Guns N' Roses reunion review: show makes Las Vegas paradise city for fans

Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan thrill in first show together since 1993 despite fractured past, frontman’s foot injury … and songs from Chinese Democracy

From the moment the long-rumoured Guns N’ Roses reunion was confirmed in January with the release of the Coachella line-up – for a sum reports have estimated at $8m – veteran fans openly wondered how the famously tempestuous Los Angeles rockers could eff it up this time.

Bully for those who took “Axl Rose, fractured left foot” in their pools. The mercurial 54-year-old frontman suffered a snapped fifth metatarsal during an impromptu gig at the 500-cap Troubadour in West Hollywood on Monday – the first time the principal trio of Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan had performed together since a 17 July 1993 show in Buenos Aires.

He announced the injury on the morning of Friday’s proper reunion gig at the T-Mobile Arena, the sparkling new 19,600-seat venue at the top of the Las Vegas Strip that opened this week. It was undeniably bad optics, given the band’s well-documented appetite for self-destruction, yet it was curiously on brand.

“Of course,” the band’s PR rep said in an afternoon email, “the show will go on!”

The nostalgia act is a tradition as old as popular music – your youth repackaged and sold back to you with the sharp edges removed – yet there was something atypically tantalizing about the GNR resurrection. Demand for Friday’s gig was stratospheric. No press tickets or photo passes were issued; one intrepid correspondent invited to tour the venue on Friday morning broke away and camped out in a bathroom for 11 hours until doors opened – with tickets in the nosebleeds starting at $500 on the secondary market.

Once the supporting act, Alice in Chains, wrapped their 40-minute set at 10.32pm, the wait was on. GNR took the stage a few minutes before midnight – their leader wheeled on stage in the Game of Thrones’ Iron Throne-inspired chair that Dave Grohl used for his own injury hampered performances last year. They launched into It’s So Easy and Mr Brownstone, a one-two opener of Appetite for Destruction favorites.

What might have been a risible spectacle was buoyed by the sheer energy on the periphery – the immaculately coiffed Slash and heroin-chic McKagan strutting the stage from end to end while a trio of scantily clad dancers gyrated on a platform above drummer Frank Ferrer and cannons burped fireballs into the sky. Longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed, guitarist Richard Fortus and new second keyboardist Melissa Reese – the band’s first female member – filled out the seven-piece for a 23-song set that spanned the entire catalog.

The high points were predictably riveting. The soaring melodies and focused solos of Estranged enthralled; furious rocker You Could Be Mine evoked John Connor’s dirt-bike tear through the LA viaducts; a Slash cover of the Godfather theme Speak Softly, Love hushed the audience before a seamless segue into Sweet Child O’ Mine sent it into hysterics.

Even the selections from industry punch line Chinese Democracy – the title track, Better, This I Love – surpassed their bathroom-break vintage.

Guns N Roses
Guns N’ Roses played a surprise gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on Monday. Photograph: Broadimage/Rex/Shutterstock

Rose is no stranger to performing through injury – he performed much of a 1991 tour in a leg cast – and he soldiered through the gig like the seasoned vet he is, hobbling on and off stage for a series of costume changes, at one point leaving Slash and McKagan to lead an instrumental cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

That led into a cover of the ending section of the Derek and the Dominos song Layla – Axl nailing the piano solo – before a pitch-perfect rendition of November Rain that saw each of the band’s charter members communicating with one another as if the 23-year split had never happened. A two-song encore of the maudlin ballad Patience and Appetite bulwark Paradise City closed the show at two hours and 21 minutes and sent the delirious crowd into the night.

Billboard reports GNR will bank $3m per show during a forthcoming North American stadium tour, which stands to challenge the era’s reunion tour gold standard of the Police, whose 2007-08 revival netted $362m from 151 dates. The sheer numbers at play are enough to prompt cash-grab skepticism from even the group’s most optimistic fans.

But Friday’s opener showcased a band with hits to burn, capable of transcending, at least for now, their most combustible tendencies.


Bryan Armen Graham in Las Vegas

The GuardianTramp

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