Guns N’ Roses plays deep cuts alongside classics on world tour

One of the largest and most anticipated concert tours in recent years was Guns N’ Roses’ “Not in This Lifetime” world tour. The main impetus for staging the lengthy trek was the long-awaited return of two classic members: lead guitarist Saul Hudson — better known as Slash — and bass guitarist Michael “Duff” McKagan.

Spanning five continents, the tour has quickly become the fifth highest grossing concert tour of all time. The eighth and final leg of the tour sees the band playing exclusively in indoor arenas. Part of the tour recently included a series of four sold-out shows in the New York metro area, three at Madison Square Garden and one at Newark’s Prudential Center. For the indoor arenas, the band’s show has undergone significant changes. Throughout the tour, a wide variety of artists were selected to open for Guns N’ Roses, such as rock mainstays Alice in Chains and Lenny Kravitz, as well as non-rock artists like country musician Chris Stapleton and even electronic dance music superstar Skrillex. 

But for the current batch of shows, billed as “An Evening with Guns N’ Roses,” the opening acts were jettisoned altogether. While it was admittedly disappointing to not see which new slate of artists would support the band, the end result of this decision led to some of the longest shows up to this point in the tour. For the Newark show alone, the band played a near four-hour set, a stark contrast to the 2 and a half-hour sets of the tour’s stadium and festival legs.

In addition to all of their greatest hits during the band’s classic period, several other fan favorites from the albums Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion were played. Strangely, four songs on the set list were taken from Chinese Democracy, an album that was recorded long after most of the classic lineup had left the band.

The record certainly has its supporters among the Guns N’ Roses fan base, but if the band wanted to emphasize the return of two original members, the set list should have stayed true to that specific point in its history. This year alone is the 30th anniversary of Appetite for Destruction, so the band also missed a major opportunity to play that album in its entirety during the arena shows.

It is worth noting, however, that all of the original guitar parts on songs from Chinese Democracy were completely redone by Slash to better fit his playing style, giving fans a glimpse into how that record could have sounded if it had been recorded with the classic members.

Compared to previous tour legs, there were a lot more cover songs performed this time around. Aside from the band’s popular covers of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” several live exclusive covers were also featured, like The Who’s “The Seeker” popping up in the encore. At one point during the show, McKagan got a turn on the microphone to pay tribute to his roots in punk rock by singing the classic Misfits song “Attitude.” Being that several music icons had passed away this year, covers of songs by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and folk music legend Glen Campbell were added to the main set.

During Slash’s lengthy guitar solo halfway through the show, the rest of the band joined him for a quick instrumental tease of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Ironically, the band’s 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident? was largely ignored during the main set list, despite it being the last album to date that featured Slash and McKagan.

There were also several lengthier jams added for the arena shows. During the song “Rocket Queen,” Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus each partook in their own guitar solos during the bridge, with the former indulging with a talk box effect on his guitar. As a prelude to the power ballad “November Rain,” both guitarists also did an emotional instrumental cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” As the song winded down, singer Axl Rose appeared on grand piano and lead the band with a rendition of the instrumental coda of Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” before segueing directly into “November Rain.”

Even with the near 25-year gap from the last time Slash and McKagan played with Guns N’ Roses, it felt like no time had passed at all. From the opening song to the last encore, the dynamic chemistry and aggressive playing style that defined the band in the late 1980s is still very much intact. Rose’s performance, which was in sharp decline during the Chinese Democracy tours, has made a significant turnaround for this new tour, almost sounding like his classic vocal style.

As the band’s satisfying reunion tour winds down, one can only imagine what is in store for the future of Guns N’ Roses now that part of the classic lineup has returned.