Guns N’ Roses, Glasgow has missed you. But, to borrow an oft-used phrase peppered throughout their demi-god ex-guitarist’s autobiography, “We’ll get to that in a little bit.”
Chief support act Thin Lizzy take to the stage as the blazing sun which had arrested the city all afternoon begins to lower behind the asperous shell of the SECC, taking a leaf out of Axl Rose’s book by arriving on stage a little after their 8PM slot. No matter – with this crowd (baying mob would be a better term, such is the devotion of show-starved GNR disciplines), a little tardiness isn’t going to provoke a riot.
Thin Lizzy get out of the blocks with the urgent ‘Are You Ready‘, with its 100MPH riff and feelgood lyrics, and the crowd – thus far waiting with bated breath and steadily filling the arena to its 10,000+ capacity – reply with a resounding ‘yes’. Frontman Ricky Warwick, who hails from the same Irish pastures as founding member Brian Downey, commands the stage well, stirring the partisans in the crowd as Lizzy rip through their ‘Live And Dangerous‘ staples, among them the irresistible ‘Jailbreak‘ (‘Tonight there’s gonna be trouble/Some of us won’t survive’ feeling especially prescient given the hell that breaks loose soon thereafter) and ‘Emerald‘.
Unlike Def Leppard, who looked jaded and flat when touring with Motley Crue in this arena back in December, Lizzy don’t seem to be enshrouded in Guns’ shadow. Rather, their set is custom-built for arenas, a pulsating series of power-hooks and raucous rallying cries, with ‘Massacre‘ (this is how all rock solos should sound) and the ageless ‘Whiskey In The Jar‘ going down particularly well.
The dark, eerie ‘Angel of Death‘ was given spirit on the SECC stage, while the synergy between Scott Gorman and Damon Johnson’s lead guitars was plain for all to see throughout ‘Black Rose‘ and epic sing-along ‘Cowboy Song‘ (another almighty solo from Gorman). Of course, no Thin Lizzy set would be truly rounded off without a stirring rendition of ‘The Boys Are Back In Town‘, which evokes excited shrieks and fanfare rippling through the standing crowd as well as in the seats.
A performance not lacking in excitement or emotion, Thin Lizzy remain one of the most watchable classic rock gangs to still be smashing the gig circuit at present, with Warwick and Johnson breathing life into the ageing dynasty.
To Guns N’ Roses then, and though talk was rife of an more even unpunctual-than-usual appearance from Axl, the band emerge a mere hour late at around 10:30PM and, as the on-stage monitors play garish, glowing images of screaming children and iridescent lights speckle throughout the crowd, two hundred mobile phone cameras held aloft, the crunching chords of ‘Chinese Democracy‘ whip the crowd into a frenzy. Axl Rose strides onto the stage in shredded jeans trailing his trademark red bandana, head lowered under the wide brim of his dark fedora as DJ Ashba ratchets out the intro, and when the first pyros pop off, the place goes berserk.
It’s really no surprise. ‘Chinese Democracy‘, while roundly criticised for not being the album critics expected after a seemingly endless procession of lawsuits, bust-ups, line-up changes, strops and delay dates, spawned several big-hitting songs and none more in-your-face than this eponymous set opener, Bumblefoot on his double-necked Vigier and DJ Ashba sharing duties on lead guitar.
Tonight, no-one cares about the lawsuits, the acrimony. ‘Chinese Democracy’ is followed on its heels by ‘Welcome To The Jungle‘, Axl jiving around like a headless chicken in aviator shades and 50 Cent’s jewellery, and when he roars, “I wanna hear you scream” before cocking an ear towards the bouncing Glasgow crowd, they reply with vigour and he vanishes into the wings for a much-needed hit of oxygen.
The opening 20 minutes of the set are frankly blistering, the crowd responding to every note, whether during a riotous ‘It’s So Easy‘ or ‘Mr. Brownstone‘, the latter of which instigates a huge sing-along (Axl wasn’t TOO far off with the, “We get on stage around nine” line – usually this lyric is utterly ridiculous considering their belated entrance).
‘Sorry‘, one of the ballads from ‘Chinese Democracy’, allows punters to get their breath back (though many are mouthing every word), but it’s followed by ‘Rocket Queen‘ so that doesn’t last for long. Not a staple on the GNR setlist like ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ or ‘Sweet Child’, it’s a real treat to hear this one up close and the crowd show their appreciation, though Axl’s vocals can’t quite hit the notes on this particular pitchy number like he did back in the day.
Even if the dance moves haven’t deserted him; Axl is just as busy a mover, busting out the ‘swinging the lasso’ move, stamping the floor, tossing his microphone from one hand to the other behind his back and dragging its stand across the stage like an especially lackadaisical dance partner.
Even the excitement gets to Axl, for he soon loses a pendant, a twinkling jewel of some description which spills into the front row from his neck, and though he worriedly tugs the mic away from his face and demands its return, a fan graciously chucks it back into the singer’s hands and a mini-crisis is averted (in case you didn’t know, Axl has a bit of a reputation for being a hothead). ‘Rocket Queen’ is followed by yet another classic, the dreamy ‘Estranged‘ from ‘Use Your Illusion II’, and Bumblefoot, arching his back so much he looks like some kind of demented praying mantis in a trenchcoat, rips off Slash’s legendary solos with ease, injecting the kind of virtuosic vigour into the performance that his co-lead guitarist role demands.
This sprawling ten-minute rendition prompts another break, Axl vanishing again, but returning with the rocking ‘Better‘ before ticking off ‘Live And Let Die‘ and a truly epic performance of ‘This I Love‘, with DJ Ashba’s guitar solo being one of the highlights of the night.
While the set frequently subsides into jam sessions for the band’s current array of talented musicians (the three guitarists, Richard Fortus, Bumblefoot and DJ Ashba link to form a musical Lernaean Hydra of epic proportions; a three-headed beast whose ‘mad skillz’ on guitar mitigate the absence of a certain demi-god previously mentioned in this review), and Axl disappears every couple of songs, the set rarely slows long enough for anyone to get restless. Tommy Stinson plays a solo number, while Dizzy Reed commandeers the piano for a plaintive piano number and Bumblefoot takes lead vocal duties for ‘Glad To Be Here‘ later in the set.
While some of these non-Guns N’ Roses efforts are interesting (especially Ashba’s haunting guitar medley ‘Mi Amor 2.0‘), many of them pale in comparison, particularly when ‘You Could Be Mine‘ and then ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine‘ follow shortly thereafter, the latter of which causes a frenzy. It really is some spectacle, and though the night is wearing on into the wee hours, and the bar is closing, no-one wants it to end.
Given this band’s back catalogue, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the set ends up topping out at three hours, particularly given the regular digressions, but all bases are firmly covered; ‘Appetite For Destruction‘ is revisited when they hammer through a spirited rendition of ‘Nightrain‘, while big rock ballad ‘Civil War‘ is given royal treatment alongside the poignant ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door‘ and tearjerker ‘Don’t Cry‘.
Axl swapped the mic stand for the grand piano on a stunning ‘November Rain‘ also, for which Asha, perched atop a speaker, more than managed to replicate the song’s legendary solo.
Such is the roominess of the set, there’s even time for a cover of AC/DC’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie‘ and a further cluster of instrumentals before the stirring, dramatic soundscape of ‘Patience’ (Axl’s voice has rarely sounded better, and his mood has rarely been less confrontational; he even manages to slap some fans’ hands during this one), Bumblefoot strapping on an acoustic for the performance.
All good shows need a set closer, and what better than ‘Paradise City‘, during which a lively mosh bursts to life in the front rows and eager punters start crowd surfing their way to the front barrier every couple of seconds. This epic sing-along closes the show out and a deluge of ticker tape explodes into the crowd, showering sweaty heads and blanketing the floor in a sea of red sugar. It’s safe to say Guns N’ Roses have conquered Glasgow.
“Sorry we’ve not been in a while, we want to come back soon,” says Axl before he and his cohorts take a bow at the front of the stage. If this democracy is anything to go by, we advise you to be there. With bells on.