From the moment they took the heavy metal scene by storm with Appetite for Destruction in 1987, Guns N' Roses was destined to be The Next Big Thing. Only internal strife and the usual Rock N' Roll excesses could bring down a band some had pegged to eventually be as big as The Rolling Stones.
So when Guns N' Roses self-imploded in the mid-1990s, it figured to be the end. A self-imposed exile from music and largely from the general public by vocalist W. Axl Rose eventually gave way to a configuration of GNR that saw Rose as the only remaining original member on 2008's Chinese Democracy. Even though that version of Guns N' Roses headlined the inaugural River City Rockfest outside the AT&T Center in 2013, the wasted 15 years between albums that could have seen GNR become the biggest band on the planet was too much for the music scene's changing tastes, and many fans, to overcome. A majority of them met that return with a collective yawn.
And that's just one of the things that made Friday night's comeback at the Alamodome special.
Marking the seemingly unthinkable return last year of guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan, Guns N' Roses thrilled 50,000-plus fans to a multitude of surprises while ending the second leg of its "Not in this Lifetime" North American tour in San Antonio's domed football stadium:
- The band played 32 songs in a whopping 3-hour, 20-minute performance that ended at 11:45 p.m.
- It performed tributes to the late Glen Campbell and the late Chris Cornell (setlist below)
- The rebellious vocalist notorious for making fans wait more than two hours before he was ready to take the stage went on five minutes early at 8:25 p.m.
- Richard Fortus, one of Rose's guitarists in the so-called revamped version of GNR after the heyday breakup, joined original member Slash on an instrumental duet of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here"
- GNR fit additional covers "The Seeker" by The Who (also covered by Rush, among others) into a set filled with hits and somewhat obscure originals
- GNR didn't shy from its lengthiest songs, performing the 10-minute plus "Coma" along with MTV hits such as the nine-minute plus "Estranged" and the nearly nine-minute "November Rain"
- The group didn't forget its 1993 covers CD The Spaghetti Incident? But instead of performing another MTV hit in "Since I Don't Have You," the spotlight shined on McKagan during the intro to Johnny Winters' "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" before the bassist absolutely blistered vocally into the Misfits' 90-second rager "Attitude" (which marked exactly one more Misfits song performed in San Antonio this year than former Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein chose to play earlier this year at The Rock Box)
Kicking off the night with McKagan's instantly recognizable intro, Guns N' Roses lit up the Alamodome with "It's So Easy" (AXS footage here). Rose's infamous Inquisition, "Why don't you just . . . f--- off" cemented the fact the dome's patrons were in for a thrill ride. But it was doubtful many of them knew just how long of a ride it would be.
Rose was still running across the stage with as much energy on 32nd song and finale "Paradise City," as the confetti rained, as he had at the beginning following ZZ Top's one-hour warm-up. He outlasted many fans in the nosebleed section 300s who had cleared out during a whopping six encores. The last time these eyes had seen a band play that many extra songs was when Metallica toured in 1989 behind . . . And Justice for All.
In between the first and 32nd song, GNR was all business.
Along with the Big 3 and Fortus, GNR was solidified by drummer Frank Ferrer and not one but two keyboardists in Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese. Reed fronted GNR covers supergroup Hookers & Blow in May 2016 at The Rock Box.
Rose's voice held up for the most part, cracking in various parts of some songs but otherwise performing solidly, particularly for a man in his 50s who sings in multiple octaves regularly. "Coma" was a highlight, as Rose sounded just like 1991's Use Your Illusion I studio version while belting out the patented, "Somebody tell me what the f--- is going onnnn! Goddammit!"
The singer's softer side showed up on the piano during ballad masterpiece "November Rain." Rose and the band also made solid choices in keeping the Chinese Democracy tunes limited to that album's arguably four best tunes, including "Better" and "This I Love," the latter earning Rose extra applause for his still-got-it ability to hold notes for 10 or more seconds. One of that album's tracks, "Sorry," was an unexpected choice as the first encore in favor of omitted classics such as "Out ta Get Me," "One in a Million" or "You're Crazy."
San Antonians benefited from the show segueing into a lengthy break for the band before Guns N' Roses begins the third leg of its tour. During the encores, Rose's whistling ability hadn't lost a step on "Patience." He then declared, "This is the last show of this leg in North America for us for awhile. We're going to play a little longer. So call your parents. Tell them you're going to be home late."
Clearly catering to a younger generation of fans with that message, Rose spoke musically to the older crowd while acknowledging his recent run as AC/DC's vocalist by tearing into "Whole Lotta Rosie" prior to "Paradise City."
Fun fact about Rose and a small San Antonio tie-in he has: while marking 30 years of Appetite for Destruction, his friend and former Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach's debut solo album Angel Down is celebrating 10 years. Rose made guest appearances on three of its tracks: "(Love Is) A Bitchslap," "Stuck Inside" and a cover of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle." Bach's drummer, as many know around these parts, is San Antonio native, Bobby Jarzombek.
Whether Rose, Slash, and McKagan make a new album together, let alone return to the Alamo City as Guns N' Roses, is to look too deep into the future. For now, San Antonians and those who came from afar could savor a performance for the books. Especially because Guns N' Roses in San Antonio 2017 was an event the likes of which may not occur in theirs, or any others', lifetime again.
SETLIST: "It's So Easy," "Mr. Brownstone," "Chinese Democracy," "Welcome to the Jungle," "Double Talkin' Jive," "Live and Let Die," "Better," "Estranged," "Rocket Queen," ""You Could Be Mine," "Attitude," "This I Love," "Civil War," "Coma," Slash guitar solo, "Speak Softly Love" (Love theme from "The Godfather"), "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Wichita Lineman" (Glen Campbell tribute), "Yesterdays," "Used to Love Her," "My Michelle," "Wish You Were Here" (Slash and Richard Fortus duet on Pink Floyd cover), "November Rain," "Black Hole Sun" (Chris Cornell tribute), "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Nightrain." Encores: "Sorry," "Patience," "The Seeker," "Don't Cry," "Whole Lotta Rosie," "Paradise City"