Thursday, July 13, 2023

Guns N' Roses @ La Défense Arena, Nanterre - July 13th, 2023

It's crazy to think that the current incarnation of Guns N' Roses, the last true American rock n' roll band, has been active for seven years now. For the better part of a decade, this iteration of the band, which is comprised of three classic members (four if you count Dizzy), a few member from the Nu-Guns era and even a brand new (at the time) musician, has been touring the world, playing three hour shows and delivering one of the best rock n' roll experiences for huge crowds all around the globe. Not only that, they've been doing so in a punctual, drama-free and, dare I say it, professional manner that they hadn't previously accustomed us to. Whatever issues or politics which usually mar working rock n' roll bands have largely been dealt with behind the scenes, and it's a welcome respite for fans of the band. Now, the only thing to talk about when discussing this band is the music, which is how it should be. And speaking of music, we've also been treated to new songs in the past couple of years. Granted, they were re-worked rejects from the Chinese Democracy sessions, but any bone they throw at their fans is better than nothing.

It's been five long years since we last saw the band on our shores, and thankfully they've somewhat shaken things up since then on the setlist front. Nothing drastic, but enough to please the die-hards while still catering to the casual fans. I still think they could dispense with Wichita Lineman or the punk numbers sung by Duff, but I understand that Axl needs to rest his voice. This is the one sore spot of the show: Axl's voice.

In 2016, Axl was singing like the hard rock banshee we've always known him to be. While he was fronting AC/DC, or on the first legs of the Not In This Lifetime tour, the man was at the height of his vocal powers. But things took a nosedive from there. What happened? It's actually very simple: Axl has been singing in a register that isn't his for nearly four decades. He also used to drink and smoke, and all that has caught up with him. After all, the man is in his sixties. His voice is actually better than it was a few years ago: whenever he adapts his register, or when he's not forcing the power or the rasp, he's actually pretty great. I think there is a simple solution: instead of insisting on playing three and a half hour shows, they could play "only" 180 minutes. I understand that Axl wants to give the grandest, most bombastic show in rock n' roll and I understand that the template is Bruce fucking Springsteen but if they tightened the performance a tad, it would probably help preserve his vocal cords. Thankfully, Axl's vocal woes were only catastrophic on Prostitute and There Was A Time, and the rest of his performance ranged from passable (Rocket Queen) to absolutely excellent (It's So Easy, Bad Obsession...)

Everything else was undeniably killer. Spectacular lights, awesome videos, fabulous musicianship and of course one of the greatest repertoires in hard rock music, with all the hits and classics but also enough curveballs to keep everyone on their toes. And during 210 minutes, there's enough of everything to please everyone, from the die-hard fan to the causal listener. Check out the setlist: it's unfuckwithable, as they say.

The surprises? Bad Obsession, early in the set. Coma, during the encores. Reckless Life. Anything Goes. Pretty Tied Up (The Perils Of Rock N' Roll Decadence). The highlights? Too many to mention. All the classics from Appetite For Destruction, of course. Civil War, Estranged, November Rain... Double Talkie' Jive... Slash's TWO talk-box solos... The sing-alongs during Knocking' On Heaven's Door. This was the kind of performance for which the adjective "epic" was invented. You didn't even need to be a fan like yours truly to have the time of your life. The bonus? Axl's demeanor: I don't know what happened to him around 2015, but to see the man enjoying himself and being generous and pleasant on stage, joking with his bandmates... is something I never thought I'd see. He even seems to be having a good time with Slash. I don't know how much of this is affected or not, but it makes for a much more positive experience than the performances he was famous for thirty years ago.

And that's the takeaway of a Guns N' Roses show in 2023: positivity. Despite the dark lyrics, the sometimes violent imagery, despite the scandalous past... Today's Guns N' Roses is a damn good time. The band has finally joined the exclusive club of classic rock performers who transcend the genre: they are up there with The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, U2... Artists whose shows are more than mere concerts, but quasi-mystical celebrations. If you're a fan, you know this already walking into the arena. And if you were not a fan already, well then... Welcome To The Jungle.

Experience or re-live the concert by playing the setlist in the embedded Apple Music player below
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Check out these other reviews and pictures gallery of Guns N' Roses in concert:

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