Quick! Somebody contact the FBI and alert them that a group of impostors has apparently assumed the identities of at least three key members of the partially reunited Guns N’ Roses. Then put out a missing-persons report for lead singer W. Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash and bassist-singer Duff McKagan.
Evidence of their possible MIA status was provided throughout much of GNR’s sold-out Qualcomm Stadium concert Monday night, which opened with the high-octane “It’s So Easy” and concluded two hours and 45 minutes later with a rousing “Paradise City.”
In between came such fan favorites as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Patience,” an instrumental medley of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and the coda from Derek & The Dominos’ “Layla,” “November Rain” and the rarely heard (on this tour) “Used to Love Her.” During the rollicking “Night Train,” Point Loma UPS courier Shawn McGinnis, 39, proposed to his girlfriend, Aileen Ryan, 33, at their floor seats near the stage. Hugs, tears, and high-fives followed.
“Right at the end of ‘Night Train,’ I said to Aileen: ‘Babe, I want to take this show from awesome to unforgettable,’” McGinnis recalled on Tuesday afternoon. “That’s when I dropped down to my knees to propose.”
Monday’s show was the last U.S. date on the revamped GNR’s lucrative Not In This Lifetime reunion tour, which has already grossed more than $100 million and will travel abroad in the fall and again next year.
It was the band’s first local show since a 1993 date at the same venue, then known as San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. And it was a concert with enough glaring dissimilarities between the original GNR and the band on stage here Monday to suggest a case of possible identity theft to at least some in the 51,000-strong audience.
The tour reunites Rose - who took full control of GNR in 1994 and added a bunch of hired hands and - with Slash and McKagan for the first time since 1993. They are augmented by four other musicians. Izzy Stradlin, the band’s original rhythm guitarist, is sitting the tour out, while original drummer Stephen Adler has guested at a few shows on the tour.
Their absence makes this three-fifths of a reunion, which is clearly fine with many fans, less so with those who would prefer the once-volatile chemistry of the original lineup. When the wistful “Wish You Were Here” was performed Monday, one could only wonder if any of the musicians had Stradlin or Adler in mind as they played.
On Monday, the band billed as GNR took to the Qualcomm stage at 9:11 p.m., just 41 minutes after their scheduled starting time. They concluded, with a burst of explosions and confetti, at 11:56 p.m.
In the old days, it would be approaching midnight before Rose even began contemplating what time to start. When GNR played the San Diego Sports Arena in 1992, the band hit the stage at 11:40 p.m.. That’s only 16 minutes sooner than their Monday show concluded.
Moreover, the 54-year-old Rose - or the look-alike who may have taken his place - did not rant even once at his band mates or the audience, or storm off stage in a profane huff, all of which were the norm in GNR’s debauched, drug-and-booze-fueled heyday. Nor did he fall down from a riser during a rant and land squarely on his bottom, as Rose memorably did when GNR opened for the Rolling Stones in 1989 at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
“The last time I saw Guns N’ Roses perform was in Denver in 1993,” recalled McGinnis. “Axl threw down the microphone stand after three songs, stormed off stage, and the show was over.”
The 1990 song, “Civil War,” built up nicely Monday. But its title could serve as a theme song for the decades-long personal, creative and legal battles that kept Rose apart from GNR’s other architects. (The irony may have been unintentional, but one of the songs that played over the sound system Monday before GNR took the stage was “Highway Star” by Deep Purple - likely one of the few bands whose lead singer and former lead guitarist had as well-documented a hatred for each other as Rose and Slash once did.)
While a smiling Rose did thank the audience a number of times Monday, including at the end of the evening, he did not acknowledge this was his first tour in three decades with McKagan and Slash. Both were equally pivotal to GNR’s meteoric rise to worldwide fame in 1987, after the release of “Appetite for Destruction,” which remains the best-selling debut album of all-time. So were the absent Stradlin and Adler.
When Rose introduced the band members Monday, he did not add a single audible personal reference. Perhaps he thought it better to not comment on the high-paying reunion at all, rather than offer hollow or hypocritical proclamations about his once-close band mates. Apart from a few instances when he and Slash briefly drew within about five feet of each other, they remained a good distance apart on stage for much of the night. In a way, it was like watching two accomplished musicians/businessmen working to achieve the same goal, while carefully remaining in their own orbits.
Rose left the stage regularly Monday for costume changes (or at least T-shirt, leather jacket and hat changes). It was a nod to showbiz conventions - and, perhaps, a need to rest his voice - that the rebellious Rose of yore would surely have regarded with sneering contempt. His voice was generally strong, although it sounded as if some electronic sweetening was judiciously employed at times.
Equally conspicuous, GNR performed Monday with polish, focus and well-rehearsed precision throughout its 23-song set and four encore selections. The momentum faltered at times and Slash and second guitarist Richard Fortus engaged in a few too many solos on “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” and several other songs. But there wasn’t even a hint of the musical train-wrecks that used to punctuate GNR’s shambolic, seat-of-its-leather-pants concerts back in the day.
Professionalism, once a dirty word to GNR, is now embraced. The edginess and impending sense of mid-song self-destruction that were once the band’s double-edged sword hallmarks have been eliminated.
It’s a tradeoff that yielded mixed results, but no more so than a crowd-pleasing reunion that said much about Guns N’ Roses’ past, without yielding a single new song or hint about the future of the band - or its suspiciously well-behaved doppelgängers Monday at Qualcomm Stadium.