Do you know where you are? You’re in Toronto, baby! Wake up! Time to die!
OPENING ACT: Billy Talent
I must confess I’ve never felt so happy in my life for missing an opening act like what happened this Saturday, when I “couldn’t” arrive on time at the Rogers Centre to watch Canadian Rock N’ Roll band BILLY TALENT opening for Guns N’ Roses on their sole Canadian concert from the colossal Guns N’ Roses: Not In This Lifetime… Tour. I had the unpleasantness of watching their lame and tiresome concert once back in 2011, when for a reason beyond my knowledge they played AFTER classic bands such as Exodus, Death Angel, Testament, Mastodon and, believe it or not, the almighty Slayer, and were obviously booed throughout their entire “performance”. Whoever had that brilliant idea of inserting such a hideous group among so many real metal bands might have been involved in the stupid decision of placing them as the opening act for Guns N’ Roses instead of the excellent Alice In Chains, the iconic The Cult or even the not-so-bad Lenny Kravitz, as it’s happening in every city Guns N’ Roses are playing except for Toronto. The only thing I know about their performance is that drummer Aaron Solowoniuk was replaced by Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire), which doesn’t really mean anything at all for any regular fan of Guns N’ Roses. Their setlist is below, but why bother?
Devil in a Midnight Mass
Louder Than the DJ
Rusted from the Rain
Afraid of Heights
Devil on My Shoulder
Viking Death March
Benjamin Kowalewicz – lead vocals
Ian D’Sa – guitar, vocals
Jonathan Gallant – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jordan Hastings – drums, percussion
Who would imagine that after 20 years Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan would not only be reunited on stage, but still kicking fuckin’ ass as if they had never split up in the beginning of the 90’s? I’m pretty sure the entire crowd of over 50,000 gunners who were at the Rogers Centre this Saturday will agree with me that GUNS N’ ROSES were almost flawless during the whole concert, blasting their biggest classics from the 80’s and 90’s blended with some “newer” material from the controversial (but good) Chinese Democracy, their latest studio album. To be fair, after they played It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Chinese Democracy and Welcome to the Jungle, I was already satisfied enough to go home so good those songs were. Let’s say the only thing that didn’t make anyone happy were all those despicable scalpers trying to extort good people who just wanted to see one the best Hard Rock/Hair Metal band of all time playing. I truly hope very few people ended up getting their tickets from those scammers, and this is only going to end when absolutely NO ONE buys tickets from unauthorized people anymore, but you know how diehard fans are, right?
Anyway, getting back to what really matters, the (official) price paid for the tickets was definitely worth every penny. The whole band was in such perfect sync it’s hard to point any issues with their concert, and except for minor changes I would personally make to their setlist (which might have been already perfect for many) everything else went beyond my expectations. The “least famous” members of the band (Frank Ferrer on drums and Melissa Reese on keyboards, or whatever she was doing on stage) did their job, provinding the necessary support for the other guys to shine. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed (don’t ask me why they have three keyboardists, including Axl) and guitarist Richard Fortus proved why they’ve been with Axl for such a long time, probably even more time than Slash and Duff themselves, especially Richard who was spot-on with his riffs and solos to the point he wasn’t overshadowed at all by the one and only Slash. Quite the contrary, they make an amazing guitar duo together. However, no matter how much I praise those musicians, we know everyone was at the Rogers Centre to see the “heart”, the “soul” and the “blood” of Guns N’ Roses.
Starting with the “blood”, known as bassist Duff McKagan, he couldn’t be more physical and dedicated to the music he plays. Wearing a Lemmy T-shirt and having a Prince sticker on his bass guitar (a nice tribute to two unique musicians, with only the black star by David Bowie “missing”), Duff was on fire with his rumbling bass lines and awesome backing vocals. And when he was the lead singer, like in their cover version for Attitude, by the Misfits, he showed all his love for Punk Rock and how charismatic he is.
Axl Rose, who will always be the “heart” of Guns N’ Roses, surprised even the most skeptical fan with an absolutely incredible performance on vocals, singing each and every song as if he was the same Axl from Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion. What he did on my favorite Guns N’ Roses songs of all time, the superb Estranged, You Could Be Mine and Civil War (how can the lyrics for this song still be so meaningful after more than 20 years?), was a thing of beauty. He kept running around the stage, danced a lot, wore some almost-classic outfits from the 80’s and smiled to the fans all the time, and by seeing that I finally realized his troubled years might be dead and gone for good. When they played the beautiful ballad This I Love, the touching Sorry and the fun Better, songs where Axl is truly needed as they had zero contribution from Slash or Duff when composed, we could witness a focused and passionate artist that has found peace and is now on the right path to reconquer the world of music. Even when Axl talked about their small incident at the border, when the police found a gun with them, he didn’t get angry or anything like that, simply mentioning it was a funny moment and that “it wasn’t his gun”.
Lastly, what can I say about the “soul” of the band, the unparalleled Slash? That guy is getting better and better as time goes by, delivering his unique riffs and even more unique solos for the total delight of every fan of the band. His guitar duet with Richard Fortus, his beyond stunnig solo in November Rain and his classic riffs and solos in Sweet Child O’ Mine led many fans to an amazing state of ecstasy, a sensation many had to hold for decades to feel again. Let’s just hope Slash remains with Guns N’ Roses for many years to come, because that’s the place where he truly belongs in music. Well, as everything must come to an end, after the masterpieces Nightrain, Patience and Paradise City, together with a cover version for The Seeker, by The Who (which could have been easily replaced by another classic like “Think About You”, “Used To Love Her”, “Don’t Cry” or “Yesterdays”, or even by “Madagascar”), it was time for Axl, Slash, Duff & Co. to say goodbye to the awesome Toronto crowd after almost three hours of concert and get ready for the next city. No one knows if they’re coming back to Canada soon, but based on the reaction of the fans and the smile on the faces of each band member when the show was over, I doubt it will take another 20 years for us to see those guys in action again.
Looney Tunes Theme (Intro)
The Equalizer (Harry Gregson-Williams song)
It’s So Easy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Speak Softly Love (The Godfather Love Theme)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Out Ta Get Me
Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano, keyboards
Slash – lead guitar, backing vocals
Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals
Richard Fortus – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
Melissa Reese – synthesizers, keyboards, programming
Frank Ferrer – drums