By Sami Al-Awadi
I had to get tickets once I first heard about the potential and possibility of a once in a lifetime event for me. It was the concert I’d waited my whole life for. Axl, Slash, and Duff together again on one stage playing through the Guns N’ Roses catalog. By the time I was old enough to even go to concerts, the seminal ‘80s hard rock combo was already a memory, and I had said for decades I would spend whatever it took to see them if and when the time came.
Two weeks ago, Sunday night, the time had come. At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following a stirring warm-up from Alice in Chains, “Guns” took the stage for what would be a spirited, nearly three-hour travelogue through their well-known archive of slammers, plus some deeper delves into their massive catalog, as well as a few inspired surprises.
Though the buzz in the air was extremely noticeable and people were jacked beyond belief and drunk out of their minds to see the band finally take the stage again in their final headlining tour (most likely), the extreme excitement was brought down by a venue not really apt to handle a major rock show. Confession; as a resident of New York City, I rarely make it down to Philadelphia (though it's a short train ride) and this was my first experience in Lincoln Financial Field (I’m a Cowboys fan, not an Eagles fan), but this stadium really was meant for football and not a hard rock show. Unless you were in the pit or maybe the first 20 rows on the floor of the Guns N’ Roses concert — a very, very small percentage of the audience that the massive stadium held — your eyes were on the big video screens the whole night. Or they were on your phone that was pointed at the big video screens. Or your view of the stage was obstructed by a sea of people in front of you with their glowing phones pointed at the big video screens. Also, it’s not like the sound was great (it was downright awful in some sections), so suddenly the idea of paying $20 or $30 or even $50 for a simulcast concert in a movie theater doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea, assuming there’s beer.
However, there was no denying that the band still has a huge stage presence and the fans are loyal as hell to hear their favorite anthems. My personal preference was to hear strictly hits from the incredible debut studio album Appetite for Destruction, GnR’s most successful CD to date. Although, I will admit after initially cringing when Axl proclaimed they were going to play a couple songs from his version of the band’s latest release Chinese Democracy, I actually enjoyed the two singles they played off that record. The anthology of great songs and albums are well represented and the rabid fan base was well compensated hearing every great song including “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, “November Rain”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.
One thing was clear even from a young-minded fan (in respect to the band’s heyday) about the band’s personnel, and that was the idea that Axl has not aged as well as Slash. Axl needed to take a lot of breathers and pauses during the three-hour marathon. His effort was commendable, but nature has obviously taken its course with him and the constant Mick Jagger-like energy was not apparent. Slash, on the other hand, is still as sharp and effective as ever with his amazing guitar solos/riffs. Slash would often lead off every anticipated hit with an extended intro or a crowd-pleasing outro. The concert featured a quick ten-minute guitar solo that would serve as a mini intermission for the rest of the band and then lead in to the great hit, “Live and Let Die”. The crowd roared in approval and I was no different, because in my short lifetime, few guitarists can hang with Slash and the monster guitar influence he has brought to the 80’s/90’s music scene.
In closing, the band ended with an extended version of the song “Paradise City” that was capped off with a huge fireworks show that culminated over the football stadium. The crowd went nuts, the band seemed grateful, and memories were captured for all on hand. Don’t kid yourself, the following morning on the train back to NYC, I was jamming to the G N’ R catalog on my iPod ready for the work week to begin, still buzzing after the show.