Guns N Roses
Stade de France, Paris, 7/7/2017
published: 16 /
Richard Lewis reviews the reunited classic line up of Guns N’ Roses on excellent form at the Stade De France, Paris as part of their Not In This Lifetime Tour
On a baking hot Parisian afternoon, the concrete behemoth of the French national stadium constructed for the 1998 World Cup (which they of course won) plays host to a show many thought would never happen. Thirty years since they edged into public consciousness, Guns N’ Roses are again playing the world’s biggest stages.
The reply given by singer and sole remaining founder of GN’R Axl Rose in 2012 about the probability of the band’s classic line up reforming, ‘Not In This Lifetime’, has become a tour which reunites Rose with founding bassist Duff McKagan and lead guitarist Slash.
With reformation jaunts prompting the usual eye-rolling about differences being put aside for the common cause of a colossal cash grab, the announcement that three-fifths of the line-up that recorded landmark 1987 debut LP 'Appetite of Destruction' had mended fences was greeted with considerable curiosity. While some purists have griped about the absence of rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, current six-stringer Richard Fortus, with the band since 2002 is a worthy sparring partner to Slash.
A band whose attitude to slack time keeping is the stuff of legend, with myriad horror stories of shows starting several hours late, here the former World’s Most Dangerous Band take to the stage bang on the allotted 8pm start time and hurtle straight into thrilling versions of 'It’s So Easy' and 'Mr. Brownstone' in rapid succession.
Barnstorming renditions of 'Sweet Child O’ Mine' and planet-sized ballad 'November Rain' and an all-acoustic take on 'Patience' meanwhile contrast beautifully with seething rockers 'You Could Be Mine' and 'Nightrain'.
Crucially, the performance has a real sense of momentum and purpose, with the desire to cram as many songs as possible into the allotted time apparent from the off, with the seven-piece turning in a set of thirty tracks in just over three hours, which somehow feels like a quarter of the time. Unlike say, nearest stadium contemporaries Foo Fighters who waste time on self-indulgent cover versions and bellowing mid-song enquires about how hard ‘you motherfuckers wanna rock’, here not a minute is wasted.
Highly lucrative paydays can of course also be very soothing balm for standing onstage performing through gritted teeth alongside band members you have long tired of, yet the rapport between the players here is tangible, the seven-piece a well-drilled machine without ever sounding like slick professionals going through the motions.
Slash appears to be having an absolute ball for the entire performance, his virtuosity undimmed decades on, his embellishments to the material from the under-rated if certainly overlong 'Chinese Democracy' a frustrating insight into how the album could have sounded had the band managed to stay together.
While the hits, 'Welcome to the Jungle', 'You Could Be Mine', 'Civil War' and a mass singalong of 'Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door' are delivered with pinpoint accuracy, the septet really show their mettle on deep cuts. Epic ballad 'Estranged' is every bit as grandiose as its recorded version, while the ten-minute thunderstorm of 'Coma' which stretches Roses’ vocal abilities to the absolute limit on record, is carried off with superb aplomb.
'Double Talkin’ Jive', something of a curio on disc that was a mainstay of the band’s colossal 1991-93 Use Your Illusion Tour is transformed into a juggernaut of spiralling riffs with a duck-walking Slash firmly in control. The notoriously irascible Axl Rose meanwhile working his way through a succession of T-shirt changes aside from a snarled "Hey Fuckhead!" at an over-zealous stage front security guard channels his energies into singing. Jet propelled versions of 'Live and Let Die' and 'Don’t Cry' demonstrating just how strong his sheet-metal buzzsaw of a voice currently is.
With the exceptions of Slash’s punked up take on Johnny B. Goode, dispensed with the same level of furious glee as Marty McFly at the Hill Valley School dance and a rendition of The Godfather Theme, musician solos have been scrapped. Former axemeister Buckethead’s guitar solo plus nun chuka routine and robot dance (no, honest) circa 2002 were part of a succession of interminable spotlit turns by various Gunners 2001-2015, many will be thankful to see the back of.
Sticking with the pared-down theme, the band’s over-reliance on pyrotechnics in recent years has also been severely tamed, with the giant screens either side of the stage broadcasting footage of the players while the screen to the rear is filled with images themed around the band’s album artwork and music videos.
A furious version of 'Paradise City' last sees the restraint of earlier gleefully abandoned as the full kitchen sink of stadium rock accoutrements are unveiled as fireworks, confetti storm, smoke, full battery of lights, fire belching out of the drum riser, herd of unicorns capering across the stage and Slash playing the guitar solo are dispatched. One furious coda and Rose’s standard cheery farewell of "Good! Fucking! Night!" and an underarm lob of his mic into the crowd brings matters to a close.
A stunning restatement of what made them so vital all those years ago, Hollywood’s finest give the very strong impression they could still develop into the latter-day Rolling Stones and endure for several more lifetimes on this form.