Review

Guns N' Roses Returns to Its Natural Habitat - and Doesn't Disappoint

There's Axl singing and playing the piano, and here's Slash playing his solo, and then a dramatic break - and then there it is, that fabulous outro. Live. It was great to be alive

Guns 'N Roses performs at Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 15, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

Were any of the 60,000 people who filled Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on Saturday night for the Guns N’ Roses concert among the 60,000 who filled the park two weeks ago for Britney Spears? If there were, other than the various people enjoying their free tickets, Britney may have crossed their minds for a split second at the beginning of the show, when Axl Rose shouted at the audience, “Welcome to the Jungle Tel Aviv!” - or something similar. Like Axl, Britney yelled at the crowd at the beginning of her show. But there was a huge difference between the two screams. Britney’s was strange, disconnected, hysterical, and most of all, completely different from the voice in her playback. Axl Rose’s scream, on the other hand, was just like the voice he used for the (more than) three hours that followed.

Not that his voice was the best part of the show. It wasn’t supposed to be. The star of the excellent concert wasn’t Rose, and certainly not him alone. When he appeared in this same park five years ago with a band of hired guns, without a single original band member, less than 15,000 people showed up - and what they saw was a mediocre performance at best. The reason that more than 60,000 fans streamed to the park on Saturday was for the band Guns N’ Roses, complete with its charismatic lead singer, great guitarist and excellent musicians. That, more or less, was the band that performed on Saturday. And it sounded great. It’s not GnR without Slash, the lead guitarist, who played wonderfully on Saturday, except for a few slipups here and there. The sweet howl that, in the rock world, has his name on it, plus raising the guitar at a 79-and-a-half degree angle, were heard and seen again and again on Saturday. At one point in the middle of a solo, a string of saliva dripped painfully slowly from his mouth and sat suspended on his curls. While it wasn’t very aesthetic, that moment reflected his and the band’s efforts. Nobody played on automatic pilot. For three hours.

Guns 'N Roses performs at Yarkon Park, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 15, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

And Slash isn’t the only one who deserves praise. Bassist Duff McKagan played great, performed a punk-like song (a necessary time-out during a bombastic hard rock concert), and when the cameras focused on his bass, you could see that he had stuck Prince’s purple logo on it. That deserves respect. The second guitarist, the guy who looks a little like Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones but sometimes sounds a little like Keith Richards, was good. And the drummer was killer. The keyboard-singer-accompanist sang well and kind of recalled the legendary program “Headbangers Ball” on MTV, where we first saw Guns N’ Roses in 1990.

Another great thing about the concert was its musical context in terms of space. Guns N’ Roses was born, died and resurrected to play in stadiums. That’s their natural habitat and they haven’t forgotten how to do it. In fact, not only was GnR - and still is - an excellent stadium band, you could say that it’s the last stadium rock band, a species that became extinct in the early 1990s. But at the park on Saturday, we saw the last monster of the species and it was sensational.

Because the show was unusually long, there were moments when GnR’s stadium-style rock was overdone. But not too much. We could have done without the outro of Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” but hold on, that ornate outro could have been the most magnificent outro of the 1990s, “November Rain,” of course. There’s Axl singing and playing the piano, and here’s Slash playing the solo, and then a dramatic break - and then there it is, that fabulous outro. Live. It was great to be alive. To tell you the truth, Slash messed his solo up a little. But after two and a half hours of a great performance, we won’t hold it against him. We didn’t have to use our imagination to enjoy this concert all the way. And now we’ll reinstall our IQ, excuse me, our intellectual glasses, and start counting down to the Radiohead concert.