Like many Guns N’ Roses fans, I was excited to learn that the old lineup of the band, featuring Slash, Duff McKagan, and Axl Rose, had reunited for the first time since 1996. After years of bad blood between them, it was a bit of a surprise, too. But nonetheless, I bought tickets for their show in Atlanta, which happened this past Wednesday. And I have to say, it was a bit… inconsistent.
Probably the most critical element of a rock show is the sound mixing. It’s not enough to just crank every instrument up to eleven. If the sound engineers haven’t calibrated the board properly the fit the acoustics of the venue, it can severely limit the experience. Unfortunately, Guns N’ Roses’ engineers were asleep at the wheel. After the first four songs, the music dissolved into an indistinguishable slurry where it became difficult to pick out any individual sounds. Usually, when that happens, it’s also a result of me not being familiar with the songs, so my brain can’t mentally fill in the rest. But that wasn’t entirely true here. Songs that I was really looking forward to hearing, like “Rocket Queen,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Better,” my favorite song from Chinese Democracy, were victimized by the bad mixing. The acoustics of the Georgia Dome probably didn’t help either. I wasn’t exactly in a bad seat, though… I was at the bottom level in the back. My friend Andrew, who was on the floor closer to me, said that the sound was fairly good, so I suppose perspective made some difference.
It’s also clear that age has caught up to Axl Rose. His vocals largely couldn’t carry above the instruments, and while his voice never carried especially far to begin with, it was exacerbated by his advancing years. The aforementioned mixing problems didn’t help matters. Also, I’m fairly certain he was lip-syncing for at least part of the show. There were times I swear his mouth moved without making sounds, or sounds were made without his mouth moving. As the show went on, though, I noticed it less, so perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought.
Were there any highlights? Sure there were. Slash appears to be the most ageless among them, as his solos went off without a hitch and pumped up the crowd. He and Richard Fortus played off each other well in their call-and-response parts. They did two instrumental covers, of “Speak Softly Love” from The Godfather, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” The best move they made throughout the entire show was having Slash transition from “Speak Softly Love,” right into the famous riff from “Sweet Child O’Mine.” They turned off all the other instruments and any ambient sound, and just let Slash play. That’s probably why I thought “Sweet Child” was the best-executed song of the night.
Further to that point, most of GNR’s biggest hits (aside from the ones I mentioned above) went off pretty well. “Welcome to the Jungle” was pretty good, Axl’s piano playing combined well with Slash’s guitar in “November Rain,” which also featured Axl doing a good job on the keyboard part. “Civil War” went decently, and “Paradise City” was the perfect show closer, with a surprising amount of pyrotechnics given that it we were in a dome.
All in all, everything added up to a pretty scattershot and somewhat disappointing performance. I’m not sorry I went, as this was an important moment in rock history and I’m glad I was around to witness it. It’s entirely possible that relations will break down between the band members again after this tour, and we’ll never see the original GNR lineup again. I guess I just expected that a band which has earned enough critical acclaim to make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would deliver a better show than this. I’ve seen recent performance videos of Axl’s and been to two of Slash’s shows with Myles Kennedy (one of which, incidentally, also suffered from mixing problems), so I know what these guys should be capable of. It just didn’t come together right that night.