There was a 20-minute stretch about 90 minutes into the Guns ‘N Roses concert at Zilker where Slash’s staple, extended solo bled into “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and then “November Rain”—with Axl on a grand piano—during which, buddy let me tell ya, the place was rocking.
“I think it cooled down about a degree or two—every little bit helps, right?” Axl said to Austin City Limits Music Fest patrons of what was slated to be the hottest version of the annual festival since the 2005 Coldplay dust bowl.
Yet from Dripping Springs to Westlake to Lake Travis to Cedar Park, the local ‘burbs showed out in black to feel again Friday night.
The American Express stage enjoyed Axl’s signature sway early into Guns N’ Roses’ set-opening “It’s So Easy.” With a tighter-cropped haircut but the same flannel shirt around the waste, the mercurial rock star smiled his way through the high notes — particularly on “Welcome to the Jungle” four songs in. It was the second early one that featured blasts of pyrotechnics.
“How are you doing?” the 57-year-old Axl, donning a black Alamo Drafthouse T-shirt, asked Austin after “Double-Talkin’ Jive.”
“Good? We’re going to try to keep that going for you.”
He’d rotate outfits like a cruise line variety show as the politically incorrect, often sexist-in-lyrics bad boys behind the most snot-hurling 1987 album this side of “Paid In Full” pulled off the screeching highs of a beloved hard rock classic. Even 2008’s long-teased and commercially disappointing “Chinese Democracy” enjoyed polite applause — despite its poorly aged nu-metal production.
This is the last band to emulate the sneering nonchalance of the Rolling Stones in an enduring and meaningful way, and the mostly original core band clocked in a two-and-a-half hour set worthy of its prevalent iconography: The seven-strong outfit of Axl, Slash, Duff McKagan, Dizzy Reed, keyboardist Melissa Reese, drummer Frank Ferrer, and guitarist Richard Fortus lorded over a crammed lawn. It’s the all-star version of GNR we never got.
This wasn’t, however, as stuffed as Paul McCartney last year — one could comfortably traverse the chair zone without stumbling over a neighbor’s blanket. Maybe that’s because GNR is chiefly known for four monoculture megahits known the world over from Tel Aviv to Tokyo.
Long-tenured GNR covers of “Live And Let Die” and the Misfits’ “Attitude” show the band’s perpetual adoration for its sweaty genre. Even recently deceased contemporary Scott Weiland got a downright touching, loud-as-heck cover of “Slither,” one Slash and Duff recorded with Weiland under the short-lived Velvet Revolver banner. Duff likewise honored the late Prince with the Purple One’s logo emblazoned on his bass.
Slash, as you remember him in a black top hat and “Tattoo You” T-shirt, played marathon man. He doubled-timed the closing solo from “Rocket Queen,” a favorite that English fans voted as the best song from “Appetite.” He wielded the double-ax on “Civil War.” And he did work on gloriously bloated, indulgent, and operatic “Use Your Illusion” cuts like “Estranged.”
For all its Queen-era ambition, that 1991 two-part rock saga is often a fuming rejection of America at war, both in lyrics and attitude. In recent years, Axl’s become an outspoken and anti-Trump tweeter -- a long road from the infamously racist and homophobic lyrics to “One In a Million.” Polished and united, this two-years-running rock revue is an F1 weekend-fit titan in peak form—and one of ACL’s best-yet legacy sets way before the closing fireworks of “Paradise City.”