“Nice place you’ve got here.”
That’s the one full sentence Axl Rose spoke to the near sold-out stands at the new-ish U.S. Bank Stadium last night on Guns N' Roses' “Not In This Lifetime” reunion tour. The billion-dollar stadium provided ample space for a band of this magnitude to stretch their arms and settle in to a set that clocked in at more than three hours.
If the venue felt like an opportunity for GNR, for openers Deftones it was a hurdle. It never fails: Attend one of these arena shows and there's at least one act you wish you could see in a more appropriate venue like First Avenue or even Myth. While that’s literally not going to happen in this lifetime for GNR, it would have been so much more appropriate for their worthy openers, one of the most consistently solid bands in metal.
Deftones started off with “Diamond Eyes” around 7:30 p.m. to a half empty stadium, lead singer Chino Moreno's yearning, hollow vocals swallowed (through no fault of the band) by reverb. This was their last performance on the tour, and the connection to this crowd felt close to non-existent. “Make some noise” was a suggestion and not a demand. Sunlight streamed into the stadium and it seemed like the wrong place, wrong time.
Closing out by interspersing bits of Cypress Hill's “How I Could Just Kill A Man” into "Engine No. 9," Moreno addressed the crowd: “Thanks for being nice to us. Have a good show.”
The older suburbanites, Gen Xers, and peppering of younger fans had Axl and/or Slash on their minds and GNR t-shirts on their backs. (For the record, I too committed this cardinal sin of concert-going last night and wore the band's t-shirt to the show.) Soon that infamous skull and roses logo appeared on both sides of the stage, with cartoon monster truck wheels revving and gunshots ringing out. Blonde moms on girls' nights bopped in excitement, and “Purple Rain” awkwardly faded from the overhead speakers.
“And now, a band that needs no introduction but fucking gets one anywayyyyy: Guns N' Roses!”
They didn't launch with a hit. As the first tones of “It’s So Easy” came through, Axl, Slash, Duff McKagan, and Richard Fortus overcame many years of infighting and insults (especially between Axl and Slash) and took the stage together. Axl appeared in meticulously ripped jeans, boots, and a flannel flung around the waist (though he'd change costumes six times, he wore some variation of this ensemble all night, give or take a hat or leather jacket), and top-hatted Slash came out looking exactly like he always has. He and Duff exuded the most effortless cool I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing at an arena show, a stoic confidence that was fun to watch.
Axl started iffy. His signature screech wavered a lot in these first five songs. At points his voice hit such a low register it almost fell off entirely, and he didn’t have enough power behind it to deliver some of the high points–especially during the big breakdown in “Welcome to the Jungle.” I started wondering if this was a “come for Axl, stay for Slash” kind of show.
But something happened, appropriately, on the song “Better”: Mr. Rose dug in and found a sweet spot. And he remained there for “Live and Let Die” and “This I Love,” which deserves to be more appreciated and made me wonder how Axl was ever able to perform this without his GNR dream team. The answer there is that he didn’t, not really. What the crowd was witnessing now was a special Voltron assembly of rock superpowers, somehow (or $$$omehow) all aligned for one last formation.
Though the band dedicated no special Minneapolis-specific cover songs last night, Duff sported Prince's glyph on his guitar and Fortus bashed out the beat to “Erotic City” during a solo. And speaking of solos, Slash was alotted an extended guitar showcase that should have had most people convinced he’s an alien, leading directly into the band’s best hit, “Sweet Child o' Mine.”
These guys have a strange onstage chemistry, if you can even call it that. There's no back-to-back shredding, no antics meant to show how well they get along. Axl and Slash constantly crossed each other’s paths with little more than a glance. A few times our fleshy frontman would look up and fire off what equates to his Zoolander face at no one in particular, and you could see flashes of the young rock star that once was. But is chemistry even an issue when musically a band sounds this good together?
Another cover rounded out the second hour: Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” accompanied by images of U.S. troops. It was touching, as was the Chris Cornell tribute that followed with “Black Hole Sun.” Fan favorite “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” presented the band at their best -- crisp, clear, powerful, and at least musically aligned. And the awesomely indulgent '90s ballad “November Rain” certainly necessitated a grand piano, which Axl played wonderfully, the tense buildup and release genuinely chill-inducing.
The band ended with “Night Train” (more crazy pyrotechnics) just as it felt like they'd hit their stride. They were a well-oiled machine by the 11 p.m. encore of “Don’t Cry,” the AC/DC cover “Whole Lotta Rosie,” and “Patience.” The show could have ended there and been great, but the crowd wants what the crowd wants: “Paradise City” was unfortunately rushed (who can blame them -- it was nearing midnight) and the fireworks signaled the end. It was a long but awesome trip down memory lane for most. I just wonder if the band can say the same.
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die (Paul McCartney and Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
New Rose (The Damned cover, with Duff McKagan singing)
This I Love
Sweet Child o' Mine
Used To Love Her
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
Knocking On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Whole Lotta Rosie (AC/DC cover)
The Seeker (The Who cover)
You’ve Seen The Butcher
My Own Summer (Shove It)
Change (In The House Of Flies)
Engine No. 9 (with an interpolation of Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill A Man")