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