Written By Braddon S. Williams aka “The Concert Critic”
On this date in history, 9/8/2021, Guns N’ Roses brought the big rock show to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN.
There are only an increasingly smaller number of bands capable of playing the stadium sized gigs in this day and age, and I have to admit I was more than a little curious to see if these guys still had the magic touch.
For starters, someone had the good sense to book a really solid opening act, Mammoth WVH, featuring Wolfgang Van Halen on lead vocals, lead guitar, and keyboards. I was impressed with their music and positively blown away by the young Van Halen’s singing. He has written stuff that doesn’t trade on his legendary father’s style or legacy, and I think he has put together a band that has the potential to make a nice career for themselves. The headliners were generous with Mammoth WVH, giving them ample stage time and good sound and lights.
Speaking of those key ingredients of a successful stadium extravaganza, GnR provided an ever shifting blend of big screen projections and lighting pyrotechnics to supplement their hard rocking attack.
It does need to be said that Axl Rose is no longer in his prime as a vocalist, but he played it smart and stayed in his lower vocal register at the beginning before working his way into the higher notes. He lacks that scalpel sharp, laser beam edge that he wielded with such swagger in the days of his youth, but he got the job done, and he tirelessly roamed the stage and worked the crowd.
Axl appeared to be in a genuinely good mood and that was definitely at odds with his attitude when I last saw these guys in a different stadium (The RCA Dome) and with a different set of touring partners (Metallica and Faith No More).
Of course, Slash has returned to the band, and his golden toned lead guitar work was prominently featured throughout the evening. Slash sure does have some nice guitars, and he coaxes that unmistakable signature sound out of all of them.
Duff McKagan held down the bottom end and provided a host of key backup vocal parts, too. The rest of the supporting players did solid work and helped round out the current version of the super-sized GnR.
Guns N’ Roses have cultivated an impressive catalog of music along the way and most of the obligatory tunes were represented; It’s So Easy, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, Welcome To The Jungle (with a teaser of Link Wray’s Rumble in the intro), November Rain, Rocket Queen, You Could Be Mine, Civil War (with an outro jam on Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix), a really long blues jam after the band introductions loosely based on Mannish Boy by Muddy Waters that had Slash taking an epic guitar solo, then directly into Sweet Child O’ Mine. There were some excellent cover tunes, also: Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings, Slither (Velvet Revolver…absolutely killer!), The Seeker (The Who…featuring Slash playing a wicked Flying V), I Wanna Be Your Dog (Iggy & The Stooges, with Duff on lead vocals…awesomeness!), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan), and perhaps the strangest and most unexpected cover of the night, Wichita Lineman (by Jimmy Webb and famously covered by Glen Campbell). A couple of songs from the infamous Chinese Democracy album were performed (and fit in perfectly), and the show was capped off by an extended four song encore culminating in the anthemic Paradise City.
Although I generally prefer a more intimate venue, there’s something to be said for the decadent grandeur of a stadium rock show. On this night, Guns N’Roses made me both nostalgic and hopeful that this rock thing might just stick around for awhile after all.