Guns N' Roses
Staples Center
Nov. 24, 2017

When guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan rejoined Guns N’ Roses in April 2016 for the Not in This Lifetime tour, speculation was rampant about how long the tour would actually last. The turbulence and turmoil within the band — both onstage and off- — combined with singer Axl Rose's reputation for taking the stage whenever he felt like it had fans placing bets on when the reunion would inevitably collapse.

But a year and a half later, after more than 120 shows, the band have become a well-oiled, professional, arena-rock machine. Rose has hit the stage on time almost every night, and if there has been any drama behind the scenes, none of it has played out in front of the live audience. Save for a freak leg injury suffered by Rose during the current lineup's first show at the Troubadour in April 2016, the elements of danger and unpredictability have all but disappeared from Guns N’ Roses’ live shows. A few stubborn, old-school GNR fans may lament that fact, but for everyone else, the welcome reality is that it has allowed the band's music to take center stage with no distractions. At the end of the day, it was GNR's phenomenal songwriting, more than their destructive reputation, that hoisted them above their fellow Sunset Strip hard-rock trainwrecks during their formative years — and that songcraft was front and center at the band's first of three L.A.-area shows on Friday, Nov. 24, at Staples Center.

During previous eras of the band, fans would have snickered at the idea of a 7:45 p.m. start time for Guns N’ Roses. But on this night, every seat inside Staples was filled by then for the group's first Los Angeles show since their Aug. 18 and 19, 2016, performances at Dodger Stadium. A brief video package played, including a nod to the band's early days performing at the Troubadour, before they opened the show by ripping into a furious rendition of “It's So Easy.”

For the next three and a half hours, the band bombastically burned through just about every hit and fan favorite from the band's glory years, as well as plenty of covers and some of the better cuts from the Slash-and-Duff–less Chinese Democracy. They eased the crowd into several classics, with Slash doing an incredible extended foreplay tease of the opening riff from “Welcome to the Jungle,” and the entire band doing heavy, extended jam openings for “Double Talkin’ Jive” and “Rocket Queen” that had the crowd hanging on every riff. Rose may as well not have uttered a single lyric during “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” as the sold-out crowd heartily sang along with every verse and chorus. Songs from 2008’s Chinese Democracy, such as “Better” and “Madagascar,” with Slash's signature guitar tone integrated into the mix, felt more like “true” Guns N’ Roses songs.

Guns N' Roses at the Staples Center, Nov. 24, 2017; Credit: Katarina Benzova

Guns N' Roses at the Staples Center, Nov. 24, 2017; Credit: Katarina Benzova

While the band could certainly fill a full 3½-hour set with their own songs, they've made an effort on this tour to pay tribute to rock greats of the past as well as GNR's own contemporaries. Whether it be snippets of guitar riffs from rock classics such as Alice Cooper's “Only Women Bleed” and Chuck Berry's “Johnny B. Goode” or full covers of The Who's “The Seeker” and Glen Campbell's “Wichita Lineman,” a Guns N’ Roses set on this tour is also a trip through rock & roll's past.

The most emotional moment of the night came when the group paid tribute to fallen Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell by covering that band's 1994 hit “Black Hole Sun.” Rose's higher-end shrieks on vocals during the chorus were a little shaky, but his understated baritone delivery of the song's verses lent a compellingly somber tone to one of the show's most cathartic moments.

Heading into the first reunion shows, fans were curious about how the dynamic between Slash and Chinese Democracy–era guitarist Richard Fortus would play out. Slash undoubtedly remains the fan favorite, but during the band's set Fortus gets plenty of moments to shine and prove himself an equally masterful shredder, most notably during “Rocket Queen” and “Black Hole Sun.” It's been encouraging to see Fortus rewarded for his loyalty during this tour, following his 15-year tenure with the band.

Axl Rose at Staples Center; Credit: Katarina Benzova

Axl Rose at Staples Center; Credit: Katarina Benzova

No matter what the lineup of Guns N’ Roses has been at any point in their career, it is always Axl Rose who is front and center. His vocal and physical endurance have been suspect throughout the last decade, but on this tour the set list has been well-crafted to preserve and protect his voice for the duration. Rose has gotten better at physically pacing himself, too, showing love for all sides of the stage throughout the night with a slower amble and saving the full old-school running from side to side for the encore. He also appeared to conserve his voice for the real money moments of the night. While he sang very capably on deeper cuts such as “Yesterdays” and “Used to Love Her,” he saved his strongest crowd-popping shrieks for the bigger hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Don't Cry.”

The set list also was curated in such a way as to give fans — and Rose — room to breathe and still have energy at the end of the night. Multiple solo moments for both Slash and Fortus, as well as current drummer Frank Ferrer — plus giving Duff a moment to sing lead on a medley of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory” and The Damned's “New Rose” — kept the crowd from burning out too early, ensuring that the room was still booming and energy was still running high as Guns N’ Roses sent everyone home at the end of the night on a pyro-and-confetti–laden rendition of “Paradise City.”

The set list has remained mostly the same for every stop on this leg of the tour, and there were no special guests for the Los Angeles crowd on this night. But if the only criticism you can level at a Guns N’ Roses show in 2017 is that there wasn't any spontaneity, then this is a tour that has successfully defied nearly everyone's expectations.

Set list below:

Credit: Katarina Benzova

Credit: Katarina Benzova

Set list:
It's So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory/New Rose (Johnny Thunders/The Damned cover)
This I Love
Civil War
Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather) (Nino Rota cover)
Sweet Child O' Mine
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell cover)
Used to Love Her
My Michelle
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
November Rain
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan cover)

Don't Cry
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Paradise City

Guns N' Roses also perform at the Forum on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

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