Guns N' Roses
With the Cult
AT&T Stadium, Arlington
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
The elephant was in the room the whole night. For the first time in 24 years, Axl Rose and Slash were on stage together in North Texas, but they were keeping their distance. They would pass each other on the huge stage at AT&T Stadium, barely pausing to acknowledge each other.
But during "Coma," Rose finally beelined for his long-estranged guitarist, seemingly intent on leaning in close. And then it happened: they ran into each other.
Guns N' Roses' Wednesday night stop in Arlington was always going to be about the reunion of the band's two major protagonists, and they delivered exactly as expected. The 25-song set, which stretched out to over two and a half hours, was full of fire. But it was also icy, as Rose and Slash did their best to do their jobs in spite of each other. That both sides are better off when they work together goes without saying. The last time GNR played in Dallas, it was at House of Blues, but reunited with Slash and bassist Duff McKagan on board, the band stepped up to a mostly full Cowboys Stadium.
Through the early run of songs, which started with "It's So Easy" and included "Welcome to the Jungle," the distance felt like a hindrance. Rose sprinted back and forth around stage, jumping on the monitors and striking poses, but Slash seemed to be going through the motions, and the crowd was surprisingly quiet. Rose hovered around McKagan more frequently, but still only got within a foot or so of him. It was only on "Live and Let Die," the most fireworks-heavy song on a night that used them liberally, that the room really seemed to light up.
Even beyond the let's-collect-a-paycheck undertone of Rose and Slash's reunion, Rose has always kept himself at arm's length from the world. Reclusive, aloof and suspicious of others, he's kept mostly out of the public eye since the band's heyday, no doubt encouraged by his meme-worthy weight problems and the obsessive megalomania that delayed Chinese Democracy for a decade and a half.
But there was no lack of effort from Rose on Wednesday, and for the most part, he's still got it. His voice — an unreal tool with a still-awesome range — was mostly there. He struggled with some of the softer parts, but that all-important hair-raising wail was intact, and he put it to good use for some real show-stopping moments on songs like "You Could Be Mine" and "Sweet Child O' Mine." Rose, who changed outfits about a dozen times, still has charisma, and will always be the star of the show, no matter who he plays with.
The problem with getting the old band back together is that Slash needs to get his turn as well. (It's almost certainly written into the contract.) The middle part of the set put GNR's more bloated, self-indulgent side on display, and a lot of that had to do with the extended instrumentals. By the time Slash and Richard Fortus joined together for a cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," which was just one long guitar solo, the whole exercise had gotten tedious.
GNR has always been about push and pull, which may best be symbolized by "November Rain," for which Rose sat behind his grand piano. It's a true Jekyll and Hyde song, one part beautiful melody, one part monstrous guitar solo. Once in a while, like on Appetite for Destruction, Rose and Slash were able to coexist, but more often than not they're on a collision course— sometimes literally. Maybe it's not mean to be sustainable. But hey, nothing lasts forever, right?
It's So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin' Jive
Live and Let Die
You Could Be Mine
You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory/Attitude
This I Love
Speak Softly Love
Sweet Child O' Mine
Wish You Were Here
Knockin' on Heaven's Door