I had no idea what to expect Sunday night when I went to Soldier Field to see Guns N’ Roses. I really didn’t. I knew what I had hoped to see in what is now the highest grossing tour in 2016 but was still a bit skeptical seeing as the band has been on the outs for such a long time. Reviews of the band’s “Not In This Lifetime” reunion tour have been mixed, some claiming that Slash had been carrying the show, implying the other band members were merely present as symbols of yesteryear so that as much of an original lineup could be put together as possible to warrant such a major occasion that could fill stadiums. That’s not what I saw – not even close. Yes, Slash was amazing in himself, but I saw a band that collectively charged the stage and played with an enormous amount of continuity, energy, confidence and precision. I saw a band where EACH member contributed as much as the next in what turned out to be a very special event – the event one can only hope for when throwing around the words “Guns N’ Roses reunion”.
Having seen the band four times between the Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion releases, it is apparent that Guns N’ Roses now has access to a much larger and complex stage show where pyrotechnics and jumbo screens assist in presenting the band’s vision like never before. But of course you can’t have a successful reunion run without the music. There’s no denying the band has the catalog of material to please their hungry fan base, but let’s be honest – it’s been a long time since the band has played together and we now live in a world where comeback tours often recycle band members and thrust them on stage whether they can still perform or not. Guns N’ Roses is not one of these bands. While Slash wailed away on his Les Paul, effortlessly ripping through riffs and solos, bassist Duff McKagan also showed he was still in peak form even laying out impressive lead vocals on Iggy Pop’s “Raw Power”, a song the band covered on The Spaghetti Incident. McKagan patrolled the large stage area bleeding the Guns N’ Roses arrogance we have come to know, projecting the epitome of rock n’ roll attitude.
To me, I had little doubt that the instrumentation would be there, I was most curious if Axl Rose would still be able to gel with the others (and them with him) and, frankly, if his voice would hold up. Within minutes of the show, any doubts I may have had completely vanished. Axl was nailing it – and then some. With an incredible energy level that had him running all over the stage and grinding out his famous rock moves, Axl’s vocals were spot on and possibly even more powerful than ever before. His stage presence was dominant. He controlled the crowd. Who knows what goes on behind the scenes but all signs pointed to the three original members expressing great enjoyment as they played with each other – and this while playing at an optimum level.
The still youthful band, both musically and physically fit, was rounded out with Richard Fortus, who has been playing guitar for Guns N’ Roses since 2001 and was a presence in his own right, drummer Frank Ferrer (since 2006) who gives Matt Sorum a run for his money, longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and newbie Melissa Reese who manned a second keyboard.
Like a locomotive, the band’s sound was delivered with force from the get go when they opened with “It’s So Easy”. In a set that lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours and forty-five minutes, Guns N’ Roses tackled a plethora of favorites including “Mr. Brownstone”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Civil War”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Coma”, “Estranged”, “Live and Let Die” and “Rocket Queen”. The band also played a handful of material from their critically acclaimed 2008 release Chinese Democracy, going into the title track along with “This I Love” and “Better”.
In what could only be interpreted as a tribute to Prince, the entire stage filled with billows of purple smoke just after an inspiring performance of “November Rain”. Duff also sported the symbol of Prince on his bass. Nice touch, fellas.
Theirs was a set that never let up. After one gratifying selection after another the band finished up with “Nightrain” before returning for an encore with “Don’t Cry”, The Who’s “The Seeker” and a ramped up “Paradise City”.
Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” tour certainly lives up to the hopes of their many fans. It’s what fans knew the band could still be. Musically, the tour is fulfilling and visually, it is stimulating. It is the complete package. No shortcuts or cutting corners here. What fans get is an exciting, full blown Guns N’ Roses experience. I’m just glad Chicago made the band’s shortlist or tour stops. Great music, stage show and musicianship aside, not to worry, the band still carries a healthy “Fuck You” brashness after all these years – an important ingredient in G N’ R’s recipe for success.
Alice in Chains provided strong support for Guns N’ Roses for their Chicago stops and is highly deserving of their own rave review. Though Soldier Field may be the last stop for Alice in Chains as opening support, Guns N’ Roses will continue to take heavy-hitting acts along with them on the road with Lenny Kravitz, The Cult and Wolfmother scheduled on later dates.
So what’s next after a successful reunion tour? That’s what everyone seems to be asking while hoping the answer is simply to make a new album and tour the shit out of it. Guns N’ Roses is back.