Gunshots are fired, chit-chat dissipates and the crowd stands to attention. An anticipation that has been festering for nigh on twenty-five years now hangs in the air in Slane Castle tonight. And it’s about to be ripped with the shred of electric guitars.
The opening chords of ‘Its so Easy’ crawl in and Axl bounds on stage in the same attire he made his trademark all those years ago. If rock vocalists are freaks of nature then Axl is the king of the freaks. Despite years of vocal strain and substance abuse somehow he sounds as good as ever. Slash’s guitar wails. McKagan’s bass throbs. Three of the most iconic names in rock history are back and in the flesh. They rage on with ‘Mr. Brownstone’, ‘Chinese Democracy’ and ‘Welcome to The Jungle’. Filling a rain sodden Slane with the adrenaline-fuelled sound of a bygone era. Not a note in their thirty song set goes a miss.
They are the embodiment of excess that they always were. Axl tags on and off stage between costume changes leaving Slash to hold fort with instrumental versions of Pink Floyd and Alice Cooper, played out on a selection of different guitars. (I lost count but I think it was somewhere in the region of ten). Axl reclaiming the stage half-way through for an emotional rendition of SoundGarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ in tribute to the late Chris Cornell, with the 83,000 strong crowd on passionate backing vocals.
When Guns N Roses made their debut on MTV in 1987 they quickly gained a reputation as the most dangerous band in the world. They approached their lives and their music with reckless abandon. They were tardy, debauched, whiskey swigging, crack smokers devoted to the ruthless pursuit of total and instantaneous pleasure with complete disregard for any tomorrow. And we loved them for it.
Now I don’t make a habit of attending reunion tours of bands that hit their hey day long before I was born but when my Mother, who is notorious for gifting me with things representative of the person I was ten years ago, presented me with a ticket for Guns N’ Roses on Christmas Day there were exceptions to be made.
So I gave that fifteen year old me a stern talking to before making the pilgrimage to Slane on that rainy Saturday. I prepared her for an Axl that was more Trump-esque than chiseled in his latter day appearance, I braced her for his fabled arrogance. But what I didn’t prepare her for was the sense of disillusionment she would feel at finding herself nose deep in a crowd of people choosing to ”live” the experience through a six megapixel phone lense. An audience too afraid to free their bodies for fear of skewing their Snapchat vantage points. Two songs in the man next to me brandishing an iphone above his face accosts “You cannot say that this is not the best live gig that you have every been to”. Guns N’ Roses had won the crowd over before the first note was even played. Nostalgia is a dish best served luke warm and broadcast across social media.
The three members we had all come to see take centre stage, standing like Olympians waiting to receive their medals. Axl’s screech resounds with that visceral lilt. Slash’s guitar cries, his skin glistening with sweat, glowing like the rock God that he is.
Their playing is flawless and their energy cannot be faulted. But there was still some part of my latent teen conscience that was yearning to regain some semblance of what the band had meant to me. The animal magnetism of it all, the sex, the danger, the fearlessness. I wanted an unpredictable Axl, a strung out Slash, a Duff McKagan whose beer soaked brain didn’t know which city he was playing in and on what day. But to my dismay the band were painfully well behaved. And perhaps it’s that I am a product of an era where everything photoshopped, filtered, produced and packaged is shoved down our throats. That I’m sick to death of pristine. And while I can’t very well take umbrage with a band for having the audacity to live into their fifties without dying of an overdose. I can lament the death of a bygone era of Rock and Roll when live performances were for breathing every goddamn moment into your lungs and not formatting them onto your LCD screen.
As the final chords of ‘Paradise City’ resonated through the air and the band turned their back on the crowd I resolved to leave Rock and Roll in the nineties and to Live and let Die.