Guns N' Roses
November 10, 2017
I saw something I never thought I’d see again on Friday night, along with something I never thought I’d see at all. Let’s start with the latter …
By the time Guns N’ Roses’ commercial peak had come and gone, I was not yet a teenager, so seeing the band live and in person was never something I entertained. And considering the acrimonious mid-'90s breakup, coupled with the egos and personalities involved, seeing a GNR concert was something that never really got added to the bucket list because, well, it didn’t even seem realistic.
Fortunately, original members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan (Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler are not currently touring) decided to bury the hatchet a couple of years ago in launching the aptly-titled Not In This Lifetime Tour. The tour has been such a hit that GNR has added extra dates, including a second swing through Houston on Friday night (this particular gig was at Toyota Center; a previous one took place in August 2016 at NRG Stadium).
So, yeah, seeing Axl and Slash together on stage was a sight I, quite frankly, never imagined would be an actual thing again. Now, for the former statement …
I’ve been fortunate enough over the past two decades to see some legit, kickass rock shows. Metallica twice. Ozzfest a few times. Early-era Linkin Park. Scary-era Marilyn Manson. That said, I’m not sure I’ve experienced the blend of professionalism (yep, I said it) and precision coupled with the music that absolutely rocks one’s face off.
Look, Axl Rose as an entertainer hasn’t always been a choir boy. He’s stormed off sets, ranted when things went awry, or just outright no-showed gigs. Call it maturity, a newfound humility; call it what you will, but Axl Rose and crew were in peak form on Friday night before a packed (though somewhat late-arriving) crowd at Toyota Center.
The band arrived on time, stayed late and hit every note that made them the biggest, and most dangerous, band on the planet in the late 80s and early 90s. GNR blasted through more than 25 songs that encompassed more than three hours.
In addition to expected hits like “November Rain” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” GNR even pulled out some deep cuts from the (unfairly) much-maligned Chinese Democracy. Sure, this provided restroom and drink breaks for many in attendance, but for those (like myself) who cop that Chinese Democracy isn’t nearly the trainwreck it’s labeled, Friday night marked a fine chance to catch tracks like “Sorry” and “Madagascar.”
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But people came for the hits, and the hits they got. From “Mr. Brownstone” to “Nightrain” to “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” Axl Rose and his incredibly talented bandmates showed why they were once the biggest thing in rock and pop music. Aside from the occasional “Houston Strong,” shout-out, Axl didn’t say much to the crowd, though he was impressed with the Rockets’ victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at that very same Toyota Center.
The encore was something to behold, particularly GNR bringing out Houston and ZZ Top’s own Billy Gibbons to help along the band’s performance of “Patience.” “Paradise City,” the best anthem GNR ever wrote, closed out the festivities before the seven on-stage band members took a well-deserved bow.
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Will we ever get another GNR lap through Houston? It’s tough to tell. This tour appears to be winding down in the next year or so, but it’s not unfathomable GNR mounts another tour in, let’s say, five years. The chords are tight, Axl’s voice has held up well and band members appear to be getting along. It’s GNR as they were meant to be; it’s just good they finally got there.
The Crowd: Pretty much what you’d expect. Mostly folks in their 40s and 50s whose partying primes would have overlapped with GNR’s commercial one. Lot of top hats and tattoos, par for the course when celebrating GNR and bands of its late '80s and early' 90s ilk.
Word to the Wise: I’ll be honest, when examining a venue’s website for showtimes, I typically add about 90 minutes to whatever they say showtime is, taking into account opening acts, stage setups and the like. That would have been a mistake on Friday night. The show was scheduled for 7:30 and began at 7:50. No openers. No delays. It was a very non-GNR-like GNR performance in terms of its punctuality.
Overheard in the Crowd: While waiting in the beer line … “You think they’ll play ‘Sweet Child ‘o Mine?’” Well, when a band empties out its catalog as part of a 200-minute-plus show, you can kinda count on one of its top 3-4 hits being part of the setlist.