Nearly a year ago, when Guns N' Roses started making noise about reforming most of its original lineup and taking to the stadiums of the world, my inner Grumpy Cat-meets-Triumph the Comic Insult Dog came out of hiding, and I did scoff, verily.
“The passion among devout fans of this band – a band responsible for exactly one great album, its 1987 debut, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ – seems to have become a bit confused over time,” I wrote in January. “They – or we, I suppose, since I was once a fan – believe that they want a reunion. But what they really want is to be young again; carefree and energetic enough to get excited about a second-rate Aerosmith knockoff cranking out howling anthems tinged with vague threats of rebellion and set to admittedly juicy guitar riffs.”
More than 2 million G N' R fans apparently disagreed and gobbled up tickets as if this rock reunion show was in fact the second coming. Reports from the road suggested that, contrary to the fears regarding singer Axl Rose’s ability to pull this off in the present tense that sat at the heart of my griping, Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and Co. were tearing up stadiums across North and South America, giving the full houses their money’s worth.
Oh, and Rose – who helped ensure the demise of the band back in the '90s through his erratic behavior and tendency to keep fans waiting for hours – had been showing up on time, and arriving on stage loaded for bear.
Still, I hemmed and hawed. This had to be about the money, not the art. Having read the reports in McKagan’s autobiography, in Mick Wall’s seemingly authoritative Rose bio, and in Slash’s (mostly) self-penned tome, it seemed unlikely that these guys could have forgotten the past enough to forge even a fragile détente. Big bucks have a way of urging musicians to keep a stiff upper lip, even when the mere sight of their former bandmates makes them feel a bit sick, but when this happens, the art tends to suffer. It’s hard to play music convincingly with people you can’t stand. If fans were going to be expected to pay top dollar – and they are, for the good seats, which top out at $254.50 for the New Era Field show now slated for Aug. 16 – they should not be doing so if the band was merely going through the motions and cashing the checks.
I watched some video from the first leg of the reunion jaunt, dubbed the “Not in This Lifetime Tour,” and I’ll be damned if Rose didn’t sound pretty strong. And Slash – well, Slash has never been anything but Slash, which is to say, I’ve never heard him sound bad.
I adjusted my seat on the fence a tad bit, but I was still smirking.
But then AC/DC came to town with Rose “filling in” for an ear problem-plagued Brian Johnson. And he completely crushed it.
I had had Rose pegged for an arrogant poseur. How else could one explain his tendency to keep fans waiting for hours, after they had dropped their hard-earned money to hear him sing? If not for these seemingly eternally loyal fans, odds are, Rose would still be William Bruce Berry, hoping to put some distance between himself and his dysfunctional upbringing in Lafayette, Ind.
Integrity, personal discipline and decency demand that you have enough respect for your audience to show up on time and give your best. I figured Rose would be chewing up the scenery, making the musical democracy that is AC/DC into an oligarchy starring himself as King.
Instead, Rose showed up on time, treated the material with the reverence it deserved, acted like part of the team, and sang his butt off. In my estimation, he belted it right out of the park in the bottom of the 9th, under immense pressure. Many words come to mind when considering Rose, but prior to that AC/DC show in Buffalo, “poised” and “dignified” had never been among them.
So now, for the first time since July 25, 1992, when they shared a bill with Metallica at what was then called Rich Stadium, a Guns N' Roses featuring Rose, Slash and McKagan will perform in the Buffalo Bills’ house.
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.