Written by Eric Sperrazza
Across the Delaware Valley, I continued my trek to experience firsthand, the return of live music and how that actually would look and feel, after the fearful isolation of a global pandemic.
The next stop on the agenda was Hershey, Pennsylvania. In contrast to the first show on this journey, this was no quaint pavilion embedded within a sleepy, former steel town that I was attending. It was a sold-out, stadium concert.
This was the return of Guns N’ Roses!
Guns N’ Roses have always been firmly in the backdrop of most of my childhood. They stood alone; unique, in a category all to themselves, in an era filled with heavy metal and hair rock bands. Their 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, was a tour de force of intense rock, punk, and blues notes, delivered violently with the piercing vocals of Axl Rose. You could feel the seedy darkness of the Sunset Strip through every epic track on that record. G N’ R went on to rule the MTV video scene while continuing on with the success of the album, Lies, and the double album release, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
But, Guns N’ Roses began to slowly implode with the blow-by-blow captured for all to see in the tabloids with each passing week. Axl became infamous for storming off stage, mid-concert, or simply not showing up at all. His in-fighting with other band members resulted in longtime guitarist, Izzy Stradlin, quitting and being replaced by Gilby Clarke.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Grunge Movement was looming, gaining more and more traction amongst music fans, and making many acts from the 80s cold product.
By the time their fifth album, The Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves, the band was at wit’s end with each other and would part ways. The record, although a wildly creative mix of contemporary and vintage punk rock covers, would be the only G N’ R release to not have a tour that coincided with it to promote the band’s new sound.
Knowing the history, coupled with some unflattering pictures of Axl online in recent years, I remained cautiously optimistic, as I parked in a distant lot behind Hershey High School. Guns N’ Roses was my very first concert; my first experience seeing a live show will forever be the memory of the band, knee-deep in their Use Your Illusion tour. I truly wanted this to be a nostalgic moment, taking me back to that fateful night, in a skybox of Madison Square Garden, in 1991, where I fell in love with being a part of a rock and roll show.
Moving with the flock of excited fans sporting concert shirts of Guns & Roses shows gone by, we embarked on an almost mile-long traverse over grassy hills and roads to pack into a stadium once more. I felt that what used to be an arduous ordeal of navigating through others in poorly ventilated halls was now a welcomed homecoming as we filtered into our various seating arteries to catch a glimpse of Wolf Van Halen and his band Mammoth before Slash, Duff and Axl led a new era of G N’ R to the stage.
Without any grandiose entrance, void of any pomp and circumstance, Guns N’ Roses slipped onto the stage (On time, I might add.) and quickly ripped into “It’s So Easy,” beginning a fiery 21-song setlist.
The first thing that was evident to all at the show was just how great Axl looked. But, it was his performance of “Welcome To The Jungle” where he truly planted his flag on how great he can still sound, and to the celebration of thousands of fans.
Overall, the show was an eclectic shuffle of songs from Appetite For Destruction, Lies, and Use Your Illusion I and II. There were some real fan-service surprises along the way which included two songs from Axl‘s Chinese Democracy album, recorded as Guns N’ Roses (Sans Duff McKagan and Slash), as well as the Velvet Revolver classic, Slither, which Izzy Stradlin, Duff, and Slash had recorded with the late Scott Weiland.
Two covers that really stood out to me was Slash’s Muddy Waters solo of “Mannish Boy,” a testament to the surgeon that Slash still very much is on the guitar, and the debut of Duff McKagan, on lead vocals, expertly nailing Iggy and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Anyone who has ever listened to Duff’s SiriusXM show, Three Chords And The Truth, knows how much the Stooges mean to him and made for a fitting moment.
The band encored with the classic, “Paradise City.” With that, as inconspicuous as the show began, the lights went down on stage, and the stadium lit up, to filter the crowds back to the rolling hills, leading to their respective cars.
Overall, the band’s energy was on point. The vengeance that used to loom over a G N’ R show was replaced with an excitement to perform and an overlying sense of pride in that performance. The crowd surged with electricity from not only being together and witnessing a band that technically shouldn’t be together performing anymore but doing it and doing it well. Axl Rose really only hit some vocal speed bumps with the Use Your Illusion I single, “November Rain.” However, this humble fan is willing to give him a pass due to the fact that he was having microphone issues for his vocals AND his piano. I was more impressed that, clearly frustrated and distracted, Axl maintained his cool and kept playing with a smirk on his face. Any missed notes get a mulligan there, as seeing an easy-going Axl was a bigger treat than the song itself!
We, as fans, left feeling absolutely fulfilled with the performance we received with little to no worry shown of being together, at all. There was no mention that we had just come from anything not normal until Axl welcomed all of us “Pandemic Political Prisoners” to the show.
They did their job. Guns N’ Roses came back, looking and sounding like their classic selves, to show their longtime fans that they could grow as people but still blow our minds and give us back our summer. What more could you ask of them?
Well, there is one thing…PUT “Patience” BACK IN THE SETLIST!
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