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.
Duff McKagan embodies the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. No matter what band he’s playing with, you’ll instantly recognize that signature bass wallop he packs. There’s nothing like it. It’s that same spark he channeled back on “It’s So Easy” from Appetite for Destruction, but it’s transmuted into magnificent permutations whether it be Loaded, Velvet Revolver, or now Walking Papers. The latter are igniting crowds all summer on the Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival, and McKagan’s keeping rock ‘n’ roll alive every day he takes the stage.
UPROAR’s Rick Florino spoke to Duff about Walking Papers, the Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival, judging the “Battle of the Bands” with long time buddy and Alice In Chains singer and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, and so much more in this exclusive interview.
What guided you to Walking Papers?
Barrett Martin and Jeff Angell had the germ for this band. I knew Jeff’s songwriting was epic, and his lyrics are especially outstanding. I can say that about him, because I’ve admired him for fifteen years. Everybody in Seattle has. Everything has its place on this record instrumentally. I’m really proud of this record, and I’m proud of this band live. It’s kicking ass. The shows have been extremely fun. I can say it’s an honor to play in a rhythm section with Barrett.
What attracted you to the Rockstar Energy UPROAR Festival?
Well, initially, Sean Kinney called. Jerry Cantrell, Sean, and I have been pretty tight buddies since 1990 or something. They approached Alice In Chains about co-headlining the festival, and Sean was really pushing to make this a sort of different UPROAR with a mixture of bands that could really interest and challenge an audience. The whole bill is like that. Sean knew our record would be coming out about the time of this tour starting. We talked about it, and John Reese who co-owns UPROAR spoke to me. It’s a family thing really. Reese was my tour manager in Guns N’ Roses. I’ve known John’s kids since they were bumps in bellies. I’m of course good pals with the Jane’s Addiction guys. There’s a lot of cool bands on this thing like Middle Class Rut and Danko Jones.
What appeals to you about judging the “Battle of the Bands”?
I don’t look at it as a “contest thing.” I could never be a pure judge of a battle of the bands like, “This band’s the best band here right now!” That would just be my opinion. I don’t usually do that. I thought this would be a good idea. Jerry and I are the two guys, and I thought it’d be best to do this to expose all of the bands on the list for the “Battle of the Bands.” I’ve seen some really cool groups. It’s not like I go out there every day, cross my arms, look at the stage, and say, “Hmm…” I’ve seen a couple good bands that really stood out. In New Jersey, I had just worked out, and I was sitting on these steps to the third stage, dripping from sweating. This band went on, and I didn’t even realize it. I thought, “Fuck, these guys are killer. Who the hell is this?” It turns out it was one of the bands competing in the “Battle of the Bands”—Black Clouds. I don’t know how we’re going to choose the band at the end. It’s going to be a tough thing to do.
I really want it to be known that if it goes down anyway and we pick a “winner,” it’ll just be because that’s what you’ve got to do at the end of this thing [Laughs]. I really appreciate the effort from everyone. You see all of these bands who are on tour. Some are scared and some aren’t. It’s all a positive thing though. I wish everyone the best.
UPROAR seems like the perfect platform to launch this band.
It’s great for Walking Papers! It’s really profoundly great for us. Our record came out, and two days later, UPROAR started.
What’s been the best UPROAR Festival show so far?
I’ve got to say all of the places we’ve played have been great so far. We’ve played like nine gigs. Boston was great. It was packed that day. Even the first gig in Scranton was great for us. Everyone was getting the kinks out in every band. New Jersey was killer. Toronto was really good to us. It seems to be building a little bit. You can tell we’re a new band, and more and more people are hearing about us and coming for that 5:40 slot to see us. It’s really cool. It’s really cool to be a part of this band right now.
What have you been listening to?
We’ve been listening to these classic records at night on the bus. We’ve got a whole list of Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska, and classic Led Zeppelin. Then, you have the argument, “What Zeppelin record do you choose?” My daughter just got me back into Radiohead’s Ok Computer. She turned me on to a new band called Purity Ring from Canada. They’re like electronic-infused Siouxsie and the Banshees. I’m digging Middle Class Rut right now.
What’s next for you?
I take it one day at a time, man! There’s this tour, and then I’m sure another tour. I’m really enjoying what I’m doing with Walking Papers. It’s all about that gig-of-the-day.
*Interview courtesy www.rockstaruproar.com
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