The guy who has been notoriously tardy and at times dismissive of fans was punctual and even diplomatic Wednesday evening — a great sign for the 25,000 or so Guns N’ Roses fans who came to Arrowhead Stadium.
At roughly 9:30 p.m., following a dramatic instrumental overture (that included the Looney Tunes theme), Axl Rose took the stage with two fellow founding members — lead guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan — and the rest of his band and launched into a show that would last until nearly midnight.
It was Rose’s third appearance in Kansas City since November 2011, but his first with Slash and McKagan since another Arrowhead show in September 1992, a span of nearly 24 years.
The drought left fans ravenously hungry for a reunion, one that, due to the bitter departures of so many band members, seemed so unlikely that they named this go-around the Not in This Lifetime... Tour.
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Not since the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over Tour in the early 1990s, which ended a 14-year absence, has a band’s reunion been so highly anticipated.
Consequently, GNR was greeted with the kind of uproarious ovation you would expect from a crowd whose die-hard fandom was gift-wrapped an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime second chance. That fervor lasted throughout the set, which focused heavily on “Appetite for Destruction,” GNR’s debut album, released in 1987, which has sold more than 18 million copies in the United States and more than 30 million worldwide.
Rose, 54, looked completely recovered from a broken foot, an injury suffered in April that forced him to perform for several weeks using a motorized chair he borrowed from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, who broke his ankle while on tour in 2015.
Now healed and ambulatory, Rose showed off all the stock rock-star moves, dancing with his mic stand, waving his hands as if he were a wizard performing tricks, writhing from side to side and bouncing from one side of the enormous stage to the other.
His voice was, at the least, adequate, at its best powerful enough to rise above the heavy noise that surrounded it. He still can issue a skyscraping panther yowl, but mostly Rose services the songs, honoring the melodies without overreaching.
He was nearly upstaged by the shaggy, raven-haired Slash, dressed in his signature black top hat and reflector sunglasses. He spent most of the show issuing fusillades of leads and riffs and other guitar materiel.
The band opened with “It’s So Easy,” an “Appetite” track that set the mood for the rest of the night. The crowd was familiar with nearly every song, reacting instantly to the first several notes, including Slash’s chug-a-chug intro to “Mr. Brownstone,” which followed “It’s So Easy.”
McKagan and Slash had plenty of help backing up Rose. Richard Fortus was a machine on rhythm and lead guitar. Drummer Frank Ferrer delivered plenty of thunder and brimstone. And Dizzy Reed and the neon-pony-tailed Melissa Reese added plenty of color and embroidery on keyboard and background vocals.
The highlights were the hits. Slash teased the crowd with some guitar foreplay before barnstorming into “Welcome to the Jungle.” The crowd reacted to “Live and Let Die,” one of several covers, as if GNR had written it. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive” also ignited riotous responses.
One of the more visceral moments of the night involved McKagan, who sang lead vocals on a smoldering cover of the Stooges’ “Raw Power.” Slash and Fortus laid down a couple of worthwhile instrumental covers: of the theme to “The Godfather” and of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Before “November Rain,” a premier power ballad, Rose and the band played the famous piano/guitar instrumental from Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla.”
The enormous stage was flanked by two gigantic video screens that broadcast close-up images of action. Flash pots, lights and other visuals exploded throughout the show. Behind the band, video screens flashed and blasted other graphic elements. There was no dearth of visual stimulants.
After the one-two punch of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and a rollicking version of “Nighttrain,” they brought the party home with a three-song encore that included a stout cover of the Who’s “The Seeker” and then one of their own show-stopping rock anthems, “Paradise City.”
It was a fitting close because this reunion was a destination most everyone at Arrowhead on Wednesday night dreamed of but hardly expected to happen.
Alice in Chains: The grunge band from Seattle opened the evening with a dynamic 45-minute pre-sundown set that included such favorites as “Man in the Box,” “Down in a Hole” and “Rooster.”
Guns N’ Roses: It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Chinese Democracy, Welcome to the Jungle, Double Talkin’ Jive, Estranged, Live and Let Die, Rocket Queen, You Could Be Mine, Raw Power, This I Love, Civil War, Love Theme from The Godfather (instrumental), Sweet Child O’ Mine, Coma, Better, Out to Get Me, Wish You Were Here (instrumental), Layla (instrumental), November Rain, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Nighttrain. Encore: Don’t Cry, The Seeker, Paradise City
Alice in Chains: Hollow, We Die Young, Them Bones, Check My Brain, Man in the Box, Down in a Hole, No Excuses, Would, Rooster