Guns N' Roses

November 25, 2017
The Forum
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry

Guns N' Roses' Not In This Lifetime tour has taken on a life of its own as it winds down its second year, and prepares for another round in Europe next summer. By all accounts, the tour no one thought would ever happen — in this lifetime or any other — has been a financial windfall and a smashing success. Not only are Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan enjoying lucrative paydays; they're also, by all reports, getting along famously. Thanks in part to rescuing AC/DC on their last tour and opening himself up to the press, the notorious Axl Rose, known for his volatile mood swings, controversial statements and consistent tardiness, has finally made peace with his legacy and the ones who were there to prop him up in the beginning.

This was all too apparent during the band's second LA region appearance over the Thanksgiving holiday. For a band I hadn't seen in 25 years, I wasn't sure what to expect, although I'd heard I wouldn't be disappointed. Also, I wasn't all that concerned that neither Izzy Stradlin or Steven Adler were part of the tour because they weren't there in 1992. As I was about to learn, guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer do a more than adequate job filling in. Keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese add color and texture like a cup of sprinkles on a rich chocolate cake.

The real heart and soul of Guns N' Roses has always been Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan. Rose may have kept the name alive with a revolving door of personnel and the highly ambitious and expensive 2008 album Chinese Democracy, but even he knew the fans wanted to see Slash and McKagan back in the GNR fold.

At the Forum, all bets were off and pretty much every song you can imagine or never saw coming was rolled out over the course of the three and half hour show. After a video of a pistol-packing engine traversing the entire Not In This Lifetime tour itinerary whipped the crowd into a frenzy for nearly five minutes, the band came out swinging with "It Ain't Easy" and "Mr. Brownstone," two numbers from Appetite For Destruction. Six other songs from GNR's massive selling 1987 debut would make the cut tonight.

Slash stepped up to begin "Chinese Democracy," the title track from an album he wasn't part of. By the looks of it, you'd had never known. It was the first of six pulled from the record, and it appears that both Slash and McKagan have no issues with these songs appearing in the repertoire. Audience reaction was mixed, although some confusion likely resulted with those unfamiliar with the post-Slash and Duff material.

Once "Welcome To The Jungle" unleashed its fury, it became evident that Rose's wicked and powerful growl is a hit and miss affair. He may have wanted to hear everyone scream, but as the night went on, the high falsettos on "Rocket Queen," "You Could Be Mine" and "Yesterdays" echoed hollow and painfully forced. Fortunately, he was more on than off, especially when he lowered the register to a more diabolical tone on songs like "Civil War" and "I Used To Love Her."

The singer also strolled through easily on an array of tried-and-true covers. Along with their well-known versions of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live And Let Die" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," the group tackled the Who's "The Seeker," which featured one of Rose's best vocal turns of the night, along with an instrumental take of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" that highlighted Slash and Fortus playing off each other like they'd been at it for decades. Indeed, Fortus proved himself a formidable counterpart to Slash, technically more advanced than most of his predecessors. Elsewhere, McKagan stepped up to the mic for the Misfits' "Attiude" to inject some punk credibility into the proceedings.

Most touching were the tributes to fallen comrades. Right out of "Sweet Child O' Mine," likely the night's most beloved number, they segued into a somber reading of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," which, of course, was a #1 hit for Glen Campbell, who died from Alzheimer's disease in August. A brief snippet of the Allman Brothers Band's "Melissa" that set up "Patience" served as a fitting salute to Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, who both passed away this year. Closer to home was a near-perfect rendition of "Black Hole Sun" that brought back memories of the late Chris Cornell and Soundgarden who opened for GNR in 1992.

One of the things I believe distinguished Guns N' Roses from the packs of LA heavy metal and hard rock bands that came out of the 80s, aside from their down-and-dirty gritty bad-boy image, was their flair for drama. "November Rain," with its nod to Eric Clapton's "Layla," remains the epitome of high production, especially when you think of the video the band strung together behind it.

However, two other songs from the Use Your Illusion albums are a little more on point as heart-wrenching epics: "Estranged" and "Coma." The former, which also turned heads back in the 90s with a rather spectacular video, stood out largely at the Forum due to Reed's impressive dalliance at the piano (much better than his conga playing). And while not as achingly commanding as the 1992 performances, the band's stab at the drug-induced "Coma" sent chills to the upper reaches of the Forum.

When it comes right down to it, the strongest component of Guns N' Roses is and has always been Slash and his guitar. In the years since he was either fired or quit the band (no one's really sure which it is), he's blossomed into a world-class player whose lead work, executed at 45 degrees with his right heel up, is as precise and rigid as Clapton and Page. Slash was given the floor at several intervals to solo away until his heart's content, and no one seemed to mind — least of all Rose who likely rested his vocal cords during those stretches.

Just when it seemed the show was all but over, a half-hour encore found Slash putting his Les Paul aside for an old-school B.C. Rich Mockingbird. At the same time, Rose caught his second wind and actually pushed through more aggressively albeit with bits of trepidation on the vocals. This may have been due to playing four slower numbers — "Sorry," "Patience," "Madagascar" and "Don't Cry" — in succession, but it allowed the crew to rise up for the final song of the night, "Paradise City." Amidst fireworks, flashing lights and Rose tossing his wireless mic to the middle of the arena (some lucky fan has a nice keepsake from the night), there was little doubt in anyone's mind that the return of Guns N' Roses with their three core members on the frontline was worth the wait.

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