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Guns N’ Roses LIVE in Tulsa, OK

Last night, 25 years after seeing them perform live for the first time, I got to see Guns N’ Roses perform once again, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

My friend Tim is a big Guns N’ Roses fan. He and his wife Dawn along with Susan and I have seen the band live three times — in Norman, back in 2011; in Las Vegas in 2012, for Tim’s 40th birthday; and Tuesday night, November 17, in Tulsa. Additionally, even though we hadn’t met yet, Tim and I were both at the Oklahoma City Guns N’ Roses show back in 1992.

Throughout their 30-year career, the band’s lineup has been as volatile as vocalist Axl Rose himself. The original lineup from the band’s 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction (Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steven Adler) didn’t last long. By the time they played Oklahoma City for the first time in 1992, Izzy had quit (replaced by Gilby Clarke), Steven Adler had been fired (replaced by Matt Sorum), and keyboardist Dizzy Reed had officially joined the band. In the 17 years between 1991’s Use Your Illusions albums and their next studio album, 2008’s Chinese Democracy (a period of time once could easily write a book about), all of the original members of the band except for Axl Rose were long gone, and most of the musicians who had replaced those musicians had come and gone, too. By the time we saw the band perform in 2011, Axl Rose was the only original remaining member, backed by Tommy Stinson on bass, Frank Ferrer on drums, and three guitarists (DJ Ashba, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and Richard Fortus). This was the same lineup we saw in 2012 during the band’s Las Vegas residency.

A few years ago when asked if ever planned to tour again with the band’s original lineup, Axl Rose famously remarked, “not in this lifetime.” With original members Slash and Duff McKagan rejoining the band on stage, what better name than Not in This Lifetime for the band’s 2017 (and 30th anniversary) tour.

One thing about a Guns N’ Roses show is, anything can happen. In the 90s, shows were cancelled because Axl “wasn’t in the mood to perform.” In some instances, there were riots. Axl Rose has been known to leap from the stage and beat up fans. The band was notorious for taking the stage two or three hours late. (The ticket stub I have from the 1992 show says the show will begin “around 9:30 p.m.”) With Duff and Slash — someone Axl Rose refused to speak to for 20 years — back on stage, the possibility of the performance (and perhaps the band itself) imploding is very real.

Our tickets claimed the show would start at 8 p.m., and by 8:05 p.m. the lights had already dimmed and the band’s introduction video was playing on a series of large screens. This was the first sign that the Gunners may have grown up.

With a zillion-dollar production in motion, 2017’s Guns N’ Roses came off like a well oiled machine. With productions this size, very little (including the set list) is left to chance. My friend Tim followed along with his phone, telling us which songs were coming up next, when a block of songs from Chinese Democracy was coming up (a good time for a bathroom break), and, as the show went on, how many songs were left.

The the 2011 and 2012 shows we attended, it was never clear who the lead guitarist was. At the Vegas show, Richard Fortus, DJ Ashba, and Bumblefoot each took a turn in the spotlight with long solos and attempting not to step on one another’s leads during the songs. Last night, there was no question as to who the lead guitarist was. Richard Fortus is a fantastic and capable guitar player who, in all rights, has been a member of Guns N’ Roses longer than almost anyone else (2002-present), but when Slash walks to the front of the stage wearing his trademarked sunglasses and top hat and breaks into the opening riff from “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” even Fortus is smart enough to know his place is in the shadows, playing rhythm.

It’s easy to think that a bass player can be easily replaced, especially in a rock band like GN’R, but I swear, tracks like “Mr. Brownstone” and “Rocket Queen” haven’t sounded the same live since Duff McKagan left. Tuesday night, they sounded better than they’ve sounded in decades.

You would be hard pressed to guess everyone on stage was in their 50s based on their performance. Slash spent much of the concert jumping off of things while Fortus spun in circles and Axl ran from spot to spot. Seriously, the entire show, Axl was running at full speed (except when he was off stage, no doubt taking hits of oxygen).

At times when the band showed its age. Coming off a show the previous night in Nashville, it’s obvious that years of screaming and screeching has done a number on Axl’s voice. Rose uses every trick in the book, from dropping octaves to relying heavily on his cohorts to help carry the tunes, but even that couldn’t save him. While years of experience have worked in the favor of everyone else in the band, Axl’s voice simply can’t keep up. An hour into the show his voice was already showing signs of fatigue, and the band played for a total of 3 1/2 hours.

There were several pleasant surprises throughout the evening, including a tribute to Chris Cornell with a cover version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”), but for guitar fans, watching Slash and Fortus trading riffs during an instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was definitely cool.

For decades, Guns N’ Roses have ended their shows with “Paradise City,” and Tuesday night’s show was no exception. What was surprising, however, was when Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl walked out on stage to join them. (The Foo Fighters were playing the same venue the following night.) In the early 90s, the feud between GN’R and Nirvana (which Grohl drummed for) was pretty legendary, so to see Grohl out on stage, headbanging wildly while standing face-to-face with the guys from Guns N’ Roses was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Who knows what the future holds for Guns N’ Roses. Most people (probably including the band) are surprised the guys are getting along as well as they are (and by getting along I mean, nobody has punched anyone else on stage yet). Who knows if the members of Guns N’ Roses will be on speaking terms five years from now, and whether they’ll be playing giant arenas, state fairs, or even be alive. I suspect last night’s show was as close as we’ll ever get to seeing the same lineup I originally saw back in 1992, and if those two shows bookend my Guns N’ Roses concert experience, I’m okay with that.

Set List:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Mr. Brownstone
  3. Chinese Democracy
  4. Welcome to the Jungle
  5. Double Talkin’ Jive
  6. Better
  7. Estranged
  8. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
  9. Rocket Queen
  10. You Could Be Mine
  11. New Rose (The Damned cover)
  12. This I Love
  13. There Was a Time
  14. Civil War
  15. Yesterdays
  16. Coma (followed up with band introductions)
  17. Slash Guitar Solo
  18. Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather) (Nino Rota cover)
  19. Sweet Child O’ Mine
  20. Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb cover)
  21. Used to Love Her
  22. My Michelle
  23. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
  24. November Rain (“Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes)
  25. Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
  26. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover) (with “Only Women Bleed” intro)
  27. Nightrain
  28. Patience
  29. Madagascar
  30. Don’t Cry
  31. The Seeker (The Who cover)
  32. Paradise City (with Dave Grohl)

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