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Nightrain or Train Wreck? Guns n’ Roses Make Their Las Vegas Debut

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Despite Guns and Roses’ 2016 iteration making their live debut at a not-so-secret-secret-show at the Troubador the week before, the true spirit of the Sunset Strip has taken up residency in Las Vegas, making it the perfect place for their first arena show. Beyond just the sleaze and questionable fashion choices, Sin City has quite literally become the place for the survivors of the great hairspray revolution. You could see working musicians from Rough Cutt, Dokken, Whitesnake, and LA Guns sleepwalk their way through rock history at the Raiding the Rock Vault show at the Tropicana a block and a half away from the venue. Across the street from the T-Mobile Arena, while walking to the show, you could hear Faster Pussycat’s Brent Muscat blast out covers for drunks at the Hard Rock Cafe. On the one hand, it’s great to see musicians get paid for doing what they love. On the other hand, I doubt they wanted to be grave robbers at this stage of their career.

Opening act Alice in Chains know a little something about that, touring off songs written and performed by late frontman Layne Staley, but their greatest hits-heavy set certainly felt faithful to his memory. They also made more sense on the bill then you’d think – they occupied a similar position in the grunge scene as GNR did to glam, crawling in the dark underbelly.

But people weren’t there for Alice in Chains. They were there for the first arena show featuring three-fifths of the classic Appetite for Destruction lineup in over 20 years. They had to wait for it, of course; a little over an hour and a half, in fact, during which time the PA inexplicably played the entirety of Montrose’s 1973 self-titled debut album twice.

At the stroke of midnight, the lights went down.

The years of bad blood between Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan have been well documented, but maybe absence (and an $11 million payday) really does make the heart grow fonder. It would be inaccurate to say that the 2 ½ hour set featured particularly tight musicianship, or that Axl didn’t struggle to hit a lot of the notes. Those technical deficiencies didn’t matter, though: the chemistry was there. Even without Izzy Stradlin or Steven Adler, even with Rose confined to a throne borrowed from Dave Grohl (due to a broken foot), they left no doubt as to why they were once the biggest band in the world.

The importance of McKagan and Slash cannot be understated. Duff may not be the flashiest bassist, but he brings a real punk rock attitude to the proceedings. Slash, meanwhile, is Slash. Not all guitar tones were created equal, and the man in the top hat brought a bluesy filth that made even the anti-septic songs from Chinese Democracy sound salacious. There’s a reason he’s a legend. And, even though he wasn’t part of the original lineup, special note must be made of drummer Frank Ferrer. He brought a technical mastery and soul to his playing that complemented the OG players.

And, of course, there was the man himself, W. Axl Rose. Believe it or not, he seemed to be having fun. Shorn of the cheesy trucker mustache, cornrows undone, and appearing to be in better shape than he has in a while (except for the broken foot, of course), he presided over the proceedings from his high station. Despite the ostentatious furniture, he appeared to possess a humility one wouldn’t associate with the man responsible for “Get in the Ring.” Whether it was the result of maturity or having to mend old wounds, he seemed a gracious host. Confined to one spot, he gave the other players room to showcase their own talents – and deliberately so, as evidenced by his asking the stagehands to move his throne when he realized it was blocking the audience’s view of Ferrer. He also appeared to recognize his own limitations. Although his voice wasn’t exactly in top form, he made sure to save his best screams for the big crescendo moments.

There were plenty of explosions, sexy backup dancers in ’80s lingerie and bursts of confetti. The set list covered all the big hits, and some deep cuts (like the rarely-played “Coma”). All in all, it was everything you’d expect from a Guns n’ Roses reunion show – both good and bad. Still, when you’re talking about some of the greatest songs ever written, performed by (most of) the original musicians… well, take me down to Paradise City. Even if it means going to Las Vegas.

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