When we saw Guns N’ Roses on the opening night of their Not in This Lifetime tour, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. There were plenty of questions—in particular whether they’d get along well enough to pull off a full-fledged tour given their history of stadium riots, endless set-time delays and drunken onstage monologues. Over last week’s two-night stand at Dodger Stadium—a venue that sits less than 10 miles from the debaucherous beginnings so forcefully evoked in early songs like “It’s So Easy"—Guns N’ Roses did the unthinkable: They became professionals.
At the Vegas show, many in attendance were just happy to see Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan onstage together again. Guns has always had a stadium-ready presence, with Slash’s monster riffs, Duff’s effortless cool and Axl’s… Axleness. During their two hometown shows, they kept the bloated decadence to a minimum. The biggest highlight was seeing how quickly band had gelled in a relatively short period of time. Slash offered countless reminders of why he’s one of the greatest guitarists in history (even South Park tried to dispel that notion four seasons ago), and his bandmates sound more like a singular unit now that they’ve played nearly 30 shows together.
The main difference, especially during this particular leg, was Axl himself. No longer saddled by the weight of expectations or the broken bone in his foot that kept him seated during the initial run, Axl ran around stage like a wild man. He not the same slinky frontman he was 25 years ago, but he still knows how to command a very large room.
Another major highlight of was seeing original drummer Steven Adler, long exiled, make a triumphant return to the kit for Appetite tunes “Out Ta Get Me” and “My Michelle.” Granted, the drummer had made appearances earlier in this tour in Cincinnati and Nashville, but the sweet justice of hopping behind the drums in Los Angeles can finally lay to rest the questions of what might have been. In fact, the drummer’s presence got the loudest roar, even over crowd-pleasers like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
The one missing piece was original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, the wizard behind some of the band’s biggest songs. Stradlin, too, has made cameos in the past, but he’s been outspoken about his stance on the reunion. A tweet from this past February reads, “Izzy Stradlin fact… At this point in time, I’ve no involvement in the upcoming April 2016 GNR shows.” It would have been amazing to see the full Appetite lineup—but like Adler himself, we’ll take what we can get.
As nice was it was to see Adler and his former bandmates finally reconcile, there was a big story to how seamlessly they were able to weave him in for two late-set songs and just as quickly usher him off. Somehow, Guns N’ Roses has become a professional rock band, and a consummate one at that. At this advanced stage in their what-should-have-been career, the band is clearly not playing by their own rules anymore. They were onstage within 20 minutes of the scheduled set time—a far cry from the Use Your Illusion era, when Axl would keep arena crowds waiting for hours. The crisply moving, nearly three-hour set was—almost—everything diehards could have hoped for.
In a sense, the miscreant denizens of the Sunset Strip that changed rock ‘n’ roll are long gone. Songs about Michelle, the rocket queen and the various other women Axl immortalized are now tales of the past, sort of like cautionary legends of a time that has passed. Judging by their triumphant hometown stand, it seems like the band has moved on as well.
Yes, they’re keeping the show going in 2017, and yes, it seems like everyone is having a blast onstage. A polished Guns N’ Roses is something that seemed nearly impossible to conceive on July 17, 1993—the last time these guys were all onstage together. And the addition of Chinese Democracy tracks “Sorry” and “Catcher in the Rye” were welcome reminders that the band can, in fact, seamlessly interweave songs from that much maligned album into their set.
Is a professional Guns N’ Roses a good thing? That’s something we won’t know for a few more years. GNR have yet to explain their motivations for rejoining; whether their reasons are mainly artistic or financial is all speculation. There’s been rumors of new music, but until then fans can only hope that the good feelings continue. If things were to end tomorrow, the Lifetime tour would at least put us at ease that one of the greatest enigmas in rock history has been at least partly answered.