Take me Down to Paradise City
Axl Rose is a revitalised bona-fide rock legend on Guns N’Roses latest London performance
Review by Andrew Steel
“Y’know, the first time we played this song, we were in London,” Axl Rose, in his fourth outfit of the night (fringed leather jacket, wide-brimmed pork-pie headgear), tells 60,000 people during Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. He gestures around the mammoth London Stadium. “It was in a venue just like this – except not, because it was the Marquee Club” he quips to laughter with an amiable grin. One year on, Guns N’ Roses’ reunion tour has breathed new life into its frontman and their music. In the cauldron of the 2012 Olympics, the one-time most dangerous band in the world delivering a sprawling near-three-hour set crammed with indulgent nihilism; live, they have transformed their legacy from ropey self-parodic jukebox to era-defining pop-metal kingpins.
Rose – his public image rehabilitated through the reunion and a stint as AC/DC’s frontman – may not possess the aura of menace he touted in his hedonistic heyday, but he is a revitalised figure from the cartoon-character frontman of yesteryear. His transition back to bona-fide rock legend has undoubtedly been spurned by the return of founding members Slash and Duff McKagan. Early signs are briefly worrying; on opener It’s So Easy, he struggles to keep pace with the provocative rush his bandmates conjure up. But he soon finds form and rarely falters for the rest of the night, delivering Welcome to the Jungle’s trashy snarl and the nuanced murmur of Civil War with equal panache.
Slash (trademark beaver hat) and McKagan (baseball cap) don’t disappoint either, ripping through the Latin-flavoured metal of Double Talkin’ Jive with breezy nonchalance and riding roughshod over Chinese Democracy. When the former coaxes the intro of Sweet Child O’ Mine on his Les Paul, pandemonium erupts. All three share the spoils on the melancholy epic of November Rain; a near-ten-minute odyssey that encapsulates Rose’s skill as a hard rock dramatist better than anything else in his oeuvre.
A restrained cover of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Son, in tribute to the late Chris Cornell follows – but overblown histrionics are resumed for the finale, as flames, sparks, confetti and fireworks fly for the carnivalesque roar that is Paradise City. “We love you, London!” Rose hollers as the band take a group bow. Dangerous, they may no longer be; but with their resurrection as a band, GNR have traded the instability of the past for an elder-statesman assurance that suits their rarefied status as musical icons.