By Olivia Isenhart
There’s always some trepidation with seeing your heroes for the first time. You loved their albums and stared at their posters as a kid; but do they measure up to your memories when you’re an adult, and the band is a bit older as well? Last night at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium (July 23), expectations were high as Guns N Roses took the stage for the first of two shows at the venue.
Related: Axl Rose Talks New Memoir
Opener Lenny Kravitz’ seductive, funky sound was the perfect choice to warm up the intense crowd. “Can we jam?” he asked, his quick question coaxing out an impressive cheer so early in the evening. The multi-talented rocker was draped in a black and gold jacket that Hendrix would have envied, and the ensemble was complete as soon as he was glistening with sweat. To the thrill of the NJ venue, he announced amid the screams, “I made my first four records in Hoboken, New Jersey!” Then, he and his band set the standard for 10-minute solos and gutsy builds on songs like “Bring It On,” “Where Are We Runnin’?,” The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” “Let Love Rule,” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” Commenting on the recent tragedies around the world, Kravitz said simply, “We can do it. Where there is unity, there is power, and there is fire.”
It wasn’t long before the last part of that analogy got real. Guns N’ Roses took the stage with some serious pyrotechnics in tow, lacing their most impactful musical moments with fireworks and flames, just in case we somehow weren’t already impressed. Their full production was rich with light and color, but the visual effects were never distracting. That’s because Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan are such ruthless, larger-than-life performers, you’re almost terrified to take your eyes off them. With Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese accompanying them, the group was poised for some serious musical destruction – not a bad way to celebrate Slash’s 51st birthday.
Of course, the biggest question around Guns N’ Roses in recent years always seems to be, “But how do they really sound?” Fantastic, seriously. Instant chills. Just take our word on it, there wasn’t a slow or strained moment in the show, even as it extended to well after midnight. GNR classics like “It’s So Easy,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Rocket Queen,” and even the vocally demanding “Sweet Child O’ Mine” melted into the hot summer air like it was 1988, and the seasoned rockers tore into each one with volatile focus. Fans were also treated to ambitious covers of Paul McCartney’s iconic Bond theme, “Live and Let Die,” The Misfits’ “Attitude,” Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and The Who’s “The Seeker” – Guns N’ Roses clearly weren’t messing around.
Axl’s voice, another popular topic of speculation, was still the screechy, rugged howl we know and love, and nothing less. It really never faltered, though he did pull back in some places to save up for the bigger screams. Critics are often so eager to find something wrong with his voice, but it seems that he takes great care of his pipes. And some vocal restraint is a small price to pay for the moments when he completely loses his mind. Axl raced around the stage with piercing, wolf-like eyes, jumping to join his bandmates and egg them on as they shredded. But intense as he was, you could still catch him affectionately peering down at his fans at the start of each song, as if to make sure they were as excited about the selection as he was. There was a good vibe between him and his bandmates, which was especially evident when Axl warmly recognized Slash’s birthday toward the end of the show.
Slash, whose muscles were dripping with perspiration as he ripped through solo after solo in a “New York F—in’ City” shirt, was obviously celebrating his 51st in style. After Axl made the announcement, the spotlights centered in and the stage cleared out, leaving the renowned guitarist to have a little fun on his own. In what quickly became a highlight, Slash delivered his take on Andy Williams’ “Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather, building a nonstop riff that showed why he is so many six-stringers’ guitar hero.
By the end of the night, when the last batch of fireworks hit the sky, Guns N’ Roses had cemented themselves as the very same heroes (or anti-heroes) we had all been hoping to meet again.