­ga­long-with-Jack-Daniel’s dudes, ev­ery song a paean to get­ting high or get­ting off – or both. Bri­tish pop at the time was play­ing with gen­der and an­drog­yny, but Guns N’ Roses were just pure, stupid testos­terone. I wrote their lyrics on my bed­room wall and se­cretly loved and feared them for it.

If we were mid­dle-aged now, though, what did that make the filthy rock bas­tards of pop? Old? And hadn’t they al­ready done one come­back tour some years ago, when it was just a bloated Axl Rose and a bunch of hired hands turn­ing up late and try­ing to recre­ate the magic be­cause all the other mem­bers re­fused to have any­thing to do with him?

Would we still be en­tranced, now that we’ve read their mem­oirs and know what re­ally went on back in the day, in­clud­ing the bit in Slash’s warts-and-all au­to­bi­og­ra­phy when he lit­er­ally does have warts, on his pe­nis, and he has to visit doc­tor af­ter doc­tor to get them burned off be­cause they bounce back more times than Boris John­son?

Well, ar­riv­ing at the sta­dium where the 2012 Olympics were held, the first things you no­tice are the band T-shirts. Ev­ery­body looks like a diehard fan, with about a quar­ter of the male and fe­male crowd wear­ing the Guns N’ Roses tops they must have owned for 30 years, with old tour dates on the back. Ex­cept th­ese T-shirts are sus­pi­ciously clean.

When I ask peo­ple, one man ad­mits he works in the City and just bought his from the mer­chan­dise stand, be­fore shov­ing his work shirt in his ruck­sack. An­other two beefy blokes just bought theirs from the Pri­mark across the road. “I got that one from Next,” says one woman, point­ing at the T-shirt of the bloke ahead of her in the beer queue, “but they had a bet­ter one in Top Shop.”

If the clothes are new, the good news is that the band are old: Slash is back (I can’t speak for his gen­i­tal warts), and bass player Duff McKa­gan too, both hav­ing made up with Rose. This is the first UK show of the band’s clas­sic lineup in 24 years, and they all take to the stage like men who truly, fe­ro­ciously mean busi­ness, go­ing straight in with the hits.

Wel­come to the Jun­gle be­gins and the crowd surges like a beast. Mr Brown­stone, a druggy song that seemed more dan­ger­ous 25 years ago, seems strangely poignant now, with Rose singing its wind­ing melody beau­ti­fully, per­fectly. His face, which bears the age­less­ness of any Hol­ly­wood star who has reached a cer­tain age and per­haps had some help, is as taut as a drum when he sings the high­est notes, and you won­der if he might burst.

Then he puts on a top hat with a union jack on it and sud­denly looks less Bo­tox, more Brexit. He sings Live and Let Die with twice the bravado and swag­ger of Paul McCart­ney, and the thun­der­ing drums are so men­ac­ing that it’s a real mo­ment for the crowd.

The lyrics to Civil War feel ripe for the po­lit­i­cal ten­sions of to­day, and Rose’s voice is soft like fur at the start, switch­ing to a tightrope in a sec­ond. He’s truly in con­trol; the master of range. We start to see more of Melissa Reese, the young woman who joined the band on keys and vo­cals in re­cent years, and who gets a men­tion from Rose as

It dawns on me that what seemed overtly mas­cu­line in youth seems the­atri­cally fem­i­nine in mid­dle age

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