The group's Not in This Lifetime tour, which launched in Detroit last night, left the earlier Guns N' Roses classic reunion dates – a warm up gig in Los Angeles in April, then a few Las Vegas shows, with a double weekend at Coachella to top it off – feeling like nothing but mere practice.
This was the real thing, the thing we'd all been waiting for: the triumphant return of one of the most important bands to cross rock music history. And it happened in our lifetime.
Whatever bumpy start the reunion got off to – a criticized lineup, which featured original members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan, but not Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler; a broken foot for Rose at the very first gig; lengthy delays – had mostly smoothed itself out by Thursday night.
Not only were Guns N' Roses on time in Detroit, but they were two minutes early. With an expected start time between 9:45 p.m. to 10 p.m., Guns N' Roses promptly took the stage at 9:43 p.m., making it clear they're no longer playing games.
On a bi-level setup backed by a video screen with additional screens on each side of the stage, Slash and McKagan were first to emerge, followed by Dizzy Reed and newer Guns N' Roses members Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer and Melissa Reese. Then a completely mobile Rose burst onstage last with a boundless energy and lust for the performance that lay ahead.
Rose, who initially borrowed the throne used by Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl after he broke his leg last summer, ruled without one: Detroit saw Rose in full force, letting loose the snake-like moves that defined the Guns N' Roses look. While Rose often let his weight sit on his right foot (he had broken a bone in the left one), it never once limited him from spinning, hopping and darting from the back of the stage to the front of the catwalk that stretched into the crowd.
Opening with a pulsating rendition of "It's So Easy," Guns N' Roses played for two-and-a-half hours to a near-capacity Ford Field. Often sporting Detroit shirts, the members showed their love for the Motor City. "You want the jungle, Detroit?" Rose screamed during "Welcome to the Jungle," later cracking a few Detroit-centric jokes. ("Everything here is fucking fried," he exclaimed at one point. "First thing I'd do in Detroit is put a tariff on vegetable oil.")
Rose continuously thrilled with his immense vocal range – especially seated at the piano for "November Rain" – which was always precise and extraordinarily fresh despite coming off of a string of dates with AC/DC, where he filled in for vocalist Brian Johnson. But he never let himself become the star of the show: Slash shined as often as Rose (if not more), letting his unrivaled guitar skills speak for themselves. Most solos were extended and spotlighted, but none spoke louder than his cover of The Godfather theme – a real treat for fans.
McKagan and Fortus weren't forgotten, either. McKagan – sporting a purple Prince symbol on his bass – doubled briefly as lead singer, providing vocals for "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory." Later, Fortus and Slash traded riffs for a duetted instrumental of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." But the same didn't apply for Reed, Reese and Ferrer, who were all but left in the background for the duration of the show. While Rose made it a point to introduce the band members several times, it didn't stop half of the group from feeling lost in the stage's shadows – a problem that has persisted since earlier dates.
Nonetheless, Guns N' Roses genuinely had a good time. With Rose's exuberant persona balanced by Slash's unnerving coolness, their connection never felt stronger than the many moments they spent singing and playing off one another, both often lost in levels of cathartic release. Even when Slash took over guitar duties for numbers off 2008's 'Chinese Democracy,' recorded entirely without him, he didn't feel out of place. As evident by the giant smile that often crept its way onto Rose's face, he was happy to be there – and happy to have his original bandmates at his side.
No songs hit harder than the classics from Appetite for Destruction, the group's 1987 debut record: "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Mr. Brownstone" and "Rocket Queen" were set highlights. And when the group finally closed their 24-song performance just after midnight with "Paradise City," complete with fireworks and a confetti shower, the two-and-a-half hours still didn't feel like enough for a full Guns N' Roses experience.
The group began rehearsing at Detroit's Ford Field on Monday, following teardown of Beyonce's stage from her June 14th performance. Although a tremendous debut evening, it came with a few hiccups to work out: What appeared to be a succession of pyrotechnic fails sounded like rounds of gunshots, unnerving particularly following recent terror attacks in music venues. Backup vocals were also on the low side, almost entirely drowned out. But it didn't deter from the overall show, which was so deeply steeped in electric energy that a couple mechanical flaws couldn't chip at its magnitude: this night was history being made, and there was no taking away from it.
Guns N' Roses Set list:
"It's So Easy"
"Welcome to the Jungle"
"Double Talkin' Jive"
"Live and Let Die" (Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
"You Could Be Mine"
"This I Love"
"Speak Softly, Love" (Theme from The Godfather/Andy Williams)
"Sweet Child O' Mine"
"Out Ta Get Me"
"Wish You Were Here" (Pink Floyd cover)
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (Bob Dylan cover)
"The Seeker" (The Who cover)