Almost 25 years to the day after the infamous Olympic Stadium riot, Guns n’ Roses are back in Montreal. Sure, the “Axl Rose and hired guns” lineup played our city twice before, but that hardly counts now that 3/5 of the original band is back together. The show was held outside at Parc Jean-Drapeau (“They know better than to put you and us in a stadium. They’ve tried that before and it didn’t work” would brag Axl during the show) and about 36000 people clearly didn’t hold a grudge for that infamous event.
The “Not in this lifetime” tour has been going strong for more than a year, so obviously the years have made the band and their mercurial lead singer wiser. The 7:30 set time for the Gunners seemed like a pipe dream but at 7:27, the “Looney Tunes” theme blasted through the PA and the band took the stage soon after.
The band ripped through “It’s So Easy” and “Mr Brownstone”, both from their multi-platinum debut “Appetite For Destruction”, an album celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Take a moment to let that sink in: “Appetite” is 30 years old. Where did these years go?
The setlist hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the reunion tour last year, but songs have expanded and a few were added to make this a whopping 3 hour and 10 minutes event. The “Chinese Democracy” material is kept to a minimum: “Chinese Democracy” and “This I Love” slot in nicely with the classic material, and with Slash and Duff’s playing, the songs gained a swagger that elevates them above the sterile studio recordings. “Better” remains an oddity that never manages to sound as good as it could or should.
But one does not listen to Guns n Roses for technical precision, although the band is more than capable of playing this way. The performance oscillated between rough around the edges renditions of some classic tracks, like for example “Sweet Child O’ Mine” which lacked a bit in cohesion, or “Rocket Queen” where the band briefly got out of sync during the middle break section, to pure grandiose versions of the deep cut “Coma” or the classic “Estranged”. Slash shone on guitar, with creamy tones of pure bliss coming out of his beat up Les Paul, and his chemistry with second guitarist Richard Fortus is great, with both trading licks throughout the show. Fortus is an excellent guitarist too, and his playing meshes well with Slash’s. And Duff McKagan, at 53, still looks cooler than you or I ever did, especially when playing a rousing version of the Misfits’ “Attitude”.
One complaint I had last year about the show I saw in Toronto was the high number of cover songs played. For sure I expect “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, but the second half of the show also features a beautiful instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, the end section of Derek and the Domino’s “Layla”, as well as The Who’s “The Seeker” as an encore. And let’s not forget Slash’s traditional solo spot, that prominently features Nino Rota’s theme to “The Godfather”, Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” and an instrumental jam that seemed to draw on Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock ‘n Roll”. This year, the band added a tribute to the late Chris Cornell by playing Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, and a nod to Axl’s stint with AC/DC with “Whole Lotta Rosie”. Now that’s a lot of covers to play in a show. They’re all good mind you, but maybe that time should have been used to play deep cuts, or the 4 missing songs from “Appetite”, since it’s the album’s 30th anniversary.
Opening the evening was Our Lady Peace, who looked a little lost on the gigantic stage. I thought the band sounded a little too loose at the start (especially on a dragging version of “Innocent”) but picked things up mid set and finished with a pretty good rendition of “Starseed”.
Let’s hope Guns N’ Roses can keep it together long enough to do some new music. In the meantime, I’ll head out to Ottawa on Monday to relive it all over again. Not in this lifetime? How about thrice in this lifetime?
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage