Tuesday night saw the juggernaut that is Guns n’ Roses hit Manchester. As ever the press and those in the know had made their mind up already about what was going to occur. Late on stage, disrespectful, not as good as the “real” (original line-up) G n’ R, small audience….and so it went on. Their was only one question in the minds of Rock-Zone UK – just how good can this possbly be?
First of all, support came fom Thin Lizzy. Clearly this was also not the “real” Thin Lizzy given the sad demise of Philip Lynott – yet haven’t heard the usual cat-calls about “tribute acts” and the like. Joining Scott Gorham and Brian Downey are Darren Wharton (a Lizzy member towards the end of Lynott’s days), Marco Mendoza and Damon Johnson. All very talented and easily able to replicate the thundering sound of Lizzy in their heyday. So, what about Ricky Warwick on vocals? In all honesty, it was as though he had always been there – interviews with Gorham and Downey talk about how he has the “spirit” of Phil…and they are spot on. All the hits and favourites – and each one as though they have never been away. This surely is the bes incarnation of Thin Lizzy since the death of Phil. Next time they tour you MUST see them.
And so to the main business…Guns n’ Roses. Clearly, when Axl is in town there are two, very large elephants in the room – just how late they will hit the stage (causing the crowd to be non-existant) and then, this lot aren’t as good as the originals. On the first elephant (or Nelly, as I like to call it), after 20 plus years is it really a surprise that G n’ R have late stage times? It appeared that all the customer service people around the Arena were TOTALLY aware of what time they would be leaving work after the show (even Thin Lizzy started their set later than would normally be expected). Sure, it was a school night but….if it’s going to be a problem – DON’T BUY A TICKET!! From my position at the side of the stage the Manchester Arena was pretty much sold out and it stayed full for pretty much the entire show (with about 10 minutes to go, a few started to leave).
At bang on 11pm the house lights went out, the video screens fired up and their, behind the drums was DJ Ashba throwing the “horns” to the crowd. Atmospheric synth sounds filled the air and then the opening riff to “Chinese Democracy” and…..BANG! Pyros, band and, there he was…..AXL! With a set drawing on Appetite, Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy it would have been more difficult to pick songs that weren’t all killer. Surrounded by a set of amazing musicians, Axl really does give the audience total value – three hour sets (yes, THREE!) are extremely rare these days, yet that is what you get. Fantastic lights, video screens, full old school stage set-up (ramps and stuff) and pyros all enhanced the show. “Rocket Queen” was stunning but then so was every single number of the set. As a self-certified guitar geek I was surprised to see that Guns n’ Roses these days have three guitarists and each one gets a solo. I know DJ Ashba from his work with Sixx:AM (and others) and rate him highly but was less aware of Richard Fortus and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – each one has their own, individual style and Axl allows them to shine (once again putting the lie to the stories about dictatorship!).
What most of the other journalists will also probaly miss was the fact that all of the guys on stage (including Axl) were clearly enjoying themselves – it didn’t look like a bunch of hired hands going through the motions (and I’ve seen a few of them over the years). Axl doesn’t wate time talking to the crowd – the songs do the talking and the crowd certainly were getting it (crowd surfers being dragged away and a sea of bouncing bodies and nodding heads from start to end). I have seen reports that by the end only 6000 people remained in the Arena – total nonsense! Some people did leave (2am finish on a school night, after all) but nowhere near the 12000+ indicated by that figure. When the confetti canon and final fireworks erupted the majority of the crowd were still there.
As for the second elephant? I never got to see the original G n’ R but, judging by Tuesday night, they must have been the most incredible band to have ever existed….or maybe that’s what time and a bunch of one-eyed journalists want us to think. Axl does his thing in his own way and, love him or hate him, his quality control seems very high. The band produce a high energy, high octane performance for three hours and the crowd loved it. I know what I saw – were the other reviewers even at the show?
Next time Guns n’ Roses tour you MUST get a ticket – don’t believe the hype, check your prejudices at the door and enjoy the ride. Book the next day off work and have fun in “Paradise City”.
Review and photograph by David Wilson