Look mate, I saw Guns n Roses in Donington in 1988. They’d just exploded, it was so soon after their breakout single Sweet Child came out that they’d been booked and put way down on the bill, and then in the month before the festival, they were suddenly everywhere. They were great, electric, pure rebel energy, it was everything rock and roll could and should be.
Then there were the 90s – Axl’s meltdown and ego trip on steroids where he grabbed the name and proceeded to kick out all the other founding members – or made things so unpleasant for them that they left of their own accord. Izzy Stradlin, the guitarist who moved to LA with Axl and put the band together with him, was the first to get the hell out, getting on a plane back to where they came from and leaving it all behind. Slash delved deeper and deeper into drugs; drummer Steven Adler had long since lost it; Duff on bass was apparently the last to leave, shortly before his liver imploded and he had to swear off drink forever.
GNR ’88: All that a rock and roll band should be. Massive energy, explode, implode, overdoses, rehab, the works. Then nothing.
And I think that’s the problem. It should have stayed nothing.
I know that when you go and see a band who were your heroes thirty years ago you shouldn’t expect them to be the same musicians you saw then, I know that, that’s not the point.
But I expected more, I expected a lot more.
The biggest problem was that Axl’s voice simply wasn’t there. What had once been a frenetic scream/growl, had over the years turned into….well, a horribly failed attempt to do the same scream/growl.
There were certain things that weren’t the fault of the band: the sound was bad, especially at the beginning – muddy and confused. Axl’s voice was buried way down in the mix, which didn’t help things. It improved through the concert, but still.
The lighting wasn’t much cop either, it seemed like at least for the first half of the concert they didn’t bother to put any spotlights on the stage, we watched the band in semi-darkness.
But other than that it was frankly a little disappointing
The biggest problem was that Axl’s voice simply wasn’t there. What had once been a frenetic scream/growl, had over the years turned into….well, a horribly failed attempt to do the same scream/growl. Most good singers develop, go in particular directions, mellow, don’t mellow, but they keep doing something. Their voice becomes a different instrument in their thirties, forties, fifties, to the one it was in their twenties, and they learn to work with it differently.
But Axl doesn’t seem to have done any of that. He’s still trying to do exactly what he did when he was 27, but the difference is that his vocal cords just aren’t able to pull it off. Which leaves him, instead of approaching the songs so that they work with both his voice as it is now, and the rest of the band as it is now, trying and failing to treat the songs exactly as he did thirty years ago.
And I mean, come on, I don’t want to be mean, but what happened to that lithe panther-like frontman (and his dress sense) that I remember? Axl today is a little, well, froglike. He trots dutifully up and down the stage like he thinks he’s meant to, but that sense of excitement that was there before, isn’t.
The coolest member of the band I think was, and definitely is, Duff McKagan. He seems to be the only one who’s aged well. Maybe it’s easier for bass players, and I suppose being banned from having even one alcoholic drink for the past twenty years has probably helped too. Duff was there, leaning back, nodding, playing the bass. Looking cool. Nice one Duff.
Apart from Duff looking cool, the other highlight of the concert for me was when they let the session guitarist do a three-minute solo, during which he so utterly outshone Slash’s meandering and unoriginal attempts that they probably won’t let him do that anymore (this was the first night of a European tour).
Duff was there, leaning back, nodding, playing the bass. Looking cool. Nice one Duff.
What else? Oh yes, the communication with the audience. Wasn’t any. About five songs in Axl said, “Good morning.” Five songs later he talked for a minute or two about how he had really wanted to come to Germany earlier but hadn’t been allowed to.
I want to find positives, I really do. But it’s tough. The one song that I thought worked really well, apart from Axl’s voice, was Live and Let Die. Also Sweet Child, and it was touching to see the whole stadium standing up and singing along, a song for lovers from your youth.
The night was perhaps best summed up by our mate Esel Ehnes in his Facebook post:
“The most dangerous band in the world? The squirrels in the cemetery where my grandmother is buried are more dangerous.”
Photo by Raph_PH [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Review of Guns & Roses at the Guns N Roses Not In This Lifetime Tour – live at Olympiastadium in Berlin on 03.06.18