Gig Review – GUNS N’ROSES at QSAC Stadium, Brisbane, February 7 2017
By ANDREW McKAYSMITH
IN what is one of the most anticipated events in recent memory, the band calling themselves Guns N’ Roses touched down in Brisbane on Tuesday February 7 for the first Australian show in the Not In This Lifetime tour at the seriously underwhelming QSAC Stadium.
Like so many, I was sceptical yet hoping for the best. Axl Rose is the only member of the band to have been associated with the hallowed moniker since they broke large in 1987 and there have been times over the past 30 years when he has gone very close to tarnishing the by-now untouchable legacy generated by era-defining albums Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion series.
Guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and long-time keyboardist Dizzy Reed join Axl for this tour. This is the closest thing to the reunion fans have been clamouring for since the nucleus of the band split in the mid-nineties. Unfortunately there is no Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum, Steven Adler or crucially, Izzy Stradlin to complete what would have been a tremendous realignment of the stars, thus bringing integral members of the band’s storied history on stage for what I imagine is one last flight across the stages of the globe performing for adoring fans and media.
So was the gig any good? You betcha! Compared to some of the other big names that have toured our shores in the recent past, I’ll assert that the 2017 version of GN’R put on the best show … by a hair’s breadth over the Christine McVie-enhanced Fleetwood Mac. We are talking almost three hours of rock’n’roll played at a blistering pace with barely a pause between songs. Axl, who was famously late to a performance in Tampa, Florida on December 28, 1991, due to his undivided attention on the frankly awful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, arrived well on time to put in one of the greatest performances this scribe has seen from a front man nearing 60 years of age. It was the energy, the impassioned vocal performance and the fact that he looked like he wanted to be nowhere else but on stage in front of over 40,000 appreciative Queenslanders.
Opening with a pair of ‘Destruction classics “It’s So Easy” and “Mr Brownstone” before performing the almost mordant “Chinese Democracy” as the third track, the set got off to raucous start. Now it may have been an unwelcome addition on paper, however the decision to include tracks from the Axl Rose solo album by any other name, Chinese Democracy, proved a wily move. On album, many of those songs sound processed and trite. Live and in concert on the other hand, “Chinese Democracy”, “This I Love” and especially “Better” find a home among the paean of classics served up throughout the evening. As an unabashed fan of Slash’s predecessor, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, I kept thinking that he would have looked at home on such a big stage playing those songs…
So let’s talk about the interlopers, those band members whose participation on stage could have been viewed as objectionable. Frank Ferrer on drums, Richard Fortus on guitar, and second keyboardist Melissa Reese. I’ll spare the suspense by assuring the reader that each contributed magnificently. Reese, almost hidden behind a bolt of blue hair, projects a stunning deportment. She sang the vocal accompaniment of the evening during the refrain and outro to “Better”. Reese should really be a superstar in her own right such is her onstage charisma and technical prowess. Ferrer, better known as the percussive muse of the incomparable Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs), is closer to a human metronome than almost any other drummer in modern rock. In a keen observation, my companion and one of Brisbane’s finest drummers, Kris Goodwin, offered that Ferrer may have bashed a little too hard too often, perhaps referencing some of that famous Adler swing that has long since been absent from the band’s sound. So that leaves Ronnie Wood look alike, Richard Fortus to critique.(more below)
In what may be the single biggest surprise of the evening, Fortus almost stole the show. Yet another former member of the Psychedelic Furs and Richard Butler’s other projects, Fortus’s guitar solo during “Knockin on Heavens Door” was sublime and was potentially the highlight of the gig for mine. What was also apparent is that his note placement is crisp, precise and each note rings with clarity. There were times when Slash, never the most articulate player (but one hell of a performer) soloed for a minute or so too long. It was in those moments that Fortus’ contribution seemed to place a parenthesis after Slash’s wailing like a calm hand across the back of a rabid stallion. Fortus’ rhythm playing was exemplary, locking in with the thunderous groove of Ferrer and Duff McKagan.
All the hits got an airing- “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, “You Could Be Mine”… all there. The only significant absentee is “Don’t Cry”. However, there no questionable inclusions and every song was performed with a colossal amount of vigour and accomplishment. The choice of cover tunes was not entirely predictable either. The inclusion of an instrumental version of “Wish You Were Here”, which segued neatly into the jam toward the end of the Eric Clapton/ Derek and the Domino’s classic “Layla”, was thoroughly enjoyable and certainly didn’t take the place of any notable GN’R songs. With 26 songs performed in all you would have to be a hard fan to please if the omission of a deep album cut adversely affected your view of the evening.
Finally, the trio that many attended to see on stage together didn’t disappoint.
Duff, ever the band’s lynchpin and by all accounts, the broker of this ‘reunion’, sang and grooved through the evening. His playing has always been exemplary and tonight was no different. You can always hear Duff through the din of the other instruments and the famous flange on steroids tone of his bass was as familiar as it was reassuring. Slash, was plain old Slash. One of the great rock’n’roll guitarists to play a Les Paul, the solo at the end of “November Rain” sounded as vital as it does on the recording. Slash commanded the stage and confidently assumed his title as the guitarist most likely to inspire a legion of young hands to wrap themselves around the neck of a ‘cheap and cheerful’ Strat copy. Then there is W. Axl Rose.
Axl is still an enigma. For much of the evening he had a determined look on his face. The huge monitors adorning either side of the stage providing many close-ups and the man’s demeanour could never be mistaken for that of a sullen recluse, which he is often accused of portraying. Axl didn’t say much – which was a shame really. In this day and age when too many use the advantage of the stage to preach or moan about some cause or another, I found myself almost wanting Axl to pause the show and engage in some asinine banter (check out ‘Axl Rose rant’ on You Tube for exhibit A). As one of the few genuine rock stars around, it would provide for an irreplaceable memory of the show and God-only-knows the man has a story or two to tell.
I’ll wager that we will be seeing GN’R 2017 tour t shirts on gig going punters for at least the next 10 years, such was the dazzling array of merchandise on sale, I truly appreciated the regionally centric nature of some of the t-shirt designs on offer. Many tees had a singular reference to the Brisbane show at QSAC and I imagine the same will be offered to other cities around Australia.
One other notable aspect of the evening was the fans in attendance: many age groups, demographics and backgrounds. All appear to be having a great time. Smiling, ladies dancing in the aisles, high fives when a favourite track was performed… we need more rock’n’roll, people. Who’d have thought that in 2017 GN’R would be the lightning rod for people’s content… t’was certainly on display for all one balmy Brisbane evening!