Guns N' Roses
Aug. 18, 2016
For some of us, Axl Rose is the hard-rock Elvis. (Or, “They're like Led Zeppelin for you, huh?” as my Uber driver put it.) Which is why when he decides to wear rugged cowboy boots, instead of his $1,000 Giuseppe Zanotti zip-up sneakers, well, we kinda freak out. We post about it on Guns N' Roses fan forums in threads like “Axl's Wardrobe,” and then think about it for days.
Last night, at 8:05 p.m., Axl Rose took the stage at Dodger Stadium wearing cowboy boots — which is important, as it was here where he last wore them at the Troubadour, before he fractured his foot. Which must mean that Axl can now do his snakelike dance again, with the smooth glide of a roller skater on waxed tile. It might also mean that he hasn't been taking the boots on tour, which is why he hasn't worn them until now. It might mean that a roadie, at some point yesterday, drove to Malibu, up the winding road of Latigo Canyon, and fetched Axl's favorite pair of dancing shoes.
Why am I talking about Axl's shoes? Because this is the last rock star, ladies and gentleman, perhaps the last one for a long time, and his fashion choices are a big fucking deal. Don't believe me? When was the last time anyone in America looked at Dave Grohl's shoes? He could go barefoot for an entire world tour and nobody would notice. If you still don't believe me, just Google “Axl Rose's clothes” and you'll find countless stories about Axl's custom Converse made famous in the video for “Estranged,” or his collection of fedoras, cowboy hats, detective hats, Yosemite Sam hats, leather jackets, designer watches, bling, bandannas, etc.
“I pulled that one out of my hat, ” said Axl, 20 songs into a nonstop two-hour set that had one real surprise (besides the cowboy boots, of course), when GNR played “Yesterdays,” a song the band has only played once on this tour for reasons known only to Axl, Duff and Slash. They also played the underrated Chinese Democracy ballad “Catcher in the Rye,” which they've played only a handful of times this year.
Earlier in the day, there was a rumor that Steven Adler would show up. Not this time. Someone also said that GNR was filming the concert, which has not been confirmed.
The rest of the show was classic GNR, now at the height of their touring powers. They put on their usual 25- to 26-song set, which always opens with “It's So Easy,” peaks with the skeleton-sex scene of “Rocket Queen,” seduces us with Slash's Godfather solo, creates a sing-along with a Dylan cover that's better than the original, and then takes us home with fireworks on set closer “Paradise City.” We all hoped that Slash, in his leather John Varvatos sneakers, would stand on top of Axl's piano during the solo for “November Rain” just this once, but aside from that, it's pretty much everything a GNR fan could hope for.
There is still, of course, the lingering question of Axl's voice. Before the show, every single person in the stadium was hoping he was backstage gargling whiskey and doing vocal warmups with Satan. I've watched footage from every single performance from the Not in This Lifetime tour and I can tell you this much: Axl Rose is not the same singer at every show. You have to catch him on the right night — but if you do, he's still the best rock singer on the planet. His voice changes, depending on how stressed it is, but ultimately, as the tour has gone on, he's found a way of harnessing his rasp (there's a forum discussion on this, as well), the way he did on tour with AC/DC. For some, it'll never be enough, but last night, Axl sounded as if he was in command of his voice, never gasping for air or reverting to that alto range that pisses off the GNR purists.
The criticism — of the tour in general, but mostly of Axl's voice — won't stop, but that's to be expected. Axl Rose has his flaws. In the next few hours, as you Google “GNR at Dodger Stadium,” wondering if you should pay hundreds, thousands or just $22.75 for tickets today, you'll read reviews with headlines like (and these are all real) “Does Guns N' Roses Still Have an Appetite for Destruction?” or “Guns N' Roses Reunion: Legit?” or my favorite, “Guns N' Roses Show Their Age.” You'll read a lot of trite wordplay using “appetite” or “illusion” or “democracy” in uncreative ways to say that Axl Rose, like Elvis in '77, or Jim Morrison in '69, doesn't have the (here it comes) “appetite” anymore.
Then there's the bitter fanboy argument, which states that GNR without Izzy Stradlin, their founding rhythm guitar player, is just a “cash grab,” or what some pretentious blogger described to me as a reason to “protest” this tour. “Where's Izzy?” is a fair question to ask, as he co-wrote a lot of their hits and brought a coolness to their live show. But fuck it, we're not getting him, so why beat a dead horse?
So seeing the world's biggest rock band at Dodger Stadium is definitely a Not in This Lifetime (there you have it, some uncreative wordplay) moment. It's only the second, and perhaps the last, baseball stadium GNR will play on this tour. It's hard to say how many fans actually attended the show, even if it was reportedly sold out, but aside from about 500 seats sectioned off for pyrotechnics, and a noticeable gap behind home base, the stadium looked full, which means the number was at least around 44,000.
The last time the classic lineup played a stadium in Los Angeles was in 1992, when GNR played the Rose Bowl on the Use Your Illusion tour. The production manager at that time was Dale “Opie” Skjerseth, who's now running production on the Not In This Lifetime tour. He's in charge of 36 trucks and 200 crew members. “I'm not planning on going home,” Skjerseth said during a press preview walkthrough at the stadium, when asked if the the current tour, which recently expanded to Australia and Japan, could possibly match the 194 shows of the monstrous Use Your Illusion tour.
As at most shows on this tour, the scene stealer was Slash, who played with an assortment of guitars, including several custom Gibson Les Pauls, emerald and red B.C. Rich Mockingbird guitars, a Guild double-neck for “Civil War,” a Gibson for “Knockin' on Heaven's Door” and a few others he vaporized with his fingers, playing like the Hendrix or Van Halen of this generation.
When the history books are written about the GNR reunion, the one point of consensus will likely be that Slash played with a level of mastery that has made this tour a showcase of his guitar. From his eyes-closed solo on “November Rain,” to his own version of the Chuck Berry walk, Slash's technique and showmanship forced us all, together at once, to become a crowd of slobbering Waynes and Garths: “We're not worthy, we're not worthy.”
Guns N' Roses play a second set at Dodger Stadium tonight. They are expected to take the stage at 8 p.m.
Set list below.
1. It's So Easy
2. Mr. Brownstone
3. Chinese Democracy
4. Welcome to the Jungle
5. Double Talkin' Jive
7. Live and Let Die
8. Rocket Queen
9. You Could Be Mine
10. Attitude (Misfits cover)
11. This I Love
12. Civil War
14. Theme from the Godfather
15. Sweet Child O' Mine
17. Out Ta Get Me
18. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
19. November Rain
21. Knockin' on Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan cover)
23. Catcher in the Rye
25. The Seeker (The Who cover)
26. Paradise City