I want to start this post by stating the following: I’m a lame, hipster. I’m not a real fan. Nothing ever at any time in my entire life has made me happy. I am taking out my own personal frustrations on a millionaire rock star. I am jealous of Axl Rose. I am a terrible writer and this post is full of typos. I am a derogatory term for a homosexual. I am ugly, stupid, bad, dumb, full of shit, hopeless, worthless, and a talentless hack.
There. Now that I’ve already pre-insulted myself, the Guns N’ Roses kooks that come out of the woodwork to complain about this post are going to have a (slightly) harder time thinking of something original to say. I’m not going to beat around the bush kids, I saw Guns N’ Roses live in concert earlier this week and if kinda sucked. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s do the whole concert-wrap-up-post.
The concert was held at Denver’s beloved Mile High Stadium, where I saw Metallica earlier this summer (more on that in a moment). I was a little wiser from my experience at that show, so while the evening played out roughly the same way, I was able to refine my strategy. Once again, I walked from my (current soon-to-be-former) office just outside downtown Denver and took a popular urban walking/bike trail to the Stadium. I arrived shortly after 5:00 pm and immediately went to Little Machine Beer for my pre-show libations and tacos from True West Tacos. This beer and those tacos are the real-deal people, I strongly urge you check them out if you are in the Denver area.
Little Machine sits at the very edge of the far parking lot of the Stadium, so just like before the Metallica show, it was filled with concert goers. But there was a real difference. People tend to think of metalheads as “scary” and “dangerous” but the crowd waiting for the GNR show was much rowdier. They were also less…what’s the most delicate way to put this? Sprinkled with hate. I sat on an outside patio next to a bunch of biker dudes, one of whom had a patch on his vest shaped like the continental United States which was emblazoned with the slogan “We’re full…FUCK OFF!” While I’m sure there were some shitty dudes/dudettes at the Metallica show (after all there were way more people) the shitheads seemed to gather in larger groups and were thus more prominent.
I finished my dinner and drinks spending around $30 and was then 100% completely done spending money for the evening. I did not, as with Metallica, buy any beers at the show and while I checked out the merch booth, I did not buy anything. Why? Well, I had an early morning appointment the next day (so I stopped drinking) and the merch was crappy, stupid looking, and over priced. The shirts were mostly $45, which isn’t too bad, but $500 for a jacket? Who is buying that? Anyway, I was/am very broke so I saved my (non-existent) money and made my way to my seat. I was four rows from the field/pit area, directly center to the stage. When I arrived at my seat, there were only three people in my row, of course, one of them was sitting next to my seat. He was a pale, very thin, young rocker-kid who was constantly coughing (because he was hitting a vape pen, naturally). Two rows in front of me, a burly biker dude was already throwing up. That’s right, the opening act was only halfway done with his set (Sturgill Simpson, a kinda flat/boring alt-country blues guy) and this guy was already in the puking phase of his evening. This gentleman, whose girlfriend sat stoically next to him, threw up three more times. Near as I could tell, he was just throwing up on the ground next to his seat. Eventually, a pair of stadium employees (poor kids, who were probably making $7 an hour) came a silently mopped up his vomit. The dude didn’t even acknowledge them or say he was sorry. As soon as they were gone he started hitting a vape pen. I expected him to vanish during the show, either dragged off by the staff because he was staggering/falling over, but he was there the entire show.
Once Sturgill Simpson was finished, we were treated to the best music of the evening: a mixtape of kick ass Ramones songs played over the stadium PA. Getting to hear The Ramones played at maximum volume in Mile High Stadium was so rad, it made me sad that we weren’t going to get to see them rather than GNR. Those songs play like gangbuster whilst sitting in a sticky plastic chair watching a biker try not heave while hitting a vape pen. Highlights included “Danny Says” and “Swallow My Pride” two songs that are definitely in my Top 20 favorite songs of all time. Eventually, The Ramones faded out and Guns N’ Roses took to the stage. This is where the evening started to fall apart. The band opened with “It’s So Easy” and from jump-street, Axl sounded like shit. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what was so crappy about it and all I can think is that he had no spark, no enthusiasm. He also screeched way more than sang throughout most of the night. And it’s a damn shame because Axl once had the greatest range of any pop singer. But time and drugs/hard living have ravaged the voice that was Guns N’ Roses.
When I was a kid, I used to think that there were two people singing Axl’s parts, a dude with a really high voice and another with a deep, low voice. I actually thought that Slash was the dude with the really deep voice. But it was just Axl and his amazing range. Earlier this week, I flipped through the “Fat Axl” memes online, kinda dreading how bad Axl might look. I didn’t think he looked any fatter than any rich dude his age. However, Axl looked fucking ridiculous all night long. He always wore a bandana (which is okay, because he always did that) but atop that, he wore a series of stupid hats. Now look, I like hats too. My friend in St. Louis, Jake, has sold me many a dumb hat at the hat store where he works. The dumber a hat is, the more I want to wear it…in public. These giant leather monstrosities looked incredibly stupid and swapping them out between songs only emphasized just how desperate Axl is these days to keep his head covered. What are you hiding, Axl? I get that losing one’s hair (allegedly) is terrible for men, but here’s the thing: Axl is rich enough that he doesn’t have to get up and perform on stage these days. If you’re that paranoid about your hair, don’t do these shows. Or just wear the bandana. The vest/jacket that Axl wore throughout the night also changed, and while most of these were just terrible, the brown leather with fringe number he wore near the end of the night was truly egregious.
For the most part, the song selections were about what you would expect from a reunited Guns N’ Roses in 2017. Mostly selections from their debut album (all the hits you can name) with selections from the USE YOUR ILLUSION albums sprinkled throughout. There were, however, more covers than I was expecting and that’s where the band exceeded (somewhat) my expectations. Of course they were going to cover the Wings/Paul McCartney classic “Live and Let Die,” but I wasn’t expected the touching Chris Cornell tribute cover of “Black Hole Sun” (which, if I’m being honest, fucking rocked) and brilliant instrumental cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Speaking of instruments, Slash and bass player Duff McKagan were both aces. Despite having lived just as rough a life (or even rougher?) than Axl, these two are still able to hold their own on stage. And Slash looked even better than when I saw him open a few years ago for Aerosmith. Dude looks like he’s been hitting the gym, good for him. And speaking of McKagen, before I forget, I want to mention the single coolest part of this concert: every time the cameras focused on McKagen’s bass playing we got to see the Prince symbol. Yes, McKagen has the Purple One’s symbol proudly displayed on his guitar. I know that most of the people at the show probably didn’t like Prince, but the shout-out to a legit guitar hero, gone too soon, was awesome. This was the best thing that GNR did on stage that night–they had a small piece of Prince with them.
There were, predictably, only two songs from CHINESE DEMOCRACY: the titular track and the song “Better.” I really like “Better” so I was glad to hear them play it…until they started playing it. The overwrought production of Axl’s infamous album just isn’t replicable live on stage. They did have a (very young) woman playing keyboards with them who provided occasional backing vocals, which she did on this song, that was also pretty cool. Hearing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” live with Axl singing the vocals (I saw Slash do this song with Myles Kennedy) was noteworthy, but really it sounded like someone else doing a cover. Axl sitting down at the piano for “November Rain” was a legit moment of badassery. At the tail-end of the Slash instrumental cover of “Wish You Were Here,” Axl launched into the ending piano riff of “Layla.” I forgot that Axl was a decent piano player, and the sappy MTV ballad actually sounded decent once he launched into “November Rain.” This was the closest we came to hearing old-school GNR. Then the band went into the Chris Cornell cover and I started to think, “Maybe this concert was worth it after all.” The band finished that cover and immediately followed it up with the Dylan cover “Knockin’ On Heavens Door.” Despite the ridiculous cowboy getup, Axl did this song justice, too. But then they finished the night’s set with an ear-splittingly bad version of “Nightrain.”
I left while the crowd clapped and stamped their feet in order to demand an encore. Partly because I’d seen enough and partly because, like Axl, I too was getting old and couldn’t stay out all night. I told my wife the next day that seeing Guns N’ Roses live made me wish I’d died at 25, but after careful consideration, I don’t think that’s right. No, I don’t think it’s better to burn out than fade away or whatever other rock cliches you can conjure. I think that it is better to keep living, get old, and give up on staying young forever. Sure, an old man can be goofy compared to a virile young man, but a young man pretending to be young still is even goofier. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think “goofy” is what Axl is going for these days. To all the young bands playing out there today: grow, change, morph into something mature and when you’re 55+ don’t try to be 25.
Aside: If you’d told me at the start of the summer that the best show of Summer 2017 was going to be Metallica, I wouldn’t have believed you. But boy did Metallica beat GNR in every way. From the live performance, stage presence, pyrotechnics, hell…even the weird stuff they projected behind the better was better produced/not laughable (the GNR material was crappy 2000-era CGI guns and rose petals).