By David Glessner, Special to the Statesman
For a band that shot to stardom peddling its appetite for destruction, Guns N’ Roses arrived Friday at San Antonio’s Alamodome in seemingly good health and ready to go the distance.
Playing for just over three hours (!), reunited classic band members – singer Axl Rose, top-hatted guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan – were supported by a capable cast of backing musicians including Izzy Stradlin/Ronnie Wood lookalike guitarist Richard Fortus, drummer Frank Ferrer, keyboardist Dizzy Reed and keyboardist Melissa Reese. Billed as the “Not in This Lifetime” tour – a name born of the animosity that kept Slash and Axl at odds for more than two decades – this was as close as fans could get to a classic reunion.
While the glossy, big-budget production was the stuff of arena-rock excess, GN’R’s core catalog of songs remains as venomous as ever. Let’s face it: No amount of professional polish is going to detox such gutter-rock classics as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Night Train,” “It’s So Easy,” “My Michelle” and “Rocket Queen.”
On the flip side, GN’R also has a knack for lush orchestration and finesse. The piano ballad “November Rain” was – to use an overused, but wholly appropriate word – epic. Conversely, the acoustic “Patience” was beautifully bare bones. “Don’t Cry” also showed GN’R’s softer side, and a dueling guitar version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” added goosebumps to goosebumps (as did teases of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” outro, Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song”).
Speaking of cover tunes, McKagan took an early turn on lead vocals when he segued Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” into the Misfits’ “Attitude.” He also paid tribute to fallen friend and fellow Seattleite Chris Cornell with a Rose/McKagan duet on Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” An oddball choice of the Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell song, “Wichita Lineman,” also was offered in tribute to another recently fallen icon, and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was met with a crowd-strong singalong.
Individually, the guys who sold the tickets were on the money. Rose was charismatic as ever and in fine vocal form as he covered the stage, stopping to smile and wave at fans in the front rows. Slash somehow got through the gig without a cigarette and proved once again – especially on the massive overhead video screens – that he is one of the greatest rock guitarists of the past few decades. McKagan, as always, was the picture of rock-star cool.
“You Could Be Mine,” “Coma,” “Used to Love Her,” “Civil War,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” helped complete the set (the latter reminding that Rose recently fronted Angus Young’s band) before confetti cannons brought “Paradise City” to a rousing finale.
It could be argued there were too many cover tunes, but in the end, GN’R earned an A for musicianship, presentation and crowd-pleasing stamina.
On any other night, opening act ZZ Top is a headliner in its own right. To their credit, the legendary Texas boogie rockers graciously played second fiddle to GN’R by offering a lively set of classic tunes and flashy showmanship – and giving fans the added bang of a solid double bill. A tip of the hat to the Top!
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