Guns N’ Roses bowls a gut­ter

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Dy­lan Owens Dy­lan Owens: 303-954-1785, dowens@den­ver­ or @dy­lana­cious

Since be­fore I can re­mem­ber, Guns N’ Roses has re­minded me of the bowl­ing al­ley.

It’s not just the fact that Axl Rose and Slash look like two dudes you’d find propped against a Har­ley David­son in the park­ing lot of your lo­cal al­ley. (Even at 55 and 52, re­spec­tively, they still look like they could steal your beer money.) Or that Slash’s glossy, color-burst Les Paul evokes the slick oil-on­wood aes­thetic of the lanes. It’s that they both con­jure up mem­o­ries of that cer­tain late-1980s, early-1990s era when bowl­ing al­leys were, like the mall or a bar, a town com­mons — a place to park your Ca­maro, kick up your heels and blast Guns N’ Roses be­tween frames.

Since those lan­d­line days, the fate of the band and the bowl­ing al­ley has fol­lowed a sim­i­lar tra­jec­tory. Once pop­u­lar, Guns N’ Roses trended to­wards the gut­ter in the late ‘90s, set­tling into a nos­tal­gic cor­ner of the heart for those who re­mem­ber when the boys from Hol­ly­wood — as they’re still in­tro­duced on stage to this day — were the hottest ticket in town. (Even af­ter Slash was kicked out of the band a lit­tle over two decades ago.)

But as you can see at Crown Lanes on the right night, nostal­gia never goes out of style. Hence, Guns N’ Roses’ Not In This Life­time Tour, which brings orig­i­nal mem­bers Rose, Slash and Duff McKa­gan to­gether on stage for the first time since 1993’s Use Your Il­lu­sion Tour. Now in its 16th month, the cir­cuit is the high­est-gross­ing tour of 2017 and, if Wikipedia is to be be­lieved, the tenth high­est gross­ing rock tour of all time.

On Wed­nes­day evening, Den­ver got its chance to see what the hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of fuss was about. In­clud­ing an open­ing set from alt-coun­try trou­ba­dour Sturgill Simp­son, the evening packed nearly five hours of mu­sic. Aw­ful “Chi­nese Democ­racy” track af­ter beau­ti­ful Soundgar­den cover (a pow­er­ful late-set ren­di­tion of “Black Hole Sun”), GNR’s setlist alone swelled to 30 songs, tent-poled near the be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end by the band’s smash hits: “Wel­come to the Jun­gle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Par­adise City.”

As eco­nom­i­cal as that sounds, fans prob­a­bly could have done more with less. Many in the twothirds full sta­dium took a 30-minute seat break for a stretch of slower bal­lads like “This I Love,” “Yes­ter­days” and “Coma.” Sure, the band doesn’t come around that of­ten, but the bloat was bla­tant.

One po­ten­tial rea­son for the tour’s record-set­ting grosses, aside from its in­sanely priced merch (the $40 T-shirts were par for the course; $500 leather jack­ets, less so), is the tour’s pro­duc­tion. A hand­ful of fire­works ar­rays aside, the Not In This Life­time Tour was low-key in com­par­i­son to the on­slaught of py­rotech­nics and spe­cial ef­fects Me­tal­lica trot­ted out two months prior, and down­right tame com­pared to most arena pop shows. But see­ing Rose ri­fle through a half­dozen out­fits — in­clud­ing a snake­skin jacket and an ice-cube sized di­a­mond ring for “Novem­ber Rain,” beau­ti­fully adorned on the side-stage Jum­botrons by the ca­ress of CGI rose petals — it’s ob­vi­ous the money was well-spent else­where.

Much has been made about the band’s age, an in­evitable topic for a group that, like the Rolling Stones, epit­o­mized youth cul­ture in their long-since-gone hey­day. A teleprompter be­tween the speaker wedges on stage helped Rose stay on lyric, but couldn’t help him hit all the right notes. Rose hit the stage on Wed­nes­day sound­ing like he was al­ready 20 songs deep, creak­ing his way through “It’s So Easy.” Three songs later, he spouted the first lines of “Wel­come to the Jun­gle” with a con­ser­va­tive halt, a far cry from its orig­i­nal wild­cat rasp. But as the sun low­ered, so did his in­hi­bi­tions. By the time he got to “Used To Love Her” an hour and change later, he’d found his sweet spot — by no means lithe, but more than rec­og­niz­able.

Be­hind his sig­na­ture avi­a­tors and an inky mop of curls, Slash — “from un­charted ter­ri­tory,” as Rose in­tro­duced him — is still as hard to parse as ever, and as rou­tinely in­cred­i­ble. He is the re-an­i­mated Gre­gor Cle­gane of Guns N’ Roses, to bor­row from “Game of Thrones.” He only opened his mouth once — to sing through a vocoder — in­stead com­mu­ni­cat­ing through his army of gui­tars. (Even his acous­tic gui­tar was fused onto an elec­tric.) Map­ping out vi­sion­ary con­stel­la­tions on the fret­board, he was eerily calm, as if cre­ated solely to tease out arpeg­giated sweeps and work teases to “The God­fa­ther” theme song into his so­los, as he did late in the night.

In an open area to the side of the pit, the riffs scored slow dances and drunk dudes get­ting booted from the show. Both were ap­pro­pri­ate: For bet­ter or worse, Guns N’ Roses left no af­fil­i­ated mu­si­cal mem­ory un­ex­am­ined on Wed­nes­day. The band cap­tured the essence that one of its (again, very ex­pen­sive) T-shirts still rep­re­sents — not carpe diem, but carpe noctem — while out­stay­ing its wel­come just enough to re­mind fans of those things bet­ter left in the dust of your at­tic, un­der that copy of “Chi­nese Democ­racy” and, yeah, those bowl­ing shoes you never use.

Dy­lan Owens, The Den­ver Post

Guns N' Roses plays Den­ver's Mile High Sta­dium on Aug. 2.

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