The excitement before Saturday’s gig is palpable as Guns N’ Roses have already played the night before leaving fans and sceptics positively speechless beyond all expectations. Two days of pure summer and rock ‘n roll in London, we couldn’t ask for more. The venue is the same of a year ago when Axl gave his best performance while filling in as AC/DC’s lead singer. In 2012 when he was asked about the chances of the historic band’s original line-up reforming, he replied: “Not in this lifetime”.
Five years later, here they are, blowing everyone’s mind with the Not In This Lifetime Tour which rolled into London for two shows in the Olympic Stadium. Both new and old school fans are definitely very grateful for that. Around the stadium a dedicated audience can hardly wait as most people discuss how this reunion is going to sound. The majority is wearing a Guns N’ Roses top, some of them purchased from the closer Primark and some others kept intact (or less intact) for decades. The first positive sign is that the band are bang on time and as the sound of The Equaliser is played, they emerge to blast straight into ‘It’s So Easy‘, the first track of many from Appetite. Forget his past reputation, Axl actually shows up to the party and appears in perfect shape while wearing jeans, black shirt and checked over shirt tied around his waist. They follow with ‘Mr Brownstone’ which still gives goosebumps to the die hard fans even though nowadays this song probably sounds more mellow, a story of heroin addiction that definitely doesn’t belong to the present. His trusty sidekick Slash still looks and sounds phenomenal, his hair gets constantly in the way of his ageless face, in fact it looks like he hasn’t changed in 30 years apart from a few extra pounds, but the notes coming from that shiny Les Paul guitar tell us everything we need to know.
Many hoped that this reunion would have been just like when the classic line-up last played London in 1992. Except, this time, the sound quality turned out to be better and the band looked more mature and definitely more focused and grateful. The veteran rock band reformed their classic line-up in 2016 and have been touring since, with founder Axl Rose and former members Slash and Duff McKagan taking part. However, guitarist Izzy Stradlin has not participated in the reunion and has been replaced by Richard Fortus whose talent was speaking for itself throughout the whole gig and his style and skills were never once shadowed by the big personalities of the original members.
‘Chinese Democracy’ is followed by ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ which is introduced by a screaming Axl “You know where you are?” and immediately the whole crowd can’t help but losing their minds, jumping around and singing along.
Then Axl puts on a top hat with a union jack on it and starts singing ‘Live and Let Die’, a version that Paul McCartney would have certainly applauded, and the thundering drums are so menacing that it’s a real moment for the crowd. ‘Rocket Queen’ and ‘You Could Be Mine’ keep the general hype and excitement going. A series of covers follow them, the lyrics to ‘Civil War’ feel ripe for the political tensions of today, and Rose’s voice goes from soft to high pitch in no time. We start to see more of Melissa Reese, the young woman who recently joined the band on keys and vocals and who gets a mention from Rose as the camera lingers on her blue and white hair. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ represents the climax of the night, a few unforgettable minutes in which many fans looked like they could die happy for having finally assisted Axl and Slash perform it. A moment so intense that all of us in the audience seem to be united by the same feeling of excitement, joy and satisfaction for being able to assist to these four minutes of pure rock, we are all fully whole! After that, it’s the turn of the rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus, who has a moment in the spotlight and he definitely knows how to make the most out of it in fact his shine is unstoppable. The instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ sees Fortus duetting with Slash and this turns out to be an unexpectedly sweet combination. Another left-field cover is the piano outro from Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’, which leads to ‘November Rain’. As much as it might sound as a cliché this is definitely one of my favourites of the night. Piano in the middle and quite of an over the top yet very touching performance accompanied by the thousands of switched on lighters in the audience. Another beautiful and moving moment is the cover of ‘Black Hole Sun’ as tribute to Soundgarden and of course in memory of our beloved Chris Cornell. A very similar atmosphere accompanies the execution of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. Once this is over everyone seems to lose that sadness feeling and so we embrace the hype of ‘Night Train’ where there’s not a single person who isn’t singing “Loaded like a freight train” at the top of their lungs. The encore doesn’t leave us less enthusiastic thanks to some of the band’s most popular hits ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ and the inevitable anthem ‘Paradise City’ which concluded this excellent gig in pure style.
“Thank you,” says Rose, to his loving audience, “from the heart of my bottom.” You can’t blow the roof off a stadium that doesn’t have one, but they somehow succeeded.