Yesterday, I went to the Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” tour when it was in its second night at the Olympic Stadium in London - now rechristened since West Ham United made it their home as London Stadium – catchy. I had seen Guns N’ Roses twice before this day – Download 2006 (the least said the better) and Manchester in 2012 – which was excellent. Occasionally, when I would mention the fact I’d seen Guns N’ Roses and list these dates, people would scoff and say something to the effect “no, you’ve seen Axl”. I’m sure there are other bands in a similar situation where the line-up had all changed aside from the singer – perhaps not as big as Guns N’ Roses were/are. Regardless of where you stand on this one, I saw a band who toured under the name Guns N’ Roses with Axl Rose on vocals and previously that had been good enough for me. I have also seen Slash (and Duff McKagan for that matter) play GnR songs live, so that was cool.
It probably doesn’t need stating but I imagine I was in the minority of people by having this view as the band Guns N’ Roses were playing arenas in this country and they weren’t full (on their last arena tour – London tickets were being given away for free on the day – limit quantities of them but still). On this tour, with Slash and Duff back in the band, they have been playing big open air gigs and stadiums around the world (selling out several them as well – don’t know how many off hand). When the rumbling of a reunion between Axl and Slash started, I didn’t believe it would happen – there just seemed to be too much bad blood between them. I was quietly hopeful though as I never got the chance to see these two perform on the same stage together. Then it was announced that it was taking place and I knew that if/when it was coming to this country, I had to go. There was a bit of chat about them headlining both the Download and IOW festivals – but when Download announced their headliners and Guns N’ Roses weren’t one of them, it was clear that wasn’t happening – not in 2017 at least. They instead announced a date at London Stadium, which quickly became two dates due to demand for tickets. I couldn’t get one for the Friday but managed to grab one for the Saturday. This was back in December (apparently) so since then, it has been the waiting game.
That waiting game came to its conclusion yesterday. I’ve been to London Stadium before for athletics, rugby and to run around as part of the Great Newham 10k, but never for live music so this was going to be a new experience. I can now say that I’m a fan of London Stadium as a live music venue. Whilst being slightly smaller than Wembley in terms of overall capacity – I can see it becoming London’s home for stadium rock gigs as the standing area is noticeably bigger than Wembley’s (and other comparable stadiums like Twickenham and Arsenal’s ground I would say). Because the area as well was built with the London 2012 Olympics in mind, it can easily cope with the numbers of people that would come to a big gig as well. When I arrived in the area yesterday, it was dead easy to find where I needed to be, and I ended up entering the stadium concourse right by a merch stand (funny how that happened) – so I grabbed myself a tour shirt. £30 is steep for a t-shirt without doubt – especially when the tickets weren’t exactly cheap – but I don’t do it very often.
On to the gig itself. The opening band were called Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown. I’ve seen their name about but never actually listened to them (a brief bit of research tells me they just played Download). They also supported AC/DC last year at London Stadium – someone in a high place is a fan of this band clearly! That aside, I enjoyed their set. It made me want to go back and listen to them again (I haven’t yet because in all honesty, my soundtrack to writing this is Guns N’ Roses with the shuffle button on). I will aim to check them out some more though. I suspect they will be back in this country before long. The main support was The Kills. Now, I’m not complaining, but I did note that the main support in Dublin was Royal Blood, and around Europe, it is Biffy Clyro – are The Kills a slight drop off? In my view, yes. I’ve just googled to find out some more tour supports and seen that one of the founding members of the band used to be married to Kate Moss. Odd that information was offered up without needing to search for it. Anyway – I first heard of this band when they were due to support Metallica in Paris in 2012 - almost every other European show had Gojira and Machine Head. Paris got Gojira and The Kills – bullshit if you ask me! Anyhow, I didn’t mind some of The Kills stuff, but overall I would say it is not for me. It probably would have made more sense to swap the bands around – maybe The Kills are bigger than Tyler Bryant, but genre wise I would have said Tyler Bryant is more fitting for a rock show like this. Oh well. The Kills weren’t terrible, but I doubt I will go out of my way to listen to them again.
On to the main event, and my word – what a main event it was. For about 15 minutes before the band came on, the stage graphics started moving around which was good. A Motorhead song on the PA went quiet, and gun shots rang out from the speakers and then the Looney Tunes theme tune. Not long after this, the band were on stage. It was quite surreal actually seeing Axl, Slash and Duff on the same stage together – even though they had been touring together for a little while at this point – to actually see it was quite something.
What then followed was 2 and a half hours plus of Guns N’ Roses playing a set list which was immense. Early doors, the question of whether the set would feature Chinese Democracy material was answered, with the title track being the 3rd song played. Two others from that album were played – Better and This I Love. I was really pleased to hear them and that the album hasn’t been ignored as there are some great songs on it. I would have loved to have heard Shackler’s Revenge as well, but you can’t have everything! Looking over the set list again now, it is hard to pick out highlights as the whole thing was excellent. The opening of It’s So Easy into Mr Brownstone into Chinese Democracy into Welcome To The Jungle was outrageous. The run of Estranged, Live and Let Die, Rocket Queen and You Could Be Mine before a cover of The Damned’s New Rose was brilliant. Civil War into Yesterdays and Coma? Fantastic. The build up to Sweet Child O’ Mine before Slash launched into the very familiar intro was great. An instrumental cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here into November Rain (with the Layla piano outro as an intro) was just massive. Gun to my head, November Rain is probably my favourite Guns N’ Roses song and this was a great performance of an epic song. The mood changed considerably as the band paid tribute to the recently departed Chris Cornell by playing Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. It was a special moment. Axl then dedicated the moment to the people who had died recently in the UK in the terror attacks and the Grenfall tower fire before the band played Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The main set ended with Nightrain – but the band were back before long to end the gig with Don’t Cry, a cover of AC/DC’s Whole Lotta Rosie and ending proceedings with Paradise City. To me, that is a near perfect set list. I would have loved to hear My Michelle (which was played the night before at the expense of Out Ta Get Me). There are other songs from the Use Your Illusion albums I would have liked to have heard but as said earlier – you can’t have everything.
Not only was the set list a great one, but the band matched it with how good they were. The band have introduced a backing vocalist who also plays some other instruments when needed to support Axl’s vocals which I think worked really well – for the most part you couldn’t tell she was singing (which I guess is the point). This gig was one of the best I’ve been to – that is a sentiment that is easy to express as the gig is still fresh in my mind but I feel as though this one will live with me for a long time and for all the right reasons – it will take something special for this not to be my gig of the year. The one thing I wish I had done differently? I wish I had stumped up for a golden circle ticket just to be a bit closer to the action – without doubt it would have been worth it.
Will they come back to the UK with this line up on this tour? Will it be the same set or slightly altered? Will it be their own shows again or will they headline festivals? At this stage, it is impossible for us to answer these questions (the only people I suspect who know are the band and their management). All I can say is I hope so. Absolute belter of a gig, that was!