Two miracles happened Saturday night at the Guns N’ Roses concert in Las Vegas: The first one came early, as Axl Rose was wheeled out with a broken foot on Dave Grohl’s borrowed Foo Fighters throne, and the singer made a gesture that was the ultimate middle-finger to his many doubters and critics: He arrived right on time.
It was less than an hour after the final moments of opener Alice in Chains when Rose offered a warm “Good evening” to wild cheering on the second of two nights at the T-Mobile Arena, blocks away from the Vegas Strip. It was only the band’s third public performance since reuniting original members Rose, guitarist Slash, and bassist Duff McKagan, beginning with “It’s So Easy,” and a few thousand cell phones raised to capture the moment.
The night’s second miracle happened at the very end of nearly three hours, when Rose closed a roaring “Paradise City” by throwing his mic into the crowd, where it was caught by a lucky fan named Senter Johnson, 33, who flew in with friends from Miami. That would be miracle enough for most fans, except that Johnson also happened to catch Rose’s mic the night before.
“It’s awesome to be here,” Johnson said, right after grabbing it and getting his hand stepped on. “It was just sitting on the floor waiting for me.” He’s been a fan since he was nine, and has seen the latter-day Guns N’ Roses many times (plus Duff and Slash’s solo bands). “I respect the other guys as artists, but they played things note for note. I obviously like these guys a thousand times more.”
The original GN’R was the kind of group where even casual fans could name each band member. Fans didn’t get a full reunion of the founding five Gunners, but there was an emotional charge to seeing three of the marquee names back together, seemingly a functional unit once again. They were joined by guitarist Richard Fortus, the only newer member up front, while drummer Frank Ferrer, keyboardist/percussionist Dizzy Reed and keyboardist Melissa Reese were kept in the shadows.
There was obvious irony in seeing Slash alone in the spotlight playing the opening riff of “Chinese Democracy,” the title song from GNR’s only post-Slash release, but the guitarist took ownership of the moment, slashing with ragged authority. Rose leaned forward, sneering his vocal, as animated as anyone could been in his condition.
While Saturday night’s three-hour set was nearly identical to the night before, there were some surprises. Axl exited and Duff took lead vocals on a blistering take on the Misfits’ “Attitude,” as Slash ignited the punk rock crunch, spinning in place with his guitar. The encore, which the band kicked off with “Patience” on Friday, began with both guitarists facing one another and trading melodic bits and pieces. “Don’t Cry” then came in to focus with a big beat and Rose purring against Slash’s sweeping gestures, guitar neck pointed to the sky.
“How is it I’m working up a sweat sitting on my ass?” joked Rose, who still managed several costume changes during the show, being wheeled on and offstage by a woman in sexy nurse attire. After this run, the Foos’ thrones could become standard touring gear for accident-prone rockers. Soon after, he was biting hard on “Welcome to the Jungle,” shouting the threatening “You’re gonna die!” just like you remembered it.”I want to hear you fuckers scream!”
Alice in Chains started the night with a brooding, straight-ahead rock set of big hits and newer songs. It would be a stretch to call it a co-headline gig, but Alice has its own history playing arenas, and performed to a mostly full room, as fans sang along to “Rooster” with fervor, arms raised in the air. But the only band that mattered in Vegas this night was Guns N’ Roses.
If the latter-era GN’R was overly precise in recreating the classic catalog, Slash and McKagan were comfortable loosening up and stretching out. When former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach appeared, things relaxed further as he joined Rose in a duet on “My Michelle,” leaving the GN’R singer openly cracking up at his energy. As he left the stage, Bach declared, “I think I can speak for Las Vegas and thank you Guns N’ Roses for making us so fucking happy. You’re fucking back!”
Guns N’ Roses Set List
1. “It’s So Easy”
2. “Mr. Brownstone”
3. “Chinese Democracy”
4. “Welcome to the Jungle”
5. “Double Talkin’ Jive”
7. “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings cover)
8. “Rocket Queen”
9. “You Could Be Mine”
10. “Attitude” (Misfits cover)
11. “This I Love”
13. “Theme from The Godfather“
14. “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
16. “Civil War”
17. “My Michelle” (with Sebastian Bach)
18.”Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd cover)
19. “Layla” (Derek and the Dominos cover)
20. “November Rain”
21. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan cover)
23. “Don’t Cry”
24. “The Seeker” (The Who cover)
25. “Paradise City”