Guns N' Roses have always been about excess — releasing America's best selling debut album ever Appetite for Destruction, recording the most expensive album ever Chinese Democracy ($13 million) — so when the fantasy reunion between warring singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash happened, it was destined to be the biggest thing ever.
Last year, the Not In This Lifetime ... tour grossed more nightly than any act, banking an eye-rolling $5.5m [Dh20 million] per show.
Several thousand teenage daydreams came true when, after 10 months on the road, the tour rolled into the Dubai Autism Rocks Arena, and I was among them, squinting at the big screens, giddy with excitement for a reconciliation which seemed unfathomable just a few years ago. There were many in the audience who, like me, will have heard these songs live before — sung by Rose in Abu Dhabi, and played by Slash in Dubai — but never together at the same time.
The effect is not so much a doubling of potency, but a multiplying to the power of a square. And it wasn't just a feeling — Slash's return was viscerally made repeatedly — kicking into the widdly, flamenco-metal solo at the close of Double Talkin' Jive, reprising the Godfather's love theme Speak Softly Love as an introduction to Sweet Child O' Mine, and a dozen other moments no Bumblefoot or Buckethead could fake.
There are few rock albums that can rival G n' R's legendary debut Appetite for Destruction, and thankfully and sensibly the band dusted off no less than eight vintage cuts from the 1987 release — wrapping the set with a slithery Nightrain and closing the encore with the obligatory fireworks of Paradise City.
Both of Axl's indulgent early 1990s epics — Estranged, November Rain — were present and accounted for, as was Coma, a druggie, trippy fan favourite, also from the Use Your Illusion set. The familiar Bob Dylan and Wings covers — Knockin' on Heaven's Door and Live and Let Die — where joined by instrumental nods to Eric Clapton (Layla) and Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here), while the encore also made space for The Who's The Seeker. Things may have lulled for three cuts from Chinese Democracy, but it would be more conspicuous — and sad — if there was no reference to the wilderness 15 years Axl led the band as if a solo act.
Also back in the fold is bassist Duff McKagan — reportedly the glue that was necessary to broker the Axl/Slash peace — who made his presence felt with a cover of The Damned's New Rose, and paid tribute to two recent great musical loses, with a purple Prince logo on his bass and a Lemmy T-shirt on his chest.
Some might gripe there weren’t more “classic” members involved in the reunion, and cite greed on behalf of the principle players. But let’s remember that this motley trio were the only ones to stand the test of time even in the bands 1987-1993 live heyday — guitarist Izzy Stradlin walked away at the band’s peak, and drummer Steven Adler burnt out long before. So would you call them, or the musicians who replaced them? The answer was just to keep Axl’s guys (guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer).
Do the three resembled key players like each other? Does it even matter? Bands have been built on money and ego for as long as recorded music existed. Do Guns have the same cultural zeitgeist — the same whiff of danger and ability to shock — that they did 25 years ago? Of course not. But Slash and Duff’s return has comfortably upgraded the group’s legacy from a touring tribute circus outfit to long-reigning rock n’ roll heroes.
And on the basis of this euphoric, knockout juggernaut of a show, there’s no rock band of the past three decades who can rival the might of Guns N’ Roses.