GUNS N’ ROSES’ OVERPRICED, UNINSPIRED AND SELF-INDULGENT PERFORMANCE
Date: July 16, 2016
Venue: Rogers Centre
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I should have listened to my gut. It kept telling me, “Don’t go see Guns N’ Roses. They are charging an arm and a leg. Their setlist is iffy. They’re not that great live.” And up until about three hours before the show, my intention was to see Tesla followed by REO Speedwagon followed by Def Leppard at the Molson Amphitheatre. I had resisted all of my friend Chris‘ hints and suggestions to go see Guns N’ Roses for a number of months and had even convinced him to go see Tesla and Def Leppard with me. Unfortunately, I succumbed to the hype. What if I missed the best concert of the year? How many times would I get to see Guns N’ Roses with Axl, Slash and Duff in the line-up? What if Steven Adler showed up to play a couple of songs like he had previously done a couple of times in the last two weeks? And just about everyone I knew that liked hard rock / heavy metal was going to go see Guns N’ Roses. I just did not want to be left out of a possible amazing concert experience.
What pushed me to go see Guns N’ Roses turned out to be a Facebook post from Last Bullet‘s frontman Bryan Fontez. His wife, who is a model, had received a free backstage pass and front row ticket to see Guns N’ Roses. Accordingly, while his wife would arguably have one of the best spots in the Rogers Centre to see the legendary Guns N’ Roses, Fontez now had an extra ticket on the rather large Rogers Centre floor for sale (my guess would be that about 40,000 people attended the concert). Part of my hang up in going to see Guns N’ Roses was paying over $100 to sit high up in the bleachers to see little specs (aka as the Guns N’ Roses band members) on the stage. At the same time, paying $450 to get into one of the pits near the stage seemed ridiculously overpriced as well. However, Fontez‘s e-mail was intriguing since I knew that he was on the floor and would have a better vantage point than any lower or upper bowl seat. The $275+ ticket price for Fontez‘s ticket was less appealing so I did not bother responding to his Facebook post early in the day. However, just before leaving towards the Molson Amphitheatre to see Tesla, I couldn’t resist and checked to see if Fontez had unloaded his ticket. Judging by the comments following his Facebook post, he likely hadn’t.
I reached out to Fontez who at first advised me that he had sold the ticket before quickly responding that it was available. Fontez apparently knew exactly what was my magic number as he indicated “Face value is $275. You’ve been nothing but awesome so if you want it it’s yours for $200.” I quickly got in touch with my friend Chris to see if he would be interested in finding a ticket to see Guns N’ Roses and no need to say that he was more than pumped to do so. While we made our way to hear Tesla play their likely short opening set at the Molson Amphitheatre, we discussed logistics including when we would have to leave to get to the Rogers Centre noting that Fontez had warned me that he did not want to miss Billy Talent who were opening for Guns N’ Roses. With Tesla most likely starting their set at 7:00 pm, Billy Talent scheduled to go on stage presumably at 8:30 pm, and the two venues only a 10 minute drive or so away, it seemed that everything would line up. While Tesla played their seven song set, Chris purchased a ticket online for a floor seat to see Guns N’ Roses.
As soon as Tesla finished their set (which was smoking!), we were off searching for an Uber vehicle but eventually ended up taking a taxi to the Rogers Centre. We got to the gate that Fontez had instructed me to go by 8:10 pm or so but alas, Fontez advised that Billy Talent had started early. I was resignated to stay outside the Rogers Centre for the duration of Billy Talent‘s set but Fontez decided to meet me at the gate in any case and miss a portion of Billy Talent‘s set (thank you Bryan!). I have never been a big Billy Talent fan by any means and I really only knew two songs despite the fact that the group hail from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. Nevertheless, Billy Talent put on a great performance! Singer Billy Kowalewicz was a bundle of energy and I was especially impressed on how he was able to address the very large crowd on hand. Guitarist Ian D’Sa proved to be quite the guitarist as his guitar solos were really good. As it turns out, Billy Talent did play the two songs that I knew (and enjoyed) from them — “Devil On My Shoulder” and “Fallen Leaves” — which I was stoked about.
Fontez also gave me some background info on Billy Talent such as they have been around for 23 years but only got their big break when they were about ten years out. It was cool to then hear Kowalewicz tell the crowd “Follow your dreams” and something to the effect that “If we can be up here opening for Guns N’ Roses, anything is possible.” Fontez also pointed out that Billy Talent‘s drummer Aaron Solowoniuk was suffering from MS and that his replacement on this night was Alexisonfire drummer Jordan Hastings who also plays in his own band called Say Yes. Fontez pointed out that his band Last Bullet had played a couple of times with Say Yes on the same bill. I remembered that they had played together in Oshawa (last year I think) to which Fontez responded that Say Yes had actually opened for Last Bullet on that night and there was Hastings now playing the Rogers Centre! It was also cool to hear Kowalewicz state to the Rogers Centre crowd that their set was dedicated to their bandmate Solowoniuk and that they were waiting for him to beat his MS predicament to rejoin them in the band. Billy Talent‘s performance was first rate and they are apparently some stand up guys too!
What turned out to be one of the highlights of the evening was hanging out with Fontez talking music, etc. during the intermission between Billy Talent‘s set and Guns N’ Roses hitting the stage. It was super cool to see Fontez‘s enthusiasm and glimmer in his eyes as he described to me step but step his storyline behind Last Bullet‘s next music video. I got to say that I can’t wait to see it! For those of you who don’t know, when you are in a DIY (do it yourself) band, you got to be a jack of all trades and Fontez is Last Bullet‘s music video producer, director, creator and editor who has already created videos for Last Bullet‘s songs “Running Out Of Time” and “Sin.”
Before I go any further, I have to tell you that I was a big Guns N’ Roses‘ fan back in the day. I can still remember first hearing and seeing the video for “Welcome To The Jungle” almost 30 years ago and buying Appetite For Destruction on vinyl. I remember how surprised I was when the group made it big with “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as I initially thought that was one of the weakest tracks on Appetite For Destruction. I remember buying the Use Your Illusion I and II albums at a record store on the first day that they were released. I also remember how young and hungry Guns N’ Roses seemed to be when I saw them open for Iron Maiden in Ottawa [Ontario, Canada] back in 1988. Finally, Appetite For Destruction remains one of my all-time favourite albums. Sadly, my interest in Guns N’ Roses started to wane over the years. The extra long wait that fans had to endure to see Axl Rose make it onstage turned me off. The Spaghetti Incident covers album was a disappointment. The Axl solo album Chinese Democracy (released under the name Guns N’ Roses) was a huge disappointment. These last few comments along with overpriced tickets are the reasons why I had never gone to see Guns N’ Roses play live again until this evening. And until a few hours before the show, I was going to continue not going to see them play live. But as I pointed out earlier on, what if I missed the biggest concert event of the year?
There was definitely a great buzz throughout the crowd in the Rogers Centre as people waited for Guns N’ Roses to hit the stage. Remarkably, the legendary rockers were only about 20 minutes behind schedule when they hit the stage with the very strong two opening songs of “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone.” Axl sounded great moving around and running at times throughout the stage. His voice has definitely held up quite nicely compared to some of his peers. The band sounded tight with Duff McKagan lean and slim while Slash looked ultra cool with his trademark top hat.
So what went wrong you may ask? In a nutshell, the setlist that was played simply killed the band’s momentum over and over again throughout the evening. It started with the third song “Chinese Democracy.” While it certainly is impressive that Axl was able to convince Slash and Duff to play not one, not two, not three, but four songs off Chinese Democracy, the reality is that that album is very weak compared to the other Guns N’ Roses studio albums of original songs. In addition, the songs off Chinese Democracy are not what put Guns N’ Roses on the map so to speak. Rather, it is an album released well after the band’s peak and playing any songs from that album is pure self-indulgence because any track from Appetite For Destruction and G N’ R Lies, and almost any song from Use Your Illusion I or II is better than the songs on Chinese Democracy. Despite losing a bit of momentum with the song “Chinese Democracy,” Guns N’ Roses got the crowd going quickly with their classic “Welcome To The Jungle.” Next up was what seemed like some sort of jam that turned out to be “Double Talkin’ Jive.” If I didn’t know the chorus so well, I would have likely been unable to recognize the song. Another loss of momentum.
One of my favorite songs off Use Your Illusion II is “Estranged” so I was happy to hear the song being played live even though it felt like the audience energy lowered a notch or two during the song. The Wings cover “Live And Let Die” was alright but has never been one of my favorites. The long extended jams during “Rocket Queen” took some of the steam off what should have been a stellar song. The momentum shifted back into high gear for the high energy track “You Could Be Mine.” What I began to realize was that any track from the raw and 30 million seller Appetite For Destruction was very well received, almost any track from Use Your Illusion I or II was well received but many of the songs’ intricate arrangements lowered the crowd’s energy levels somewhat, and any other song played (aside from the encore “Patience”) really sucked the wind out of the crowd.
What Guns N’ Roses should have been able to do — and certainly what I had seen at my last Steel Panther show — was to only deliver stellar songs that people know and love. Instead, what Guns N’ Roses did was self-indulge playing songs that just about no one wants to hear. I am thinking in particular of “Attitude,” “This I Love” and “Sorry.” What Guns N’ Roses did was charge everyone an arm and a leg for tickets without playing all of the songs that people most likely wanted to hear. Songs that were omitted that would have been amazing to hear live include “My Michelle,” “Used To Love Her,” “14 Years,” “Yesterdays,” “Dust N’ Bones” and anything from the Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide EP. What Guns N’ Roses did was play four songs from their disappointing album Chinese Democracy. What Guns N’ Roses did was self-indulge in long jams, solos and snippets of songs from other artists. And by the way, why was McKagan handling lead vocals on one track?
By the time that Guns N’ Roses were playing “Attitude” and “This I Love,” you could see many people walking the aisles presumably going to the washroom or going to buy a drink. By the time “Sorry” was played, you could see people seated in their seat while in the floor section of the Rogers Centre. Clearly, this type of non-engagement is not what any band wants to see but Guns N’ Roses were masters at playing one great song before killing the show’s momentum with an unwanted unpopular track. Why would you follow “You Could Be Mine” with “Attitude” and “This I Live?” Why would you follow “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with “Sorry?” By the time that Guns N’ Roses were on their 18th song of the night — “Out Ta Get Me” — I was getting tired and even though Guns N’ Roses played some of their greatest tracks after that point such as “Nightrain” and “Patience” — my enthusiasm over their now 2.5 hour set had waned. Another issue was that I needed to take public transportation (i.e. a GO train) back home and the last one was — to my horror — scheduled for 00:43 am with only 15 minutes to spare. I then unfortunately made the executive decision to forego Guns N’ Roses‘ last two songs of the night so I could get home without spending another $50 or so on a taxi cab. As it turns out, the GO train handlers decided to delay their last train’s departure by more than 30 minutes so that people attending the concert could still make the last train. That sucked as I could have heard the last two songs played by Guns N’ Roses had the GO train handlers advised people in advance of their decision to delay the last train ride out.
I should also mention that Axl Rose really did a poor job of connecting with the crowd. Over the span of almost three hours, he essentially only introduced his band members, told a “funny” story about someone being detained for forgetting to declare a gun, and got the crowd to sing along after him during the song “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Axl could have said just about anything to get a huge cheer from the crowd but instead, he chose not to connect with the crowd seemingly as much as possible.
Overall, Guns N’ Roses‘ performance at the Rogers Centre in Toronto was quite disappointing. However, it was super cool to see so many people in a Toronto venue to hear hard rock / heavy metal music and it’s even more impressive when you think that Def Leppard likely attracted another 15,000 concert goers about 10 minutes (drive) away. I’ll likely never go see Guns N’ Roses play live again (unless I get a free ticket). I should have known better. I should have listened to my gut. I am pretty sure now that Def Leppard likely put on a better performance and had a better overall setlist than what Guns N’ Roses offered on this night. In conclusion and not to butter up Mr. Fontez, but from a live performance standpoint, I would much rather go see Last Bullet play than Guns N’ Roses.
Guns N’ Roses’ setlist:
01. It’s So Easy
02. Mr. Brownstone
03. Chinese Democracy
04. Welcome To The Jungle
05. Double Talkin’ Jive
07. Live And Let Die (Wings cover)
08. Rocket Queen
09. You Could Be Mine
10. Attitude (with “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory” intro)
11. This I Love
12. Civil War (with “Voodoo Child” outro)
14. Slash Solo (with “Speak Softly Love”)
15. Sweet Child O’ Mine
18. Out Ta Get Me
19. Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet (Pink Floyd cover “Wish You Were Here”)
20. November Rain (with “Layla” piano exit intro)
21. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
23. Jam (with The Rolling Stones cover “Angie”)
25. The Seeker (The Who cover)
26. Paradise City
Guns N’ Roses‘ “Mr. Brownstone” and “Chinese Democracy” live in Toronto on July 16, 2016:
For the fans. I hold no rights to the content. Enjoy…
Guns N’ Roses‘ “This I Love” live in Toronto on July 16, 2016:
For the fans. I hold no rights to the content. Enjoy…