The reunited trio of Axl, Slash and Duff return to the Meadowlands to showcase new material, cover Velvet Revolver and pay homage to Biz Markie
It’s been about 27 years since I sat up in the treacherous heights of the Giants Stadium upper deck to see Pink Floyd on the Division Bell tour in the summer of 1994.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
We were literally in the very last seats at the tippy top of the 300 section. I could look over the edge at the parking lot behind us. Since then, however, through a long and tangled web of internships, radio affiliations and freelance gigs, I’ve been quite blessed to always wind up in the 100s or sometimes even on the damn floor of the stadium and/or arena since that Floyd concert.
For my very first time seeing Guns ‘N Roses–a band I’ve been trying to catch in concert since 8th grade (the same year Appetite For Destruction came out)–I voluntarily chose to return to the nosebleeds of the new Giants Stadium (or MetLife, if you prefer) to witness this bucket list moment.
A couple of reasons why I chose to the 300s, if you will allow me to indulge:
- Tickets were only $29.50
- I’m still a bit COVID conscious, so I’d rather sit up in the half-empty rafters where I can move about at my leisure
- I couldn’t figure out how to get a press pass, because it appears GNR do not have a publicist
- To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous to be surrounded by a multitude of aggro white dudes 7 months after the January 6th insurrection (I immediately picked up on that energy on my escalator ride up to Heaven after some drunk bro suggested I show everyone my fat tits)
- The ticket was $29.50, coming out to about $50 after fees. And when you combine that price with my close proximity to MetLife (just a quick car drive down 17 from my neck of New Jersey), I couldn’t not go.
I was literally in my own section when the opening act hit the stage. And we couldn’t have asked for a better warm-up act than Mammoth WVH, the brainchild of Eddie Van Halen’s baby boy Wolfgang. This would be the third time I’ve seen the Wolf in concert. The first time was in 2004, when a 13-year-old WVH joined his dad onstage for a version of the instrumental “3:16” at the Meadowlands Arena during the brief reunion of Van Hagar, a guitar lullaby Eddie had written for baby Wolfie upon his arrival on March 16, 1991. I saw him again as the bassist for the VH reunion with David Lee Roth at Madison Square Garden, which I truly did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. But now to experience this 30-year-old man I’ve seen grow up on stage literally opening for Guns with this killer group he named after what Van Halen was originally planning to call themselves was indeed a joyful experience for this lifelong Eddie guy.
VIDEO: Mammoth WVH performs “Distance” while opening for GnR at MetLife Stadium 8/5/21
A few thoughts about the Guns ‘N Roses performance, but first a little pretext. It was 30 years ago when the anticipation reached an all-time high for the Use Your Illusion albums to come out. “Civil War,” the near-eight minute epic encapsulating all the drama, grit and boogie that makes GnR one of the all-time great American rock bands, was already out for a year as part of the 1990 Nobody’s Child charity LP. And the razor-sharp “You Could Be Mine” was the absolute rock song of the summer in 1991 thanks to its key role on the soundtrack for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It was at that time I realized just how badly I needed to see this band in concert.
Sadly, however, I was a little too slow on the draw for the two times Guns had come around on the Use Your Illusion tour. They had played the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on June 11, 1991, but I was scheduled to work that night plus didn’t have a ride up there to begin with. Then, when they came back around the following summer to Giants Stadium on July 18, 1992 as part of that massive triple bill with Metallica and Faith No More, it seemed like all 54,300 seats sold out before I got to my local Ticketmaster outlet. That had to have been one of the fastest selling concerts in the history of that old stadium, and if you weren’t camped outside the night before for those seats you were SOL.
Meanwhile, while in hindsight I have my regrets, I wasn’t exactly eager to catch the Chinese Democracy-era lineup of the Guns despite Tommy Stinson playing bass and Buckethead on lead guitar. It was a cool band, don’t get me wrong. But GnR is not Guns ‘N Fucking Roses without the switchblade bass riffs of Duff McKagan and Keef-meets-Pagey guitar wizardry of Saul “Slash” Hudson at the very least (cuz we all know the Guns lost half of its heart the day Izzy Stradlin walked away, though Gilby Clarke did prove to be a formidable substitute, especially after delivering his supremely underrated 1994 solo debut Pawn Shop Guitars, the best GnR album without Axl.)
So in 2016, when Axl reconciled with Duff and Slash and along with longtime Guns keyboardist Dizzy Reed, drummer Richard Ferrer (once of The Psychedelic Furs) and Velvet Revolver (and ontime Psychedelic Furs) guitarist Richard Fortus embarked on the Not In This Lifetime Tour with a grand stop at the new Giants Stadium (aka MetLife), tickets once again vanished almost instantly. And then I had to hear it from all my buddies who went about how amazing it was, and how they covered Johnny Thunders and told old stories onstage. I knew they’d come back around, but when?
Then COVID-19 hit, blah blah blah. Nearly two years later (or at least it feels like two years), this stupid virus has mutated to impact kids and is being passed around by the unvaccinated like herpes in the Playboy Mansion grotto. But here in New Jersey, we are overall good so when the date for GnR’s rescheduled second leg of the Not In This Lifetime tour was fast approaching, I knew I had to Carpe Diem, you know what I mean?
VIDEO: Guns ‘N Roses opens their concert at MetLife Stadium with “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone”
I waited until the literal day of the show to get my ticket, scoping out the nosebleeds because hardly anyone was sitting up there and by then Ticketmaster had been selling the seats for $29.50. I picked a nice aisle seat center left of the stage and off I went. When I arrived at these seats, wow. I think the upper deck at MetLife is way higher than the old Giants Stadium. And steep, too. My jimmy legs were going, but managed to find my spot and nested in.
And here’s the thing about being up there, especially in the context of this Guns ‘N Roses concert: You definitely lose some fidelity sitting up there in Heaven. Which meant for me and the smattering of others sitting in the upper decks, we didn’t really get to hear the keyboards (augmented by second keyboardist Melissa Reese) as clearly as we could have sitting in the 100s. Even when Axl rolled out his Yamaha grand piano for “November Rain” (with snippets of Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” interwoven throughout the song in honor of the fallen rapper), it was hard to hear him on the ivories.
But, like my uncle who was sitting in the 200s that night said the next day, August 5th was Slash’s show. And he was right. I’ve seen a lot of guitar players in concert in my 40 years of going to shows (including Slash with Velvet Revolver). Outside of Prince, Eddie Van Halen and Thurston Moore, I’ve never seen someone command the guitar the way Slash did that night. Alternating between his beloved Gibson Les Pauls, every single song they did was kissed by his masterful playing.
VIDEO: Guns ‘N Roses performs “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” at MetLife Stadium 8/5/21
Axl’s voice isn’t as spry as it was in 1991, but he still commands your attention. I’m sure some fans were thrown off by the setlist, but as someone who appreciates the totality of the Guns ‘N Roses multiverse it was awesome to see all the weird curveballs they threw in. For instance, they did two songs from Chinese Democracy (“Better” and the title cut), as well as a Velvet Revolver song (“Slither”). And while they managed to hit all the faves from Appetite (including the opening one-two punch of “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” and an incredible run through “Rocket Queen”), this tour also offers equal focus on the two Illusion albums as well, which turn 30 on September 17 (the day I skipped school to buy the tapes at my local Strawberries). They didn’t do “Dead Horse” as they did in Hershey, PA, the night before. But we did get fantastic live runs through “Double Talkin’ Jive,” “Civil War,” “Estranged” and a ferocious “You Could Be Mine”, not to mention the band’s famous covers of Wings’ “Live and Let Die” and the Bob Dylan chestnut “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (which Axl dedicated to the Biz).
Yet perhaps the most interesting moment of the night transpired when Axl presold the band’s new song “Absurd” and announced that it was going to debut on all streaming services at midnight. The tune, written by Dizzy Reed, originated from a composition called “Silkworms” that dates back to 2001 when Chinese Democracy was fixing to be more of an industrial rock album than a classic Guns joint. And as the first single from the first GnR album to include Slash and Duff since The Spaghetti Incident?, the tune is a promising sign of things to come.
VIDEO: Guns ‘N Roses “Absurd”
Guns ‘N Roses is coming back to New Jersey on September 11th of all dates to play the Hard Rock Casino’s Estess Arena in Atlantic City. Hopefully by then, they’ll have worked out all the kinks that transpired the night I got to see this band after 30 long years, albeit up in the nosebleeds of MetLife Stadium.