Guns N’ Roses – London, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London - 17 June 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Sunday, 25 June 2017 05:00

Indisputably the most desired reunion in rock music history (excepting perhaps the Beatles), the reunion of three-fifths of the ‘Appetite For Destruction’ era Guns N’ Roses hasn’t come without its fair share of hype – and controversy. Whether you bemoan the lack of Izzy Stradlin’ and Steven Adler from the line-up, balk at the £100-a-pop ticket price or just think the band have left it far too long to finally bury the hatchet, it’s fair to say there were plenty of sceptics within the rock community. Nowhere near as many as fanatics though – the first date of the tour sold out in minutes (believe me, I know) and the second date - although not sold out – seemed to move like hotcakes. This tells us one very simple thing; the anticipation for this show is huge and people are very, very ready to embrace the return of one of the biggest and most legendary names in rock n roll.

 

gnr venue social 760x480

 

With The Stone Roses set-up over at Wembley Stadium and Stone Free Festival occupying the O2, it falls to London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium to host Guns N’ Roses comeback for their first UK shows since Axl, Duff and Slash reunited. Slightly further out of town than the other two venues, this actually plays into the gig’s favour in a useful way as it almost entirely cuts out the heavy traffic one might expect deeper into the capital. Despite this, the drive to London is still somewhat hellish as the UK braces itself through a heatwave, the band playing on (at that point) the hottest day of the year.

 

While this might create the perfect atmosphere to hear the likes of ‘Paradise City’ or ‘Sweet Chile O Mine’, it doesn’t help much that the Olympic Stadium seems very ill-prepared to deal with 50,000+ thirsty and disgruntled Guns N’ Roses fans. A further strike to the atmosphere comes in the form of main support for the bill – cross-Atlantic Indie group The Kills. Support elsewhere around the globe has come from the likes of Mark Lanegan, Royal Blood, Lenny Kravitz, Wolfmother and The Cult (amongst many other dazzling notables from the rock and metal world), meaning the virtually unknown The Kills are up against the wall right from the off.

 

Lacking esteem in the wider rock community, the booking of The Kills seems to be another in a series of questionable decisions made for stadium rock shows (a notorious recent example coming from the decision to put US radio rockers Shinedown in support of British heavy metal legends Iron Maiden). There’s no ‘bang for your buck’ in the booking of a band that few GNR fans are likely to be aware of and the lack of media presence even leading up to the gig ensures that the line-up feels much less a Once In A Lifetime Gig as a cynical attempt to try and give a band a leg-up in the industry.

 

Worse still is the fact that The Kills’ brand of *ahem* atmospheric indie rock most definitely does not translate well to an arena setting, let alone stadium. As such, the crowd seem overly bored by the display onstage, the band seeming overly incidental as they plod through an entirely ignorable setlist. Ducking out to grab a drink pre-show (it is Hot), we miss the band leaving the stage and stand with what feels like 80 per cent of the stadium in the wildly overcrowded outer areas trying to grab a drink. By the time anyone actually does grab a drink, GNR are already well on the way to starting the show, gunfire effects and build-up signalling the gig that everybody has been waiting for.

 

GNR overview

Photo courtesy of twitter.com/LondonStadium

 

Taking to the stage at the very prompt 7:45, immediately some preconceptions are utterly obliterated. While Axl Rose might have been demonized over the past decade for frequent onstage tardiness and a difficult, confrontational manner, tonight he comes out as the consummate rock n roll performance king, bouncing around the stage and striding with pride as he makes up for lost time. The band lunge in headfirst with ‘It’s so Easy’ and ‘Mr Brownstone’, giving the crowd a double-dose of Appetite that’s sure to get any rock fan’s stomach purring in pleasure.

 

Perhaps not as tight nor frenetic as they were in their heyday, the band still take big swings on-stage as they re-assert themselves as one of the most dominant musical forces on the planet. Rose’s singing is somewhat limited by the choice of opening songs, with McKagan acting as a much more vocal presence on the stage. Despite this, he rockets around like the last thirty years never happened, occupying every available space he can find while the band belt out the classics. Sadly, the stilted atmosphere in the venue means that the band don’t quite receive the rapturous reception that they might have hoped for, the crowd still piling in steadily through the first few songs.

 

There is a strong implication that much of this comes from a lack of adequate support, but there’s also something to be said for the asking price per ticket. When announced, Guns N’ Roses’ £100 ticket price (standard) seemed like an exuberant ask, but one that could be justified by the rare opportunity to see such a legendary band. Since then, fellow US rockers Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica and even Eddie Vedder have all followed suit with near triple-digit ticket prices, suggesting a change in zeitgeist that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.

 

So, while Guns N’ Roses most certainly are a hot ticket on the market, there is also a prevailing sense of ‘fuck you, impress me’ to the start of their show – an atmosphere that is likely to be prevalent in modern rock gigs. After all, for such a large price-tag, fans expect to be absolutely blown away – or at least see a well-stacked line-up that can compartmentalise the cost. Thus, the enjoyment that comes with the start of GNR’s set also comes with the niggling question of “but is it worth £100?”, a question that isn’t likely to be answered in the first five minutes of a show.

 

Still, the band persist and build powerful momentum, the title track to ‘Chinese Democracy’ proving that Axl isn’t treating this show as a pure nostalgia trip, reminding people that (in one form or another), Guns N’ Roses have constantly existed and never truly went away. Chased by ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, GNR pull no punches in blasting out the classics and keeping the audience on their toes, their momentum steadily building to reveal the band as the juggernaut we all hoped they would be.

 

GNR London backstage

 

The first cover of the evening comes in the form of their classic rendition of Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’, a romping rock n roll goodie that pins the band’s love for the UK firmly to their sleeves. Once again chased with one of the biggies from Appetite, Duff leads the band into a bass-heavy jam that slowly builds into the awesome ‘Rocket Queen’. Clearly the MVP for the first hour of the show, Duff closes his section of the set with a roaring cover of The Damned’s ‘New Rose’. Though the song doesn’t quite translate fully into the stadium, its roaring chorus certainly does.

 

Next up to shine is legendary guitar hero Slash. The gentle and atmospheric intro for Use Your Illusion opener ‘Civil War’ is a slow burner, but once the band hit that halfway point you best believe that they are absolutely dominating, the song sounding utterly massive as it offers the first definitive sounding set piece of the evening, especially when Slash rumbles into fellow guitar god Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ for the outro.

 

Band introductions produce some enormous cheers as Axl re-asserts the big factor that has brought everybody out tonight; he and his band really mean something to a lot of people. Handing the spotlight once again over to Slash, we get a roaring solo that in other sets would feel out-of-place or wasted, but here feels like a justifiable demonstration of a massive talent. This solo slowly turns to the theme from ‘The Godfather’, which in turn also transforms into undeniably one of Slash’s most famous riffs – that of ‘Sweet Chile O Mine’.

 

The sun now mercifully set, ‘Sweet Chile O Mine’ hits every mark that you could possibly hope, roared back en masse by the thousands-strong crowd. Axl is in full bombast mode as he belts the song out, and finally we get a chance to see him truly perform in the spotlight. While much has been written (and said) about Axl as a performer these past thirty years, the fact remains he possesses one of the most acerbic and individualistic singing voices (and personalities) in all of rock.

 

Whilst the supremely talented Miles Kennedy might blast a song like ‘Sweet Chile O Mine’ with gusto, the fact remains Rose is the last of a dying breed of rock n roll frontman, able to switch up between saccharine sweetness and gleeful menace at the drop of a hat (after all – you won’t find many frontmen that can write songs as cuttingly witty as ‘Night Train’ or ‘Rocket Queen’ in the modern scene). Snarling his way through ‘Out Ta Get Me’, we then get a massive rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ before Rose truly turns on the charm and belts out a pitch-perfect rendition of ‘November Rain’.

 

A roaring and gleeful stadium greet the song with enormous bombast, but not one tenth of what we get from the band as they dazzle with a dramatic display involving fireworks and a spray of sparks which curtains the back wall of the stage. It might seem like a strange choice, for a band like Guns N’ Roses (who very much represent the old guard of rock n roll) to cover Soundgarden (representing aa wave of bands generally regarded as the killers of what am before). But, from one icon to another, one anthem to another, Guns N’ Roses blast out a touching rendition of ‘Black Hole Sun’ in honour of Chris Cornell.

 

GNR London farewell

 

Tragic though it is, to think that this song will never be aired by its own band in a similar setting (in the UK at least), GNR give the song every ounce of passion they do their own songs. Following with a cover that fans might recognise – their rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin On Heaven’s Door’ – Axl dedicates the song to everybody that has lost their lives recently in the UK, adding a sense of poignancy to the anthemic singalong, closing with the roaring ‘Nightrain’ to bring things back up to fever pitch.

 

The encore seems to last for less than five minutes before the band return for ‘Don’t Cry’. A big ballad, the stadium lights up to welcome the band back, anticipation rife for how the band will close proceedings. What they probably weren’t expecting is for GNR to belt out one last cover of the evening, offering Axl the opportunity to re-live his previous summer as frontman of ACDC, the band roaring out ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ in all its rock n roll greatness.

 

With nearly three hours set time to build momentum, by the time Guns N’ Roses blast closer ‘Paradise City’, they have more than solidified their position as one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. The set goes into overdrive as the band gallop through the final throes of the song, blasts of flame, fireworks and a bouncing thousands-strong crowd finally giving the band the reception they deserve.

 

As one of the hottest gigs on the calendar (both literal and figurative), the expectation for Guns N’ Roses first UK shows as part of this reunion was a marmite prospect – one where crowds on either side of the fence vied for the band to succeed or fail, but spectacularly so in both cases. In actuality, GNR hit every mark you could possibly hope for a stadium filling rock n roll band. Abundant in spectacle and reaffirming the talent and excitement that has endeared the band to millions of rock fans around the world for the past thirty years, all we can hope now is that it won’t be a lifetime before the band return to the UK again.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Photos courtesy of twitter.com/LondonStadium

 

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