So I grew up in a religious and very conservative household as I am sure some of us metal heads did. One of the bands that was definitely off limits was Guns N’ Roses. Despite coming late to the party Guns was one of those bands that had the allure of being a bad influence and warping my impressionable young mind. They were loud with dirty guitars and some amazing metal tunes, and Axl Rose had a voice for the ages. Axl and friends had toured near me before but I refused to see them. I didn’t want to ruin the image I had of what they should be like. When it was announced that four sixths of the original lineup was getting back together for the obvious title of “Not in this lifetime” tour, I thought this is probably the closest it is going to get to the band I thought I would never see.
July 16th in Toronto, it was a madhouse at the Rogers Centre and the crowd was surprisingly diverse in age ranges. Of course, there were many mid-40s to early-50s women dressed like it was 1985 trying to recapture the magic of their youth, also they were a number of bros, which I thought was odd. I guess it’s cool now to like Guns. More than a few kids with their parents as well. The wife and I were in the 500 level; I was only willing to spend 100 bucks a ticket on a gamble so as we made our way to our seats through the mob of fans standing in line paying 12.50 a beer (fuck that), we could hear an awful sound going off every couple of seconds. We thought it might be the opener Billy Talent warming up that happened to be ear piercingly awful. They had a video of guns Shooting every 15 seconds and god damn was that annoying. We almost wished we were watching Billy Talent. That went on for about 15 minutes and then the lights came down and the intro started.
Guns came on about 10 to 10 which was fantastic. I checked before this show to see if Axl was still pulling this two hours late nonsense and thankfully they kept it pretty professional. They opened with “It’s So Easy” and then into to “Mr Brownstone.” Teenage me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The band seemed comfortable up there and who knows how the tour is going with Axl’s personality but they played well. I was able to see Slash perform once in person with Velvet Revolver before they had released their first album and I had forgotten how incredible a player he is live. Despite only being to see him on the videotron it reminded me that even though I’m able to play some guitar, I could practice 24 hours a day and never play as effortlessly as Slash.
The setlist was really good although it had some flaws. While it’s nice for Axl that the band plays songs off of Chinese Democracy, nobody cares. I could have done with four less Chinese Democracy songs (they played four in total). They played a couple of covers including “The Seeker” and their version of “Attitude” and “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” from the Spaghetti Incident. The first Slash solo break was great; I generally dislike the idea of guitar solos but Slash turned the wankery into the theme to The Godfather. The second guitar solo duel with Richard Fortus was fine, I guess, but went on too long, as in more than a minute.
I also felt like it took about 45 minutes for the band to hit their stride. They were good but when they played “Civil War” it was an epic performance. This was about half way through their set and when you are playing two and half hours it does take some time to warm up. Almost all of the hits were here including “Welcome to the Jungle,” You could be Mine,” “Rocket Queen,” “Night Train,” and “November Rain,” but surprisingly “My Michelle” was absent, as was “Don’t Cry”.
The sound was really good for the most part: the rhythm section came through loud and clear, backup vocals were audible in the mix and the guitars and Axl were front and centre but not overwhelmingly loud. There were times the sound was muddled but those were brief. I was worried that Axl’s voice would be a problem. I have seen live videos where he is hit or miss. This night he was almost perfect. He nailed his highs and didn’t seem out of breath. Perhaps it was to my benefit that we saw the band mid tour and not early on. Axl did have a costume change after almost every song with a different hat. Some of the hats were pretty ridiculous looking but the man is a rock star, so he can do what he wants, I suppose.
The band was a well oiled machine by the end. Richard Fortus does a fine job as second guitarist and the drumming was phenomenal. I am not entirely sure why they have two keyboardists but the addition of added backup vocals did not detract from the original compositions.
The band finished with an encore of “Patience,” “The Seeker” and “Paradise City.” I wish the staple of the encore would go away but c’est la vie. July 16th 2016 in Toronto a dream came true and Guns was everything I had hoped for. Now if only Zeppelin could get their shit together for a tour with a reasonable ticket price, my list of bands I will probably never get a chance to see would be complete.
Feature image: Guns N’ Roses in Toronto – July 16, 2016.
Photo credit: www.gunsnroses.com/media.