What is it about wearing black and raging a rock show that kicks so much ass?
To the frenzied delight of an army of black-clad fans chomping at the bit for this very night—some all their life, some before they were born—a reunited, reassembled and reinvigorated Guns N’ Roses served up an ass-kicking time at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday night with a two-and-a-half hour assault that shattered even the loftiest of expectations.
Employing a variety of opening acts from their ongoing “Not in This Lifetime Tour,” fellow ‘80s-spawned Los Angeles hard-hitters the Cult warmed up a cavernous, black-lit Dome on the power of guitar-build swells serving as a powerful undercurrent to the halting vocal prowess of frontman Ian Astbury. Banging his hip with a tambourine and belting out lyrical booms, Astbury peppered his audience with, “Are you ready for a rock n’ roll show?” He succeeded in raising the energy high over the course of an hour set complete with an obligatory, but most vigorous and alive, rendition of “Fire Woman,” in which he oozed the “smokestack lightning” line full of heavy-metal glamor.
Dudes from my hometown in Georgia would drag race from the high-school parking lot—Camaro tires squealing—to the mall to buy the new Guns N’ Roses album. Such is the primal power this band holds. So anticipating an opening song—“It’s gotta be ‘Paradise City,’ just gotta be”—in banter with the crowd around you turns a bit sour when you learn the setlist has been the same for every show this tour, and that “Paradise City would, in fact, close the night. Bummer. The good-natured, well-muscled bro next to me, taking a break from sucking face with his much-stilettoed date, added that they’ll play 24 songs and that “Welcome to the Jungle” would be fourth.
Ignorance is bliss as far as setlists go, so Duff McKagan thumping the bass riff that kicks off “It’s So Easy”—it’s lyrics of “I see your sister in her Sunday dress” and “I drink and drive, everything’s in sight” the perfect kick in the pants rock needed in 1987 when Appetite for Destruction dropped—ushered in a hair-raising, head-banging thrill that never subdued over the course of a show. It’s the stuff of rock n’ roll fantasy.
“Isn’t this a nice little break from the heat?” Axl Rose joked with the crowd before “Welcome to the Jungle.” With a genuine grin, the controversy-prone singer showed that his mood was positive, past inter-band turmoil, concerts-turned-riots and Tommy Hilfiger sucker-punches be damned.
Despite the considerable star power Axl still packs, the real rock monster this beloved band unleashed upon the Earth is Saul Hudson. Slash, y’all. The cat in the black hat ripping the wild, wailing solo in the middle of “Rocket Queen,” his eyes behind reflector Aviator shades, and his expression that of master of his craft. In flourishes between the scripted set list, Slash expertly slid in solo takes on Eric Clapton/Duane Allman’s “Layla,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and, perhaps a nod to New Orleans, Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” After some goofy pyrotechnics exploded about the stage, the latter jam ushered in “Civil War.” As Duff and Slash shared a moment jamming back-to-back at the same mic during Axl’s refrain–“I don’t need your civil war”–the lyrics pointed to the way this gloriously dysfunctional band has buried its many bad hatchets.
Axl, donning an absurd white coat but still bare-chested and badass, sat at the piano and sipped from a red Solo cup before delivering the eloquent intro to “November Rain.” Slash, using a variety of guitars all night, broke out the double-neck 12-string for the epic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” that followed, complete with an out-of-nowhere reggae splash in the breakdown that shows how tight and talented this band truly is. Switching to his sweet vocal range, Axl echoed Arlo Guthrie’s classic 1972 lyric, “I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans,” before a blistering “Night Train” that closed the set.
A brief encore break led to an instrumental warm up to man-ballad gold-standard “Don’t Cry,” before a blistering cover of the Who’s “The Seeker.” Finally, Slash’s signature lick brought us all back to “Paradise City,” with his minor-chord frenzy building to Axl’s “So far away…,”a final testament to this rock band’s prowess and, as it was a pleasure to learn last night, staying power.