Guns N' Roses Refuse to Coast in Cleveland: Concert Review

It has now been more than 18 months since Guns N’ Roses welcomed Slash and Duff McKagan back into the group. Since then, the Not in This Lifetime tour has circled the globe, garnering almost universally positive reviews and earning somewhere just shy of a gazillion dollars.

To the surprise of some critics, there’s also been zero drama and only one delayed show — and the blame for that went to the weather, not Axl Rose. Even the initial fuss over the absence of founding members Stephen Adler and Izzy Stradlin has completely dissipated.

The tour’s most recent leg is set to end in just about a month. But judging from their sold-out show Oct. 26 in Cleveland, Guns N’ Roses have no intention of coasting to the finish line. Their April 8, 2016, opening night set list featured an already impressive 23 songs. In Cleveland, we got 32 — including the particularly noteworthy cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” the band started playing nightly following the death of Chris Cornell. (Speaking of tributes to departed musicians, it’s cool to see McKagan hasn’t removed Prince’s symbol from his bass.)

While the set-list shape has remained largely the same for the whole tour, nothing feels canned or stale. There’s room for some creative detours — such as Slash’s riff-tastic introduction to “Double Talkin’ Jive,” or the extended, and especially dramatic, mid-song interlude in “Coma.”

The expanded set list has made room for more Chinese Democracy songs, many of which — like the somewhat slow-building (but oh-so-worth-it) “Better” and the ornate “This I Love” — deserved a little more love from the audience.

The large number of covers the band has woven in among their originals serve as a shorthand history of rock itself, with Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry, Jimmy Webb, the Misfits, Eric Clapton, Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan and the Who all receiving musical acknowledgements at one point or another. (AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” has been turning up at many of the shows as well.)

It’s particularly ballsy of Rose to lead the band through one of the most famous codas of all time, the one that caps Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla,” right before playing his own contribution to that list, “November Rain.”

Although Rose, Slash and Duff understandably command the most attention from the crowd, longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and relative newcomers Melissa Reese, drummer Frank Ferrer and guitarist Richard Fortus are clearly important and fully integrated parts of the group by now. (And a big part of why the Stradlin and Adler talk has gone away.) Fortus, in particular, made the most of each and every one of his solo spotlight moments.

As the nearly three-and-a-half-hour show concluded with a powerful “Paradise City,” the only questions left to ask in regards to Guns N’ Roses were obvious, if a little greedy: What’s next? And how fun would it be to hear what this version of the group could do in the studio?

Katarina Benzova

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